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The Obscure Music Club

TOM Club @ Phonopress, July 5th 2016

  • By: Alo, Macca & zizAziz

On July, 5th The Obscure Music Club had the honour and the pleasure to go beyond the doors of Phonopress International Srl, the one and only italian company involved in the pressing of vinyl records, at this day. The plant is located at the gates of Milan, in one of the thousands industrial areas that adorn the suburbs of the greater Nothern Italy city and, without the big sign hanging on the right side of the front facade of the warehouse, we probably got some troubles in finding it. Anyway, the property is kind of particular compared to the other grey warehouses that surround it: effectively it’s easily recognizable due to the big pale “Blue Fairy” stripes , that drives you straight into the magical processes carried out inside there!
In effect, right there every day it keeps on repeating the extraordinary enchantment that transforms something impalpaple like the sound into a physical object that our hands can touch and our eyes can admire: the vinyl record.

We was accepted by the owner, Mr. Filippo De Fassi Negrelli, a Padua-born gentleman that previously got his job in a bank and, from a day to another, he had the insane idea to attempt the outstanding enterprise: bringing back to the vintage splendour the italian phonographic industry. During the golden age of vinyl, from the middle of the 60s to the middle of the 80s, in Italy there were more than ten pressing plants working!
Immediately we had been introduced to Mr. Gianni, a lively white-haired Sir who’s in charge of the most delicate and important phase of the whole production: the transfer of the audio file to the master vinyl, realized with a special lacquer containing an aluminium core that makes it toughest with the etching stresses. Mr. Gianni is the magician who creates the “number one groove”, through appropriate handlings and accurate phono-mathematical calculation.
Infact, the dynamics and the quality of the sound are decided by the perfect combination of a right track depht, enough distance between one track and another and many other little details.
We are lucky and so we can see the Neumann etching machine working on the new record: a sophisticated sapphire needle records the music on the perfectly flatted surface of the lacquer, what an increbible operation!
In the meanwhile, Mr. Gianni told us about his past recording studio experiences, with big names of the italian music scene, New Trolls and Adriano Celentano as well.

After the hand-written etchings with the catalogue number, the lacquer is finally ready to be brought to another wing of the warehouse, the one where another little magic happens: the creation of the “negative grooves” records that will be inserted in the pressing machines.
This second phase is called “galvanic bath” and the lacquer is litteraly covered by a silver&nickel layer that, after some time, it gets solid and so it can be separated from the lacquer: in this way we have the “backward” copy of the grooves that are one of the two sides of the finished product.

Now let’s go to the last phase: the proper record pressing. Infact the silver&nickel plate (actually the two plates, side A and side B) is inserted in the pressing machines, continously feeded with PVC grains, that are heated up and transformed in sort of round cookie with a 2 centimeters thickness: so the mechanical arm takes the cookie to the center of the pressing machine, a very hot water steam is shoot to the vinyl and, among thousands screechings, the powerful hydraulic arm comes down and transform the cookie in a recognizable finished vinyl. Along with the grooves, the hydraulic pump merges inside the PVC the central paper label containing all the infos about the artist, the tracks, the record company, etc.
Now just a last passage is missing before having a ready-to-listen record: the cropping of the edges to remove the PVC in excess…et voilà, la musique c’est pret !
Finally records are convenientely packaged and inserted in the cover: all the paper material is produced by an external provider.
The production is now concluded, but this is the starting point of the most pleasure activity: the listening of the masterpiece by the music maniac!

We thanks for this experience Mr. Filippo De Fassi Negrelli who permitted us to visit his company, but also we thanks the great Mr. Gianni who unveils the secrets behind a good etching and also our fellow citizen Mr. Davide (he’s from near Venice!) who is in charge of pressing machines control and who infected us with his extraordinary cheerfulness !!