Editorial for February 2010

by | Feb 1, 2010 | Editorial | 0 comments

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Our February 2010 drawing/giveaway is for two sets of the 8-DVD Jazz Icons Series 4 – the latest in the series of amazing European TV performances by leading U.S. jazz artists and bands in the 1960s. The stations were all government-owned and didn’t have the commercial constraints of U.S. stations (who didn’t present any jazz for decades). The videos are B&W and mono but of excellent quality since the stations were adept at recording live music;  films and kinescopes were filed away after telecast rather than being discarded or erased as in the U.S.  Europeans were crazy about jazz and there was little race prejudice. To be considered for receiving one of the two Jazz Icons sets, you must Go Here to Register.  Remember: we need your address in order to ship.

The two winners of the Roku HD-XR Players, our January drawing-giveaway, have now been selected. The versatile digital multimedia receivers will be shipped to:

Fred Dietzel, Lebanon, PA; and Scott Higgins, Bloomington, IN.  Congrats to both!

   Guest Editorial – Leave it in or take it out? A restorer’s question

by Andrew Rose, Pristine Audio, St. Méard de Gurçon, France

Earlier this week I recorded an interview for a BBC Radio Four programme on the subject of remastering, due for broadcast in April of this year. The question and answer session stretched to about 35 minutes, during which I attempted to outline my approach to the subject, as well as explain what on earth XR remastering is and how it works, all without the aid of pictures.

In the middle of all of this, one question stuck out – and required answering again as I renewed work after the interview on the finishing touches to this week’s Ormandy Bach recordings. We now have the technology to remove all sorts of extraneous noises from a recording – but should we, and if so, how does this affect the recording as an historic document?

I immediately recalled two recordings I’d worked on. One was Toscanini’s première broadcast performance of Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Essay for Orchestra No. 1. The Adagio was shot through with radio interference – speech from another broadcast was clearly audible throughout much of the performance. Thankfully the nature of the music, with its long, drawn-out notes and relatively sparse orchestration allowed me to delve in-between the musical frequencies and extract the offending interference. The recordings were previously unissued – was this one of the reasons for this? And if so, was it not therefore better not to have them so as to be able better to enjoy the music and the performance?

The other recording which sprang to mind was Boult’s January 1945 Bedford Corn Exchange recording with the BBC Symphony Orchestra of Holst’s Planets Suite. As the music receded into the HMV shellac noise during Neptune something else could be heard, something which sounded suspiciously like the drone of heavy wartime aircraft. The noise impaired the audibility of those exquisitely quiet bars of music, and was duly filtered out.

And then this week it was the traffic noise outside which marred Ormandy’s Bach. There are few extraneous sounds which are both as recognisable and as likely to turn up on both ‘studio’ and live recordings than motor traffic accelerating away outside the concert hall – though the Bakerloo Line Underground trains were a constant annoyance to those of us working in the sub-basement of the BBC’s Broadcasting House in London for many decades, until an expensively sprung massive false floor was inserted to soak up all the vibrations!

But should we be removing these noises? Are they not part of the historical document that is a recording? What about the man with the hacking cough marring a live broadcast? Or the conductor humming along with the music?

Ultimately it’s a matter of judgment. Rule number one is simple – if it can’t be removed without damage to the musical content, it has to stay. Thereafter the rules become a little less clear. Traffic noise I can do without. If I get rid of 80-90% of the coughs in a live performance I don’t mind leaving a handful in to remind the listener of the nature of the performance – preferably quiet ones which I can’t get out anyway. Radio interference was not a part of the performance or broadcast at all; rather it was a shortcoming of the equipment used to tune into the broadcast and record it, and I’ll do what I can to get rid of it – likewise print-through or cross-talk from tapes, and pre-echo on discs.

What I’ll not be losing in a hurry is Toscanini’s humming (nor Paul Paray’s for that matter). Bum notes stay in as well, even if they can be ‘fixed’, especially in a live performance. On the other hand, tape drop-outs can sometimes be patched in such a way that the listener hears the original frequencies up to, say, 5kHz, but above that they hear something copied in from elsewhere in the same recording which sounds identical or sufficiently similar as to be undetectable.

Some orchestras are noisier than others, with all sorts of bumps, clanks, creaks and clatters – these I tend to treat like coughs: get rid of the majority of the worst whilst not producing a completely ‘perfect’ recording. After all, they are a part of the sound of humans making music, albeit not the sounds we necessarily wanted to hear.

Is this the ‘right’ approach? Can there ever be such a thing?

AUDIOPHILE AUDITION began in 1985 as a weekly national radio series hosted by John Sunier, which aired for 13 1/2 years on up to 200 public radio and commercial stations coast to coast. In September 1998 its site for programming information was expanded to the present Internet publication.
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