We’ve been reading a lot of late 19th-century literature so we thought we’d listen to music from the period. So off we went to Jackie’s to raid her music library (and dine on Yaya Andresa’s ostrich burgers, which are intense). We borrowed some Mahler, Brahms, Faure, Grieg and a double-CD recording of Verdi’s Otello starring Mario del Monaco (sounds like a bold star) and Renata Tebaldi.
When we opened the CD case we found that the foam liner had disintegrated and stuck to the discs. Ayyy! So we removed the bits of foam very carefully, then wiped the discs with alcohol. The discs had become translucent. They wouldn’t play, even if we tried them on different players. Otello was dead, a victim of CD rot.
“This problem was spotted in the early days of optical discs,” explains Juan the audiophile
snob. (We are not allowed to use shoddy headphones in his presence.) “It happened to laser discs first. Apparently the seal on the two sides of the disc was not perfect, allowing air to seep in. Over time the substrate would disintegrate.”
(Digression: The first CDs Juan ever owned were the Chariots of Fire soundtrack and a Spandau Ballet album he bought in Tokyo in 1984. He also bought the newly-released Sony Discman. The battery back contained four D cells and was almost four times thicker and heavier than the player. Playing time was four hours or less.)
“The disc makers probably didn’t anticipate the chemical effect of the adhesive used on the reflective layer, and the manufacturing process was not perfect. The Japanese imprints were probably better than the American and European ones (Juan’s two oldest CDs still; some of his laser discs have gone kaput). Juan recalls a class action suit in the 80s against Pioneer, inventor of the laser disc. The CD was invented by Philips and Sony. The problem of CD rot was first reported in the west (The Otello CD was made in West Germany. There were two Germanies then).”
For more information: CDs are not forever. If you have any CDs from the 80s, time to check if they still play.
Add to to-do list: Attend the Wagner festival at Bayreuth. You line up for years and years to get tickets.