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ARSCLIST  August 2005

ARSCLIST August 2005

Subject:

Aicle on Ward Marston and Sound Resoration in Today's Wall St. Journal

From:

Steve Ramm <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 25 Aug 2005 08:15:04 EDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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Great article on Ward and his sound restoration in today's Wall St. Journal.
Text is below. It mentions other engineers like Seth Winner and Mark
Obert-Thorn.
They did an interesting color charicature of him which I scanned and posted
at: _http://tinyurl.com/84jxb_ (http://tinyurl.com/84jxb)
Enjoy!
Steve Ramm
Ward Marston: Audio Resurrectionist
By BARRYMORE LAURENCE SCHERER
August 25, 2005; Page D8
"Every generation has its own way of performing classical music, and
recordings have documented evolving performance practice for more than a century,"
observes record producer and recording engineer Ward Marston. "Therefore old
recordings represent an important link to the history of performance
practice." Antique records are not just Mr. Marston's passion as a collector -- he is
widely regarded as one of the best in the business of remastering historic
recordings for digital reproduction.
Best known as "78s," these heavy black shellac discs, which spun at 78 rpm
on millions of phonograph turntables, were the standard format of commercial
recording from around 1900 until the introduction of the vinyl LP in 1948. To
a majority of music lovers in the world of CDs and MP3 downloads, 78s and the
old phonographs that play them are relics, equivalent to Model Ts and steam
locomotives. Embedded in their grooves, however, are many decades of music
and music-making -- from Heifetz, Rachmaninoff and Caruso to Ellington,
Armstrong and Parker. And it is to the contents of those fragile discs, particularly
classical ones, that Mr. Marston, 53, has dedicated himself.
Restoring life to the shades of the past is an almost quixotic ideal in a
world increasingly losing touch with history. But Mr. Marston feels strongly
that these discs embody a living tradition of musical performance extending
much further back in time than the discs themselves. "One of my favorite
pianists is Benno Moiseiwitsch, who recorded in the 1920s," he says. "Around 1910 he
had been a pupil of Theodore Leschetizky, who had studied around 1850 with
Carl Czerny, who had been the pupil of Beethoven around 1800." Mr. Marston
points out that this kind of lineage was important to the pedagogy of
Moiseiwitsch's time. Unlike today, when musicology rules performance practice with an
iron hand, musicology in 1920 was in its relative infancy, and mainly
concerned with Medieval music rather than core concert repertoire. The performer,
rather than the scholar, was the final arbiter of taste, and a lineage such as
Moiseiwitsch's lent authority to his interpretations, whether of Beethoven or
any of the great composers.
Mr. Marston's love affair with music and 78s dates to early childhood. His
father owned a small record collection of famous classical pieces, which the
boy had memorized by age three. At four he began teaching himself piano. At
that time record collectors were replacing their shellac with new vinyl.
"People began to give me 78s, and, when I was seven, close friends of my parents
gave me around 100 album sets of Toscanini, Stokowski and chamber music." In
the heyday of 78s, a full symphony or string quartet normally took up four or
five double-faced discs, so this collection comprised 400 to 500 records.
Today, Mr. Marston's home, in a Philadelphia suburb, is a veritable
Aladdin's cave housing about 35,000 78s. Many of these have made their way onto CDs
on a variety of historic labels -- among them BMG, Biddulph, Andante, Naxos --
as well as his own Marston label, which he and his business partner, Scott
Kessler, launched in 1996 (_www.marstonrecords.com_
(http://www.marstonrecords.com/) ). Pianists and singers dominate his current releases, including volume
eight of "The Complete Josef Hofmann," volume one of "The Complete Leopold
Godowsky," and "Mary Lewis: The Golden Haired Soprano," documenting the career
of an overshadowed American charmer who died prematurely in 1941.
In sound restoration, the most important issues are basic ones. "The digital
process can do miracles, but not unless you get the good basic sound, so
before you start you make sure you have the best obtainable source. I will use
as many as four, five, or six copies of an original. I often use not only
individual disks from different sets, but a portion of a disc from one set then
go back to another disc for the rest of the side. You have to do a lot of
tricky maneuvering."
Because early clockwork recording machinery was variable, not all 78s played
exactly at 78 rpm and playback pitch can vary from recording to recording.
Old shellac produced its own surface noise, but digitally removing too much in
transferring is like over-cleaning an old master painting until you lose
detail. Judicious restraint is the operative term, lest the music emerge
unfocused.
Prior to digital remastering, transfers of 78s would be laid onto magnetic
tape and literally edited by cutting and splicing. Digital technology has
replaced tape with mouse-driven computer screens, a great boon for most, but one
that poses technical problems for Mr. Marston -- he has been blind since
birth. "In the analog days I could splice tape as easily as any sighted
engineer," he says. "Now I sometimes hire an assistant to do the hand work for me, but
a few software companies are beginning to make products more manageable for
blind users."
Sound restoration is as competitive as any profession, but Mr. Marston
regards his leading colleagues as friends rather than rivals. "It's hard to say
what distinguishes my transfer work from that of Seth [Winner] or Mark
[Obert-Thorn] or from Brian Cripp or Roger Beardsley in England. We each have our own
platonic ideal of what a transfer should sound like."
When not immersed in the world of historic sound, Mr. Marston also maintains
a parallel career as a professional jazz pianist and band leader, something
he has done since high school. He filled in on occasion for Bobby Short at
the Cafe Carlyle, and has performed in venues around the world, including a
White House dinner-dance during the Reagan years.
Noting that he no longer plays classical piano, Mr. Marston cites jazz
greats like Art Tatum and Nat King Cole, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and Erroll
Garner as important influences. "So, if I feel I am becoming stale in one
profession, the other rejuvenates me."
Mr. Scherer writes about classical music for the Journal.

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