Printing Music

Printing for Labour Vertue Glorie is now completed & we’re in the (early) binding stage (vellum spine of Claudia's first dummy for Series 1 and 2 copies above). The printing took a little more than 300 hours, spread over four months. It’s a lot of time standing at the press, rolling out the ink and cranking the bed back & forth. None of that time was spent in silence: there were some podcasts, but most of the time was spent listening to music. Once makeready is done and the ink adjusted for a form, printing is pretty dull: you have to pay attention, but not really do much thinking, so one’s mind tends to wander. One day I found mine playing the Desert Island Discs game: what ten albums would I choose if I were to be marooned on an island with no expectation of rescue?

It’s been my experience that many printers place particular importance on music, and that music often crosses into their projects, whether overtly or tangentially. Both scores and pages are composed, and both grapple with decisions around balance, color, harmony and space. While playing my game, I got to wondering what 10 albums printers I know, or at least whose work I know, would choose. So I invited some of them to play the game, and here present their lists.


The rules were simply ten albums, and album is defined as a single cohesive work. The three discs in Einstein in the Beach would count as one choice, but Sony’s 24-CD collection of Philip Glass would not. (I admit to considering the complete eight-hour recording of Max Richter’s Sleep, but decided it was a stretch; also, I won’t need help nodding off while lost on a desert island.) No explanations or justifications were required.

Readers familiar with this blog will know it does not invite comments, since people have proven they can’t act decently on the Internet. However, if anyone would like to add their own list to this collection, it can be emailed to me (see address lower right) and I will append it (or at least a few interesting ones). Please include your full name, location, and press name/affiliation if any. Don’t bother sending comments or critiques on any of the posted lists, we’re not getting into a debate over choices.

This turned out to be a lot of fun, since several of the lists included choices that were all unknown to me. The game also underscored the wide range of tastes at work, and the place music holds in the lives of the responding printers. (Jason Dewinetz, who prints on a Vandercook, raised a point I had not considered: a mechanized press makes noise, which could impede listening, or at least limit choices. My handpress makes no noise, and I’d go loopy without music while printing.)

Will Rueter (The Aliquando Press)
  1. J. Bach - Goldberg Variations. A dead heat among three interpretations: Simone Dinnerstein, Glenn Gould’s 1959 Salzburg recital, and Pieter-Jan Belder’s most recent recording. At the moment, Belder’s harpsichord version wins by a micro-hair.
  2. J. Bach - Mass in B minor. My current favourite version is by the Netherlands Bach Society.
  3. F. Schubert - String Quintet in C (Emerson Quartet, Rostropovich).
  4. M. Haydn - Requiem. Solosits, King’s Consort. An unknown gem.
  5. L. Janáček - The Cunning Little Vixen. Vienna Philharmonic, Mackerras. A comic strip about animals made into a profound opera. If there was a CD of Weinberg’s The Passenger, it would have absolute first place.
  6. M. Ravel. Anything, but especially Daphnis et Chloe, with choir.
  7. C. Monteverdi - Vespers of 1610, with Gardiner. Or any opera. Or madrigal.
  8. Leonard Cohen - Probably Ten New Songs
  9. D. Shostakovich - My musical hero for so many years. Impossible to choose, but probably Symphony #7 ‘Leningrad’ or any of the quartets.
  10. Jacques Loussier - Any record of his riffs on Bach; he’s beyond brilliant.

Crispin & Jan Elsted (Barbarian Press)
Before you put the question, neither of us had really thought very much in any systematic way about what we play when working. The daily programming runs fairly true to a pattern. We often begin the day with an opera, these days tending towards the bel canto (we're particularly fond of Donizetti, Bellini, and Rossini) but we're also devoted to Verdi, Puccini, Massenet, and Mozart. Then we'll usually segue into orchestral music, usually late romantic or modernist - let's say from Tchaikovsky through to Shostakovich, Janacek, or Walton. (20th century English music is a shared pleasure, and ballet scores are too.) Towards the end of the day, when energy is flagging more than somewhat, we often switch from classical to jazz (some of which we've mentioned), rock (the Stones, CCR, Beatles), old rock 'n' roll (pre-1960 Elvis, the Everly Bros., or mixes I've put together), or electric blues (Tommy Castro, Muddy Waters, Studebaker John, Junior Wells and the like), just to keep the blood flowing.

