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Wordsleuth (2001, vol. 34, 4): Rip, Mix, Burn?

Barbara Collishaw
(Terminology Update, Volume 34, Number 4, 2001, page 32)

Have you noticed that your music dates you? Not only the style of music you prefer and your favourite artists, but the media on which that music is recorded and played, and the terms you use to describe those recordings may give away your age and perhaps your lack of modernity.

"Do you want any new albums?" I innocently asked my 17-year-old daughter. "Albums? Mother! I just burned the track on a CD!" came the answer. Conversations like this make baby boomers feel like dinosaurs—we who used to be so hip! Even her older sister looked a bit puzzled.

Let’s start with the newest terms. A new television ad for Apple concludes with the words "Rip. Mix. Burn." appearing on screen. What does that mean? With a CD burner or CD writer, you burn a CD when recording music or another kind of digitized data onto the disc. Mixing is the selection and juxtaposition of those songs you want to hear. But rip? Does Apple want people to rip off the record labels or the artists? Perhaps it has something to do with capturing the music off the air or out of cyberspace? Not quite. According to my Internet research, ripping is extracting or tearing out music from a CD (presumably one you already own) and storing it on your hard drive. The advantage of ripping over older recording methods is speed: under a minute for a whole song. Digital Audio Extraction (DAE) is the formal name for ripping. A program called a codec (formed from COmpression-DECompression) is used to rip tracks and encode them in MP3 format (files of the .wav type). MP3 (which stands for MPEG—Moving Picture Experts Group—, layer 3, you might like to know) is a standardized format for compressing sound files. Because MP3 files are compressed, much more data (i.e. digitized music) can be stored on each disc, about 12 times as much as on a standard CD.

Because these files are compressed, transferring them from computer to computer is fast and easy. Peer-to-peer (P2P) services such as Napster (others include Aimster, SongSpy, OnShare, iMesh, Audiogalaxy and bearShare), some of them using the Gnutella protocol, have millions of users who share their music files, most in flagrant disregard of copyright law. You can store the files in your own computer or in cyberspace (with Napster), or you can make other copies in several ways. The files can be downloaded onto the new generation of portable MP3 players and the music taken anywhere. Alternatively, MP3 files can be transferred to blank CDs if you have a CD burner (a CD-RW—read/write or rewritable—drive) in your computer system.

Obviously, one very important tool for recording music in our times is the computer, with an Internet connection.

Just before all this music-sharing by computer began, the leading medium was the CD (compact disc). The portable CD player (e.g. Sony’s DiscmanTM) has largely replaced the WalkmanTM personal cassette player and the boom box (or politically incorrect "ghetto blaster") of the 1980s, which replaced the "portable" record player that my generation treasured (complete with extension cord, of course) and which moved the music out of our parents’ living room hi-fi systems and far beyond our grandparents’ phonographs.

When compact discs (CDs) first appeared, they threatened to wipe out 33 1/3 vinyl LPs (long-playing records), which has not entirely happened. But notice how cassette tapes are becoming a little rarer. Does that new car have a cassette player or a CD player? Perhaps both? Very few of you, I imagine, have a vehicle with an 8-track stereo player. Those bulky cassettes were the most serious medium for mobile music in the 1970s, but the technology has faded away. You could even say, "Eight-tracks are so twentieth century!"

Before 8-tracks and cassettes, there were other popular formats for recorded music: 45s and LPs. Popular songs of the 1960s and early 1970s were widely distributed as singles with one song on the A side and one on the B side (or flip side). These little vinyl records played at 45 rpm (revolutions per minute) on our 3- or 4-speed turntables. They could be stacked up in a preferred order and would automatically change when each finished. They had a large hole in the centre, which had to be filled with a plastic adapter or insert unless a special turntable with the wider spindle was available. Why was the adapter necessary? Why were some spindles thin and some thick? The answer is unclear, but it apparently had something to do with jukeboxes, which are another story . . . The turntables of the time, however, could be set to spin at 78, 45, 33 1/3 or 16 revolutions per minute. The 16-rpm format, with its very large capacity, was mainly used for spoken-word recordings such as "talking books," although there were 16-rpm record players in a limited number of cars.

