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Enoch Light and the birth of stereo by Robert Nevin

Contributing writer Robert Nevin raises a glass in praise of Lounge Music practioner Enoch Light.

There was a time when modern relaxation was an art form. To go along with the fine smoking jacket, briar pipe and the perfectly mixed martini served by a knockout dame in a tight dress, the right music was absolutely essential to complete the mood. As the Big Bands waned and before Rock’n’Roll had taken its first breaths, there arose in the mid-fifties a type of music created specifically to fit the bill.

Lounge Music is the overall term, and it comes in several different flavors: Bachelor Pad, Cocktail Music, Exotica, Jet Set Pop, etc. Along with the quest for the perfect drink, recording engineers were in their own moon race for more realistic and life-like sound; Hi-Fi, if you will. Stereophonic sound, which had been around for decades, was beginning to be truly available to the masses.

And this is where Enoch Light comes in. It would take several posts to cover his career as a musician and band leader. He put out dozens of albums in the lounge genre, employing musicians like Doc Severinsen, Tony Mottola and Dick Hyman. Light’s place in 20th century music would be notable for his musical output alone. But creating music wasn’t enough for Light. He wanted to create sound.

Enoch Light was also a recording engineer and in 1959 he formed Command Records. His objective, in addition to recording the changing sound of band music, was to experiment with, and advance, stereophonic sound. Today we’d call him a geek.

Light pioneered microphone placement for optimum left-right channelization and he experimented with the physical location of musicians in the studio to get the kind of audio effects he desired. “Ping-Pong” was the name given to the sound he created. He modified and customized recording and sound reproduction equipment to get the best possible results. Light was one of the first to record on 35mm film instead of magnetic tape. The result was a drastic reduction in “wow” and “flutter”, recording imperfections that had plagued engineers for decades. Light was also an early experimenter with quadraphonic sound

Two other very cool things about Enoch Light: In age when liner notes (anybody remember liner notes?) usually consisted of three paragraphs on the back of an album, written by a label ad man, Light wrote his own notes. He would go into so much detail about the characteristics of each song and the recording equipment he used that there was no way it would fit on the back of the album. So he invented the gatefold and formatted his notes on the inside of the album, as well as the back. So when you open up your copy of Sgt. Pepper, give ol’ Mr. Light a symbolic high five.

His first album for Command, “Persuasive Percussions” was a huge hit. That album and his next several stood out on the record rack because of the covers. The bold, modernistic, abstract artwork was designed by artist Josef Albers. This style of album art was widely emulated throughout the 50’s and early 60’s.

So I’d like to propose a toast… (raises dry martini with three olives) – To Enoch Light…the patron saint of Lounge Lizards everywhere!

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