Jan and I both made lists, and it was interesting for each of us to look at the other's once they were done. Our tastes coincide about 90% of the time. Jan’s choices reflect more of the later afternoon repertoire, which is probably due to her requests for the bouncy stuff dominating the playlists from about 3 p.m. on. The Mozart, Bellini, and Netrebko recital she's chosen are all music we know well, and except for the recits in the Mozart they are all pretty energetic and audible even over a Vandercook, I guess.

As for my final choices, they are largely representative of groups of possibilities. For instance, while Der Rosenkavalier is certainly one of my top ten favourite operas, and I might have chosen another in that slot - Die Walküre, Aïda, or Il barbiere di Siviglia spring to mind -- Rosenkavalier is more complex and would probably have more staying power once it had been plugged into the nearest palm tree on that island of yours. Ask me next year, and the list would probably alter in particulars, but in the main would remain as it is.


Crispin’s list:
  1. I. Stravinsky - Firebird and Petroushka (Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Stravinsky con.)
  2. W. Walton - Symphony #1 (London Symphony Orchestra, A. Previn con.)
  3. P. Tchaikovsky - Symphony #3 (London Symphony Orchestra,  V. Gergiev con.)
  4. Shelley Manne & His Men - Live at the Blackhawk
  5. Gerry Mulligan - The Concert Jazz Band Complete Recordings
  6. M. Weinberg - Symphony #2 & Chamber Symphony #2 (Umeå Symphony Orchestra, T. Svedlund con.) 
  7. A. Bruckner - Symphony #4 (Münchner Philharmoniker, S. Celibidache con.)
  8. M. Ravel - Daphnis et Chloe (Berlin Philharmonic, P. Boulez con.)
  9. L. Janáček - Opera suites incl. The Cunning Little Vixen; From the House of the Dead; The Excursions of Mr Broucek (Prague Symphony Orchestra, J. Bělohlávek con.)
  10. R. Strauss - Der Rosenkavalier (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, G. Solti con.)

Jan’s list:
  1. W.A. Mozart - Le Nozze di Figaro (Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra, C. M. Giulini con.)
  2. Gilbert & Sullivan - The Gondoliers (Glyndebourne Festival Chorus & Pro Arte Orchestra, M. Sargent con.)
  3. Ella Fitzgerald - The George & Ira Gershwin Songbook
  4. Benny Goodman - Carnegie Hall Concert
  5. V. Bellini - I Capuleti e i Montecchi (A. Netrebko, E. Garanča, et al., F. Luisi con.)
  6. A. Netrebko -  Opera Arias (Vienna Philharmonic, G. Noseda con.)
  7. The Rolling Stones - Hot Rocks
  8. various - Forrest Gump (film soundtrack) 
  9. Paul Simon - The Essential Paul Simon
  10. S. Rachmaninov - Dances (Philharmonia, N. Järvi con.)

Sarah Horowitz (Wiesedruck)
I thought I’d have to think about my list, but I didn’t once I looked at what I had. It’s all over the map. I grew up as a teenager with the Beatles, Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Morrison, Hendrix and Janice (yes, in the ‘80s, so I didn’t exactly fit in). Over the last 10 years I have tended towards dark, depressing classical music, but I can’t just listen to that so bits and pieces of all the phases I went through in between have stuck with me - klezmer, latin, old time…
  1. W.A. Mozart - Requiem
  2. Hilliard Ensemble - Motets of Guillaume de Machaut
  3. O. Golijov - Yiddiishbbuk
  4. A. Pärt - Tabula Rasa 
  5. Portland Cello Project - (anything)
  6. Regina Spektor - Regina Spekor and Soviet Kitch
  7. Paul Cantelon with Gogol Bordello - Everything is Illuminated (movie soundtrack)
  8. Orishas - A Lo Cubano
  9. Golden Delicious - Old School
  10. Shakira - Laundry Service by Shakira. Because everyone needs to tango a little while printing, especially when it’s been a long day…

Bob McCamant (Sherwin Beach Press & emeritus editor of Parenthesis NA.)
  1. Darlingside - Birds Say
  2. Tarkan - Dudu
  3. fun. - Aim & Ignite
  4. Nick Lowe - Labour of Lust 
  5. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
  6. Jane Siberry - Bound by the Beauty
  7. Graham Parker - Howling Wind
  8. The Beautiful South - Quench
  9. L. van Beethoven - Symphony #7 (Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra)
  10. G. Handel - Judas Maccabaeus (Philharmonia Baroque)

