Steyermark and Wright record with a single microphone from the 1940s, plugged directly into the recording machine. Musicians are arranged in front -- experience and trial and error have taught the pair the best setup -- and Wright drops a ruby recording stylus onto the spinning laquer-covered, aluminum disk.
Once the three- or four-minute recording is done, they play it back once for the artist, then plug a turntable into a computer and transfer the sound. No mixing, no manipulation and no attempt to improve the sound quality.
"We're more into archiving what's on the record," Wright said. "The challenge of the transfer process is to transfer it in much the way it was recorded."
Steyermark and Wright are also making a documentary about The 78 Project, which explores their journey around the country making records, their experiences with the technology and the history of American music. The film debuts at the SXSW Film Festival on March 7.
Although the 1930s technology used to make the 78 recordings in the project is pretty simple, there are lots of things that can go wrong. Steyermark has two Presto machines partly to make sure at least one is working.
"The format and the process can be very challenging," Wright said. As the ruby cutting stylus records sound onto the aluminum disk, it creates a thread of laquer that streams out from the needle like the strand of silk from a spider's web. Wright must furiously brush the surface of the record with a soft paintbrush to keep the strand from wrapping itself around the cutting needle and spoiling the record.
Wright and Steyermark now have dozens of field recordings from all over the country. Thirteen of them have been released on "The 78 Project: Volume One," which is available as a digital music download or on vinyl. The record is available through retailers like Amazon, at larger record stores or from Wright and Steyermark's website, www.the78project.com.
Other archived recordings, video of recording sessions and other information is also available on the website.
"It's sort of a deceptive simplicity," Wright said of the recording process. Steyermark said that of the original four-page instruction manual for the Presto recorder, three-and-a-half pages are devoted to troubleshooting what's wrong with the machine.
Although the pair has had its share of recording glitches and problems, "We've never had anything [recorded] that was a total disaster."
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.