Compact disc

When Canberra first heard the compact disc

Greek composer Vangelis

With the death on May 17 of the Greek composer Vangelis, memories return to the musical writer TONY MAGE of the Canberra launch of the compact disc digital audio format in December 1982.

HOW MANY CD titles were available when they were launched in 1982? Only two! Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” and Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” soundtrack, for which he won the Oscar for Best Original Score in 1981.

My boss, owner and founder of Kent Hi-Fi Canberra Rudi Langeveld, sensing that the CD was going to take over the world and wanting to be fully prepared as a retailer, flew to Japan for the launch in Tokyo a few months earlier in october.

Sony co-founder and chairman Akio Morita had secured the services of renowned Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan as a featured musical guest.

With Karajan’s clout behind this new audio concept – digital audio combined with laser technology – Sony hoped to earn consumer trust among the global music listening public, which they did.

Rudi brought a Japanese model Sony 110 volt player back to Canberra, along with Vangelis and Billy Joel records.

We then began after-hours demos in the store from December 1982, six months before the actual Australian release.

On the night of the premiere, at the age of 22, I boldly stepped out in front of the gathered crowd and said, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, it’s a compact disc!

Herbert von Karajan (centre) and Sony chairman Akio Morita playing with the Philips prototype player (left) and Sony prototype player (right) in Salzburg in 1981.

I held up the shiny new disc, all shimmering and sparkling under the lights. People were panting.

Then I pressed the open button on the front of the Sony CDP-101 – the world’s first CD player – and the drawer slid out. Hundreds of people rushed forward.

As “Chariots of Fire” erupted, we were able to switch between the CD and LP disc equivalent, so guests could hear any audio differences they could perceive. In some cases, it was more clearly about the differences they sought perceive.

The CD was viewed with some skepticism by the audio elite.

Cheers would ensue from CD supporters, marveling at the new technology and sound, contrasted by howls of derision from some other quarters.

These after-hours demonstrations for the general public continued into January and February 1983.

Then in May, Rudi teamed up with Ross Gengos, owner of Abels Music Canberra, who had just received their first delivery of the Philips player, the CD-200.

Together they rented Rehearsal Room 3 (now the Larry Sitsky Recital Room) at the Canberra School of Music and put on a show.

People could walk in and out for a weekend and hear the new CD players, through a range of different speakers, amplifiers and cables.

As for the original Sony CD player? Well, I still have one, which I bought new in 1984 when I was still a student.

Its unique 16-bit DAC technology seems a bit primitive by today’s standards.

However, I will bring it out of retirement, release my copy of the “Chariots of Fire” soundtrack, and remember, with affection and admiration, the incredible compositional talent that was Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou (1943 – 2022).

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Ian Meikle, editor