Jason Dewinetz (Greenboathouse Press)
I rarely listen to music while working; I like quiet, and I also like to hear and feel what the machine is doing: the hiss of the ink, the rumble of the cylinder rolling over type, the click and clank of the casting machine. All of these sounds tell me things about how the work is going, and often I make adjustments (to ink, to the speed of the casting machine, etc.) based on these sounds. That said, occasionally I do put some music on, although I tend to turn it off again after half an hour because it starts to get on my nerves.
  1. The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
  2. SNFU - And No One Else Wanted to Play
  3. Liz Phair - Whip-Smart
  4. Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes
  5. Tom Waits - Frank’s Wild Years
  6. Pixies - Doolittle
  7. Skip James - Blues from the Delta
  8. Metallica - Master of Puppets
  9. The Cramps - Bad Music for Bad People
  10. PJ Harvey - Rid of Me


HM’s List
I have found four streaming “radio” stations that have effectively made my own music collection excess to requirement. Like the Elsteds, my listening during a day of printing has an arc, which these four stations neatly span: Ambient Sleeping Pill and/or Drone Zone for the first few hours, while getting a form set up and printing right; Deep Space One mid-day; and Space Station Soma for the final push. But with no Internet on the island, my playlist is comprised of albums that aren’t necessarily favorites, but ones I know would withstand repeated listenings over the years.
  1. Kyle Bobby Dunn - Kyle Bobby Dunn & The Infinite Sadness
  2. Harold Budd & Brian Eno - The Pearl 
  3. Stars of the Lid - The Ballasted Orchestra. Hard to choose one SOTL album, but the song titles alone make this a fun choice…
  4. loscil - Plume
  5. Bill Laswell & Style Scott - Dub Meltdown
  6. Harold Budd & Eraldo Bernocchi - Music for “Fragments from the Inside”
  7. Miles Davis - Sketches of Spain
  8. The Rolling Stones - Some Girls
  9. Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works 2. Despite a couple of clunker tracks…
  10. Fatboy Slim vs HM - The Mix Tape. This was never released, exists only as a lathe-cut test pressing, and is impossible to find. The only known copy will be with me, thereby assuring people will come looking, rescue me, and I won’t be stuck on an island with just ten albums for eternity.
Next up: news of this fun new, fine-press fixated bibliomystery


John Henry Nash, What Were You Thinking?

Dipping into the oeuvre of San Francisco printer John Henry Nash this month. I’ve long been a fan of his work, although not necessarily all of his books. This post was sparked by a recent leaf book acquisition, purchased sight unseen, and in some aspects it is less than aspirational.

The book is Nicolas Jenson, Printer of Venice, published in 1926, with a leaf from Jenson’s 1478 edition of Plutarch’s Vitae Parallelae Illustrium Virorum (volume 2). Jenson, Nash, leaf book: these three things combined in one book make it aces for me, but turns out it isn’t one of Nash’s better productions. The first thing I noticed when the book - which is folio sized, to accommodate the Jenson leaf - arrived was the paper. Where many of his books featured European hand- or mouldmade paper, this appears to be a machine-made (it is not mentioned in the colophon, and Nell O’Day’s Catalogue of Books Printed by JHN lists it simply as “Strathmore”).

The Jenson leaf has a little foxing, and Nash’s paper is buff; the Strathmore may have been chosen because its cream hue approximates the Jenson leaf. But in 2017 it simply looks like cheap paper that has aged quickly and badly. Attention to this unlovely paper is heightened by it apparently having been used with the grain going the wrong way: pages buckle along the gutter when turned. The slim volume’s opening isn’t helped by the vellum spine - the thing just doesn’t really want to be opened.

The paper is the primary sticking point. Nash knew paper & most of his books were printed on lovely paper, often a laid Van Gelder mouldmade with his watermark. Why, then, did he choose such a charmless paper for the Jenson project? Let’s inquire by taking a quick tour through some of his work…

Starting with the best example at hand, Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press (1929) is another leaf book, one for which the materials and production do justice to the content. The paper for this book is the Van Gelder. The edition is 339 copies, all with an original leaf tipped in on tapes (allowing easy inspection of the verso; the too-common shortcut of gluing a leaf along one edge discourages turning it); 37 of the copies include a vellum leaf, and are bound in full vellum over boards (the rest of the edition in simple limp vellum). A beautiful production.

