Editorial for July 2010

Published on July 1, 2010

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For our July drawing/giveaway Allegro Distributors is offering the Complete Bach Cantatas conducted by Ton Koopman on 67 CDs from the Challenge label. There are only a couple of complete Bach cantata sets, and this is one of the best. They were recorded in Holland over a space of about ten years. Koopman’s versions are considered warmer and more empathic than those of a competing set on BIS. This will be a perfect award for one of our readers who has found our extensive reviews of choral and liturgical music of value to her or him.

Go Here to Register on our site this month in order to be eligible to win the Bach Cantatas set in early August, and please mention your interest in this massive set in the Comments field.

The lucky winner of the Livio/Pandora Wi-Fi Radio – our June drawing/giveaway – is Robert Wilkins, Mill Valley, CA

July Guest Editorial – The Joy of Cloning

by Andrew Rose of Pristine Classical

I received a number of e-mails following my editorial last week, and there’s one point I realise I neglected to make and which I’ll return to at the end of this editorial. However, one particular question was raised, and it’s one I’ve seen asked before – it’s all about how secure a music collection is when we abandon hard copies in favour of hard drives.

Since the beginning of the era of recorded sound, we’ve been used to a recording being something precious, something special. Not only is the music and performance a part of this, but also the medium on which it is carried. For decades we’ve taken great care of our discs and tapes to ensure their survival, and with them, the survival of the delicate signals held upon them.

There can surely be nobody reading this who has never had at least one calamity happen to a recording in their possession. Whether it’s the cracking or snapping of a shellac 78, the scratching of a vinyl disc, the tangling or accidental erasing of a tape or the bronzing or scratching of a CD, we’ve been used to living with music collections which are inherently fragile to one degree or another for as long as we’ve all been alive.

Well that’s just changed, and it’s changed forever. Those days are behind me, never to be revisited. But I haven’t perfected the indestructible CD-R nor the shock-proof hard drive, the blast-proof magnetic tape nor the waterproof iPod.

No, I have (at least) two record collections, and each is a perfect clone of the other. Imagine if you’d bought a spare copy of every record, CD, VHS tape and DVD you ever owned, not to mention books, photographs and just about everything else which now exists in the digital domain. Imagine then if one copy of each went up in smoke; you’re left with a spare copy – nothing is entirely lost. But should anything happen to the spare? You can’t be too careful, can you…

In this new, digital century, these worries become increasingly a thing of the past. I’ve no need to make lots of back-up copies of my documents or media onto a stack of floppy discs, CDs or even DVDs – it would take an age and cost a fortune anyway – when the cost of hard drive storage required to hold the lot is rapidly falling towards €100 and the copying required can take place unattended in the click of a mouse. And in a very few years’ time I’ll look back and laugh at how slow, expensive and limited my digital storage was way back in 2010!

Don’t forget, this isn’t just copying as we once knew it. Every time we copied an LP to cassette or a CD to open reel tape, whatever the specs of the machinery involved, in the analogue world we were always going to cause some signal degradation; even the finest Studer tape recorders had wow and flutter that could be measured, a noise floor defined by the tape type and speed used, and needed careful and regular calibration and cleaning to get the best results.

By contrast, the sons, grandsons, great-grandsons ad infinitum of my original digital music files (and my own digital recordings date back to the 1980s and some very obsolete tape formats) suffer none of this. Each copy is identical, each a perfect clone of its original, each back-up a copy created automatically without need for human intervention. Nothing is lost, everything is thousands of times safer than its ever been in the past. For the first time in human history we’re safe from the danger of the kind of destruction that destroyed the ancient library of Alexandria in 48BC, wiping out perhaps the greatest record of ancient civilisation ever collected under one roof.

OK, so a direct asteroid strike on my village might cause me a few headaches right now – but the ever-increasing speed of online connections means it won’t be long before I have another back-up cloned somewhere on another continent. It’s already the case for all of Pristine Classical’s music files, which exist not only here on various drives and their back-ups, but also have life on storage drives hundreds or thousands of miles away (which is where you’re downloading them from), and in the living rooms or offices of those who’ve purchased our Digital Music Collection drives (another of which headed out of here just yesterday on a mirrored RAID drive – original and back-up in one box – on its trans-Atlantic journey), not to mention the thousands of computers, iPods and shelves of those who’ve downloaded our FLACs or purchased our CDs, each one a digital clone.

I do still get huge pleasure from records, though I don’t hold any great affection for silver discs any more – but then I also have a professional interest here. The reproduction of excellent analogue sound from a piece of black plastic or shellac has always seemed more of a hands-on miracle than the sliding of a CD into a black metal box. But I needed two complete sets of Die Zauberflöte to complete this week’s transfer, thanks to the discovery of a handful of shattered discs in my first set, and this was an instant reminder of just how fragile these discs can be. An individual digital clone may be equally fragile – most disc drives don’t like deep water, or long falls onto hard surfaces – but in the age of easy cloning this matters less and less every day. I can’t clone a 78rpm disc any more than the next man, but we can all make digital clones on our PCs or Macs whenever we like.

Welcome to the Joy of Cloning!

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