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ARSCLIST  June 2009

ARSCLIST June 2009

Subject:

Re: Recording Innovations

From:

Michael Biel <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Wed, 24 Jun 2009 18:50:01 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (246 lines)

The newest postings in this thread have discussed the live production of
elaborate radio dramas, something I have long been involved in, but I
want to get back to some of the post-production overdub techniques and
multiple takes we had been discussing and answer a few questions.

From: "Aaron Levinson" <[log in to unmask]>
> I agree that Les Paul takes undue credit for many things but what
> Tom describes as multi-track recording in Hollywood is not strictly
> speaking correct. To me multi-tracking means being able to change
> separate levels AFTER the process, what he is describing is more
> like sound-on-sound as opposed to multi-tracking as we commonly
> understand it today.

As Tom has already added, the sound levels of each track could be
individually manipulated during the mixdown to the final track.  One
example is bringing up individual instruments in the mix to match their
appearance in close-ups.  Another is bringing up the whole band when the
door to the nightclub is opened and we enter while bringing down the
street noise that had been part of the mix, and then bringing down the
band when the dialog starts.  That is all post-production mixing of
separate track elements.    

> The same is true of Mike Biel's assertion adding a sound or
> a voice to an already existing recording, this involves a
> generational loss whereas with multi-tracking and overdubbing
> as we employ it today it does not.

Please tell me where they sell original first generation multi-track
master tapes, please?  Not counting digital "non-generational-loss"
dubbing, all mix-downs from multi-track masters  by definition involve a
generational loss.  What you are saying is that each of the individual
tracks (unless there is bouncing or pre-mixes) are of equal generational
loss.  But I can cite examples where early disc-based overdubbing could
very well present a first generation direct-to-disc master of the vocal
track.  If the orchestra is pre-recorded and mixed with a live vocalist,
the mixed master cut at the time of the vocal recording could be the
master that is plated and pressed for the final discs.  Indeed, this was
done as early as the 1920s, although it was the orchestra which was a
first generation and the voice a second generation.  These were the
electrical orchestral overdubs of Caruso recordings that were done by
Victor and HMV from the late 20s into the late 30s.  

>>> I for one am not at all surprised by numerous alternate
>>> takes in the 78 era, it makes perfect sense. . . .
>>> The players wanted it to be right and at that time the only way
>>> to insure that was to play it again Sam. AA

>> It was not the ONLY way, it was just the usual way.

> I nevertheless stand by my basic assertion that the reason for so
> many alternate takes was the recording process of the 78 era. 


Actually, what you noted was that in the search for perfection, even in
the acoustical era, performers would make multiple takes.  That was
never questioned, even by David Seubert.  What David was wondering about
was the abundance of ___ISSUED___ alternate takes, in this instance on
Emerson Records.  This is a very, very important distinction, because
sometimes when multiple alternate takes are ISSUED, some of those ISSUED
alternate takes are less than perfect, and that runs counter to your
theory of the search for perfection thru multiple takes.  


When David mentioned Edison, he was referring to that company's usual
practice of simultaneously issuing three takes of most records, and
sometimes even more.  Most other companies recorded two, three, or more
takes but they usually select one take as the primary approved take. 
Alternates get ISSUED by those other companies when something happens to
the master of the primary approved take, there is a mistake in the
factory, a leasing agreement with another company might provide them
with alternates,  the thing is such a big hit they need more stampers
right now and using an alternate will speed up the process, or years
later when a new edition or a reissue is being done the guy in the
warehouse sends the producer the better-looking less-worn master.  (When
I congratulated Vince Giordano for finding and issuing Paul Whiteman's
"Charleston" without the Chinese scat vocal on the Buddha "Time Capsule"
CD, he admitted that, yes, the vault sent him the best looking master!) 



>>> Everything was live pre-Les Paul so no "punching" was possible.

> But sound-on-sound, stereo and a bunch of other so-called modern
> techniques clearly had their unique antecedents which should be
> accorded their due. . .  I am well aware that some exceptions do
> exist and I apologize for not duly noting them.   AA


I had not questioned that performers made multiple takes in the 78 era,
I had mainly asserted that it was not the ONLY pre-Les Paul technique
possible, and that these techniques preceeded Les Paul. 
>> It was not the ONLY way, it was just the usual way.

Tom Fine wrote:
>> While the general gist of what Aaron said is true (MOST sessions were
>> done live and MOST for-profit record labels did not want to pay for
>> elaborate overdub or punch-in stuff if it was avoidable), Mike is
>> right about Les Paul inventing very little, by any reasonable definition
>> of inventing. However, Paul is indeed a superb musician with an innovative
>> mind. I wish he wouldn't "take credit" for so many other people's hard work,
>> since he's done plenty that he can legitimately take credit for.
>>
>> Anyway, Mike, how did Edison do "overdubbing"? Did he use some sort
>> of acoustic mixing system or just play a cylinder into the room at
>> the same time live sound was being made, with the horn picking up both?

With the original tinfoil phonograph it was more "sound-on-sound" method
that did not require dubbing or duplication of the original track. 
Since the acoustical recording horn works bi-directional -- the
recording performer hears what is on the recording surface (usually just
surface noise) -- when a tinfoil is played back you can ALSO record
again!  There are lab notes and at least one newspaper account where
Edison held conversations with himself.  He would make a recording,
leaving a little space between sentences or phrases, and then when
playing it back he would further record in the spaces "Isn't that guy
crazy" or other such self-deprecating statements.  Then he could play
BOTH recordings back on the same tinfoil.  He might have even done a
third recording.  It is possible that a musical instrument could be
played and then a vocalist record over it, allowing both to be played
back.  

