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MMD > Archives > October 1998 > 1998.10.29 > 07Prev  Next


Audio Compression on Rachmaninoff Recordings
By Craig Brougher

Judging from my own Victor Recordings of Rachmaninoff, I agree with
Julian Dyer, in that the Boesendorfer used to play Wayne Stahnke's
rolls is considerably louder in the accented passages relatively than
the Victor recordings.  That also proves a very vivid fact of life
about Victor 78's.

I grew up with Victor records on my own  wind-up Victrola which was
new at that time (and I thought, loud).  I was used to putting my face
in the horn to hear everything.  I was interested in the little sounds
that weren't supposed to be there, I guess.  I just loved all the
details.

At best, those records were lousy, dynamic-wise.  When 33's came out,
I was delighted, because I had all but given up on ever hearing a
decent recording, except on reel to reel tape, so I had to have some
of those.  Long before it was universally recognized that there was
practically no dynamic range on 78 records, I was complaining mightily
to the stores I would buy the records from, and they would point me to
this and that record that had better dynamics.  But they were all huge
disappointments.  33's were better, but not a whole lot better until
5 years later.

Part of the reason dynamic range was so drastically compressed on 78s
was the distance between grooves, plus the fact that the diaphragm was
only linear in a certain percent of the transmitted energy, anyway
(I'll not get into the radio transcription record problem).  The
loudness curve on a mechanical record is still a log 10 power curve
that requires as much extra bandwidth between f and ff, as it does
between p and mf.

So when you're talking ffff, I believe -- if I recall correctly -- that
means you must provide a band (correct me if I'm wrong) 4  times wider
than the band you presently have, in order to get 4 orders of magnitude
more loudness -- which is what the Boesendorfer was recreating because
it isn't bothered by media limitations.  (Whatever the actual figure,
Victor could not provide it).

Regarding other aspects of a Victor record I have noticed, There was
a time limit, in which the artist had to both "stretch out the time"
once in awhile, as well as "compress the song" if it would normally
go even a few seconds beyond the record length.

This forced the artists to make corresponding artistic compromises
in order to justify the time span he was required to fill.  If you
were going to record a 4 minute piece in a maximum of 3.8 minutes for
example, You will need some latitude.  That shortens your actual
playing time a bit more just to make sure you aren't going to go over
your limit.

Then to make matters more difficult, they provide you with a large
clock by which you can gauge your timing.  So if you are tending to
lag, you must speed up imperceptibly, or make adjustments in the way
you play the piece to justify the "rubato," or overall timing, or
other little tricks that would take you to the end of the record
without seeming to "hurry."

So striking, interpretation, arrangement, tempo, pedaling, everything
must be changed when timing performances which must be adjusted to fit
on a record.  What's left is basically the individualistic performing
"spirit" of the artist, who will always be recognized in his overall
technique, and the way he usually chooses to "compromise" his arrange-
ments a bit to accommodate the time factor.  For example, to justify a
quick passage, he might use staccato striking and a dramatic speed-up
in tempo at the end of that passage.  We would never know if he did it
from necessity or artistry's sake.

As far as dynamic range is concerned, the same artist would modify his
dynamics to suit the piano, the room, the situation, etc.  He would not
consider that kind of an adjustment a true compromise of his artistry.
The only time he would let it all out, frankly, is in the concert hall.
This is also where the 78 Victor failed.  It simply could not record a
powerful piano very well.

We have all heard the true story (as also recalled by Adam Carroll)
that Rachmaninoff was overwhelmed by the perfection of his first player
piano roll, and allowed the Ampico Corporation to quote him in
advertisements as having said, "Gentlemen, I, Sergei Rachmaninoff, have
just heard myself play."  He was astounded beyond comprehension.  He
really didn't expect a lot, and there it was for the first time in
history-- a perfectly true recording, as far as his ears were
concerned.

I think it is just as notable that Rachmaninoff did not, on the other
hand, tell the Victor recording company how much he thought of his
virtuosity coming from their little boxes.  As a matter of fact, he was
privately very disparaging of performances on records, and thought they
were all pretty bad.  Then, I just thought, "Shucks, that was always my
opinion, too!"  (Not to mention that each time you played the record-
ing, you seemed to lose more and more of the music, even with the new
diamond needles for 78's.)

Craig Brougher

 [ I clearly remember my father in 1946 building an audio expander-
 [ compressor for his home-made 'High Fidelity' phonograph (push-pull
 [ paralleled 2A3's).  After that our home was bombarded with Bach,
 [ Brahms and Beethoven at full dynamic range!  -- Robbie


(Message sent Thu 29 Oct 1998, 15:11:42 GMT, from time zone GMT-0600.)

Key Words in Subject:  Audio, Compression, Rachmaninoff, Recordings

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