Nash employed the vellum over boards, with exposed tapes laced through the joint, on a number of his publications. One on my shelf is the folio-sized doorstop The Life and Personality of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, a hagiography of the mother of William Randall, who footed the bill for the 1,000 copies - all for private distribution - bound in vellum over boards (the binding was done in Germany). Nash was also commissioned to print a companion volume about Hearst’s old man, which is much more scarce than Phoebe’s volume. I found this copy in a second hand store, priced at $100 (which seems to be the going rate online). I cannot imagine how much the binding alone would cost now, assuming you could find someone who knew how to do it, but a lot more than a yard, so I bought the thing. Didn’t even pretend I might read it one day, I just admire the binding, paper and printing every now & then.

Back to paper: my claim that the paper used for the Jenson book is an aberration among Nash’s publications is bolstered by looking at some of his ephemera, all printed on the same beautiful papers he used for books (that’s what offcuts are for). I have two pieces that were printed on handmade H. Pannekoek paper, with a beautiful, big watermark. Apparently Pannekoek disappeared some time in the 19th century, so this must be stock Nash found in a warehouse somewhere. It’s a lovely sheet, a bit soft (possibly unsized).

Nell O’Day’s catalogue was printed by Nash in 1937. It’s not a rare title, but the only copy I’ve ever seen in a shop is the one I bought (it’s in an elegant case of waxed marbled paper over boards, inscribed by Nash and O’Day on the front pastedown). Skimming through it, Pannekoek paper makes its first appearance in 1926, for The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He seems to have had the Le Fortuin sheet (above) and another, “laid finish” sheet.

Pannekoek is used for a few more projects, up to 1928, and then no more - me must have used up his stash. This large pamphlet (The End of a Quest: An Appreciation), issued in 1928, may have been the last of what he had.

The thing that is particularly irksome is that Nash had the Pannekoek paper on hand when he published the Jenson book. It would have been a perfect match, but instead we get the loathsome Strathmore - a sheet with no mention I could find in the Catalogue before or after the Jenson project; that tells you how much Nash liked it Worse yet, he had been using Kelmscott paper for projects immediately before the Jenson! Imagine what might have been.

Joseph Fauntleroy’s reminiscence about working with and for Nash (JHN Printer, above) is beautifully produced in the printer’s style, on his watermarked Van Gelder paper, but may be of interest only to hardcore printing nerds. It includes an intriguing mention of Nash’s fondness for bicycle racing during his early apprentice years in Toronto, a fondness that apparently cost him his apprenticeship & sparked the travels that eventually took him to San Francisco. Fauntleroy also mentions several times the care and attention that went into choosing the right paper for specific projects, a point that underscores the uncharacteristic choice for the Jenson book’s.

Having taken that brief tour, perhaps you can understand my puzzlement at, and disappointment with the paper he used in the Jenson book. None of the reference books I have at hand offers any insight to the decision. Regardless, I justified purchasing the book as a raw material for the second edition of the Francesco Griffo “biography” we’ll be printing one day (thought it might be next year, but now looks like 2019 earliest): I’m thinking of including letterpress facsimiles of pages from books mentioned in the biography, including one showing Jenson’s roman, so I need an original leaf to reproduce. Same with that Hypnerotomachia leaf I mentioned last month.

So that’s a lot of moaning about a book I just bought. Even if I’d seen it first, I probably would have bought it anyway, because of Nash and Jenson. At least it sparked me to pull out my Nash ephemera and play with it again. I think I’m going to offer up Mrs Hearst, in her stunning vellum clothing, The End of the Quest (large folio, printed on Le Fortuin), the Aeropagitica quote (single folded sheet, JHN Van Gelder, with unicorn), If It Were Today (folio pamphlet, JHN Van Gelder laid), and Americana Vetustissima (single folded sheet, JHN Van Gelder laid) as a collection, for $250. Send me a note if you want more details & etc.

We have something special for the first post of 2018, with a number of printer friends contributing. Until then, happy happy, merry merry, be well. HM


The End is Near

This month's post is about John Henry Nash, Nicolas Jenson, leaf books, and related matters. It needs a bit more work before posting, and I have to get down to printing that last - and trickiest - sheet for Labour Vertue Glorie: it includes the title and contents pages, two colors on both sides, which means a three-day run (instead of the usual two). I'll get the new post up by the weekend. Meanwhile, go have a look at a short video I made last weekend (instead of working on the Nash post); it was filmed through the studio's east windows. Has nothing to do with printing or books, but I like to think it catches the spirit of HM.

After the title page run, I have just the volvelles to print. Everything remains on schedule for a late winter/early spring publication.