[JPL] Why the CD Is 74 Minutes Long?
drjazz at drjazz.com
Mon Jan 10 16:27:39 EST 2011
When the Compact Disc Digital Audio standard came out in 1980, there was
a curious fact about it: It was 74 minutes long. Not 60 minutes. Or an
even 70 minutes. No, 74. And it was all one deaf man's fault.
The fault of a deaf man and one of the best musical compositions ever
written---one that gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it on my
big honking Denon reference headphones: The Symphony No. 9 in D minor,
Op. 125, the final great work of a Herr Ludwig van Beethoven, of Bonn,
Picture this. The end of the 70s, the greatest rock era of them all.
Plus, /disco/. It was 1979, the year the Rolling Stones recorded
/Emotional Rescue/, Debby Harry rocked everyone with /Heart of Glass/,
and Chic made the world dance with /Good Times/. It was also the year in
which Philips and Sony were working on the first audio CD standard.
Philips wanted a 11.5-centimeter disc, while Sony wanted a 10-centimeter
format. Both were enough to fit any of those vinyls, the smaller size
capable of storing 60 minutes of 16-bit 44,056 Hz stereo music.
But that wasn't enough. Norio Ohga said so. Ohga was a man mad about
audio. He trained as an opera singer and, after listening to Sony's tape
recorder for the first time, he sent a letter criticizing its audio
quality. He was offered a job at the company, and his influence was so
big that he became /president/ of Sony in the 80s. But back then, he was
just overseeing the project and he demanded that the CD format should be
able to play back the whole Ninth Symphony.
According to Philips, the "longest known performance lasted 74 minutes
[...] a mono recording made during the Bayreuther Festspiele in 1951 and
conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler." 60 minutes wouldn't cut it, and so it
became 74 minutes---12 centimeters.
At least, that's what /some/ people say. Others say that it was famed
Austrian orchestra and opera conductor Von Karajan who wanted the format
to hold the entire Ninth. Von Karajan was instrumental in making the
format big among the audio connoisseurs, and put that as a condition for
According to Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_Disc>,
however, Philips' chief engineer Kees Immink says that 12 centimeters
was the final length because it was a neutral size. Not Sony's neither
Philips'. But that, my friends, I don't want to believe. I prefer to
believe that it were the crazy German and the mad Japanese that made it
Send an email to Jesus Diaz, the author of this post, at
jesus at gizmodo.com
<mailto:jesus at gizmodo.com?subject=http://gizmodo.com/5729864/why-the-cd-is-74-minutes-long>.
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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