The other popular format was the 33 1/3- rpm, 12-inch (30 cm) long-playing (LP) record or album. With a dozen songs by the same musician(s), these quickly became a means of artistic expression, in the songs, their themes (a concept album), and the cover art (both the graphics and the liner notes). Why is a flat piece of grooved vinyl called an album? Of course, it is a collection and that metaphor suits the subject. But the real reason is that the original albums were large, solidly bound collections of pockets (sleeves) into which 78s were inserted. Some were planned as a unit, consisting of a long work, such as a symphony or musical comedy, or music by a single artist, orchestra or band. Others were musical scrapbooks, purchased empty, in which you kept your own favourite 78-rpm records.

If you were a true aficionado and if you were also technically inclined, you might have had a reel-to-reel tape recorder. They were large—not easily portable—and promised the highest quality of sound reproduction. The first tape-recording machines were manufactured in 1930s Germany under the name "magnetophon." They used paper tapes as a support for magnetic information. Later, plastic tapes became the standard. Prior to these machines, sound had been successfully recorded on wire in the late nineteenth century.

And I haven’t even mentioned Edison’s wax cylinders, punched-metal music box discs, mechanical music boxes, the wind-up gramophone with the horn (and the dog who listened to "his master’s voice,") or the player piano and its piano rolls. Recorded music, with all its changing technology, has accompanied us since before the turn of the twentieth century, and will surely be with us well into the twenty-first.

Glossary
English French
16-rpm format format 16 tours (n.m.)
78-rpm record disque 78 tours (n.m.); 78 tours (n.m.)
45-rpm record; single disque 45 tours (n.m.); 45 tours (n.m.); disque vinyle courte durée (n.m.); disque vinyle simple (n.m.)
album album (n.m.)
A side face A (n.f.)
B side; flip side verso (n.m.)
burn (v.) graver
cassette tape cassette (n.f.)
CD burner; CD (Compact Disc) writer; CD-RW graveur de CD (disque compact) (n.m.); enregistreur de CD (n.m.); lecteur-enregistreur de CD (n.m.)
codec (COmpression-DECompression) codec (n.m.); codeur-décodeur (n.m.)
compact disc; CD (Compact Disc) disque compact; CD (Compact Disc); disque audionumérique (n.m.)
concept album album concept (n.m.)
cover art pochette (n.f.)
Digital Audio Extraction; DAE; ripping extraction audionumérique (n.f.)
eight-track tape; eight-track; 8-track tape; 8-track ruban à huit pistes (n.m.)
Gnutella protocol protocole Gnutella (n.m.)
gramophone gramophone (n.m.)
hi-fi system chaîne haute fidélité (n.f.)
horn cornet (n.m.)
layer 3 3e couche (n.f.)
liner notes notes d’accompagnement (n.f.plur.)
long-playing record; LP; 33 1/3 vinyl LP; 33 vinyl LP (short for 33 1/3 vinyl LP) microsillon (n.m.); disque 33 tours (n.m.); 33 tours (n.m.); disque vinyle longue durée (n.m.); long jeu (n.m.) (à éviter)
mixing mixage (n.m.); mélange (n.m.)
MP3 format format MP3 (n.m.)
music box boîte à musique (n.f.)
paper tape ruban de papier (n.m.)
peer-to-peer; P2P d’égal à égal
personal cassette player baladeur (n.m.)
phonograph phonographe (n.m.)
piano roll cylindre piqué (n.m.)
plastic adapter adaptateur en plastique (n.m.)
plastic tape ruban de plastique (n.m.)
player piano piano mécanique (n.m.)
portable CD player lecteur de CD (Compact Disc) portatif (n.m.)
portable MP3 player baladeur MP3 (n.m.)
portable record player tourne-disque portatif (n.m.); électrophone portatif (n.m.)
radio-cassette recorder; boom box (slang); ghetto blaster (pej.) radiocassette (n.f.); tonitruand (n.m.); casse-oreilles (n.m.) (péj.)
reel-to-reel tape recorder magnétophone à bobine (n.m.)
revolutions per minute (pl.); RPM (revolutions per minute); rpm tours par minute (n.m.plur.)
track piste (n.f.)
turntable tourne-disque (n.m.); platine tourne-disque (n.f.); platine (n.f.); table tournante (n.f.) (à éviter)
wav file fichier wav (n.m.)
wax cylinder cylindre de cire (n.m.)