A late shipment of records and a minor techie war story

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The fine folks at Omnivore finally filled my order for Game Theory records and CDs. In total, I purchased 2CDs, 1 LP vinyl record and an EP vinyl record. I had been waiting for almost a year, and after their losing my shipment, a replacement shipment was issued, and a package arrived at my door earlier this week. I paid nothing extra. Nothing was lost except the time waiting.

Technics SL-10 Turntable
The Technics SL-10 Turntable.

The LP was called Across the Barrier of Sound, a colored vinyl LP which looked unusual when I unpackaged it: a clear pink vinyl LP. I placed it on my turntable, and within a couple of minutes of play, the features of my turntable which made it such a technological wonder in 1979 now became a hinderance.

The turntable is a Technics SL-10, with controls on the lid, and no tonearm. Instead, the magnetic cartridge is attached to the lid, and it moves along a stainless steel track, guided digitally. It is the only direct drive turntable I know of that can be played sideways and even upside-down without a problem (I’ve tried it), much like the portable CD players which just started to come on the market back in the day. Except, the SL-10 wasn’t portable. Like any other turntable of its time, it used RCA jacks and needed a ground wire, plus its own power cord. For compatability with modern equipment, an impedance matcher was also recommended for the RCA connections.

Everything still works 40 years later. There are infra-red sensors and red lights both above and underneath the turntable. They automatically sense whether the record is 12-inch, 10-inch, or 7-inch, depending on whether the record is an LP, EP, or a single and adjust the speed to 33 or 45 rpm accordingly. There are manual overrides to this, but it usually works without me doing much of anything. I often use the manual overrides for skipping tracks. Most other times, after closing the lid, I press “Start” and the turntable figures out the rest.

All well and good, but my two new vinyl records were clear, tinted vinyl. Barrier was clear pink; and the EP Dead Center was clear baby blue. The clear vinyl meant that the lights underneath the turntable which allowed auto-detection of the record size were shining through the vinyl and sending false signals to the central processor. After a couple of minutes of play, the record started skipping during the first track. I found that if I stuck some sheets of paper underneath the record to block out the lights, the play was normal again.

I am willing to put up with this, since the vast majority of vinyl records are black, and not see-through, including the ones I have. So, the turntable will do its job most of the time. At least there is a work-around, even though it has the side effect of static buildup on the paper, but that may have been because the ground wire was a bit loose.

The latest on Lolita Nation

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Scott Miller (right) standing next to his biggest musical influence, Big Star’s Alex Chilton (1950-2010) (left).

The band Game Theory existed in the 1980s, and had a good run as artistic output goes. But during their day, they were beset by various runs of bad luck: the folding of their record label, Enigma, and the lack of publicity they had during and after they folded. The group disbanded around 1989, and group leader, songwriter, lead guitarist and vocalist Scott Miller (1960-2013) formed the group The Loud Family, which lasted for several more albums until 2006.

But I wish to focus on the latest posthumous offering by Omnivore Records, a reissuing a couple of weeks ago, of the high water mark of the creative powers of Scott Miller and Game Theory, and that was the double LP, Lolita Nation. Omnivore released it on a single CD, and in addition provided another CD of “bonus tracks”. And a booklet of quotes from producers and band members that had a hand in creating the album. Former live-in girlfriend Donnette Thayer talked about her experiences as guitarist and vocalist. Even Shelley LaFreniere was brought out of obscurity to write a few blurbs about her memory of her experiences in helping out as their keyboardist and background vocalist. However, most of the writing seemed to come from producer Mitch Easter, drummer Gil Ray, tour manager Dan Vallor, who also helped out with backup vocals. They would be the people you would want to hear the most from anyway.

Lolita Nation, back cover (Original Issue from Enigma Records).
Lolita Nation, Front Cover

Of course, I found the need to listen to the CD of bonus tracks more than the actual album which I played to death in the 80s and 90s. To play to the fan base, they have the long version of Chardonnay as their first track, which was never on the original album. after that, a few tracks were, to my ears, better left on the cutting room floor. But that’s not what bonus tracks are for. Even bonus tracks for Beatles reissues have a lot of crap on them. But like any cult fan, you are there for the gems. And they deliver on that. There is an interesting cover of The Hollies’ Carrie-Anne, which I have never heard them sing before. They also cover Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. The highlight was the acoustic solo of Game Theory’s own Together Now, Very Minor without the deep space echo of Scott’s voice that was in the Lolita album.

Altogether, I found the album quite enjoyable, and the Bonus CD did not disappoint.

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