Scratched in Wax: The Secret World of Matrix Etchings (Part I)

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The process of manufacturing vinyl records affords a final opportunity for creativity to artists, labels and engineers, before the final product is packaged and distributed. When the master is cut, prior to stamping of the records, it is common for identification marks to be added, such as catalogue numbers, references to the mastering house and notes about the tape being used by the engineer. A practice also emerged of engineers adding their names, nicknames or logos, and inscribing messages of their own, such as references to lyrics or notes meaningful to themselves or to the artists. Scrawled into the inner run-off grooves of the record, nearest the label, such matrix etchings are important for record collectors to help identify different editions, but they also provide a source of coded communication to fans keen to discover every detail about their favourite recordings. Holding records at an angle to the light reveals the messages, which are otherwise overlooked by the listener.

One of the best-known practitioners of the subtle art of matrix etching was the engineer, George Peckham, who signed off many masters as “Porky” or added his mark, “A Porky Prime Cut”. The hand-drawn face of a pig can also be traced back to Peckham. Here’s an example of Peckham’s sign-off, taken from Fad Gadget’s “Fireside Favourites/Insecticide” single:

matrix-fadgadget1

Peckham’s sense of humour is evident, as next to his motto he has drawn a picture of a fly buzzing (in reference to the lyrics of “Insecticide”):

matrix-fadgadget2

Sometimes, the messages look like they could be personal statements about the engineer’s own musical tastes. Take, for example, this message cut into the A-side of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” (BONG18):

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Other times, they look like paying tribute to the songs being worked with. This is the etching on New Order’s first single, “Ceremony”:

matrix-neworder

We’ll post some more of these shortly, but feel free to send your favourites to post@coldwarnightlife.com.

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