This is possible only with acoustical embossing.  Once grooves were CUT,
rather than embossed, a second pass with a cutting styli would reduce or
remove the earlier recording.  Columbia solved that problem in 1899 with
the Columbia Multiplex Graphophone Grand which was a giant three-horn
three-track cylinder machine.  Although it is believed that it was
mainly supposed to make the recordings LOUDER because of the triple
recordings, it would be possible to do stereo and/or overdubbing.  No
machines exist, no playable cylinders exist, and all that survives is an
illustrated advertisement, one mouldy cylinder and one reproducer bar
that held the three heads.  This machine could do anything a three-track
tape recorder could do, only 50 years earlier and with NO generational
loss whatsoever because unlike a modern multi-track tape that must be
dubbed during the mix-down process to two-track, the actual master
cylinder is what was played.    

The Jones and Hare "Twistin' the Dials" is an example in 1928 of playing
records in a studio to be picked up by the microphone and commented on
by the live performers.  But there was a Berliner record from around
1896 in Fred Williams collection (now part of UCSB archive, check it out
David) that might have had a band record playing in the background while
a lobby barker/usher directed theatre patrons to the correct doors for
different parts of the theater.  It was hard to tell if it was a
recording being played or a live band way, way, back in the studio, but
I've been told that there might be some other Berliners that could also
be overdubs.  




>>
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Michael Biel" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Wednesday, June 24, 2009 12:59 PM
>> Subject: [ARSCLIST] Recording Innovations (was: take numbers on emerson records)
>>
>>
>> From: Aaron Levinson <[log in to unmask]>
>>> I for one am not at all surprised by numerous alternate
>>> takes in the 78 era, it makes perfect sense. Anyone that
>>> makes records, and Tom will back me up on this, knows that
>>> even in the era of multi-tracking takes can have a very
>>> different feel if not outright errors. Everything was
>>> live pre-Les Paul so no "punching" was possible.
>>
>> I wish people would stop giving Les Paul more credit than he is due. He
>> was not the first to do overdubbing, he was not the first to do
>> multi-tracking, and punch-in editing was not one of his things in the
>> early years. He is an extraordinarily talented musician with a
>> fantastically innovative mind, but his knack is to adapt new technology
>> and expand on past techniques.
>>
>> It is not true that everything was live before Les Paul. Even Edison
>> did overdubbing on tinfoil!!!!!!! I am not kidding. This is the
>> absolute, well documented, truth. Just this weekend Dave Weiner showed
>> a film at the Jazz Bash that showed a violinist playing a trio with
>> himself in the 1930s -- both sound and picture. Voice over-dubbing was
>> common. Adding instrumental tracks was common. Editing in and out of
>> music -- punch-ins -- was common. I challenge you to show me anything
>> Les Paul did that had not been done before. And you have to realize
>> that by the late 1930s even many 78s by companies beyond Edison and
>> Pathe (who had done it back to the turn of the century) were dubs, not
>> recorded direct-to-disc.
>>
>>> The players wanted it to be right and at that time the only way
>>> to insure that was to play it again Sam. AA
>>
>> It was not the ONLY way, it was just the usual way. I have been playing
>> records for sixty years and have been researching the technology of
>> recording for fifty, and one thing I have learned is to never think that
>> something had never been done before. I am still constantly surprised
>> by discoveries of earlier technologies. All too often when a statement
>> is made "This is the first time . . ." it really should have been a
>> question "Was this the first time . . . ?"
>>
>> Mike Biel
>>
> 
>>
>> As for multi-tracking, just about as soon as electronic-optical recording hit Hollywood, people 
>> were figuring out how to mix sprocket-synchronized sounds. There were multiple sound elements to 
>> some very early optical-sound pictures. At least that was told to me by a restoration guy who has 
>> done some very high-profile films.
>>
>> -- Tom Fine

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Recording Innovations
From: Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Wed, June 24, 2009 7:04 pm
To: [log in to unmask]

Hi Aaron:

What they were doing in Hollywood, from the early days, was recording
different aspects of the final 
soundtrack on different bits of film and then mixing together from
motor-sync'd playback to a final 
sound master. There were crude mixing consoles from early in the
electronic recording days, too. One 
specific example I was told about, and I'll ask the guy for the film
title because I don't remember 
it, was the final music was mixed from three optical elements, one made
from each microphone, with 
each microphone focused on a different musician or group of musicians.
This would be very similar to 
live-in-the-studio multi-tracking. They were also able to pre-record
music tracks very early, so a 
singer on film would be singing against a playback. And lip-sync'ing and
indeed orchestra 
play-sync'ing were developed early on, too. By the early 1930's, Western
Electric (and probably 
others) had developed amplifier and mixer-network systems allowing for
mixing many different sound 
elements into a final soundtrack. Also, the whole idea of "stem" mixes
came out of Hollywood, a way 
to reduce many elements to a few logically organized stems for final
mixdown. By the 1940s, the 
major studios' sound departments had big 3-person consoles for final
mixing (dialog, music, sound 
effects). Those guys were aces, too. Think of the mono soundtracks for
some of the big musical 
pictures, that's a very complex sound universe to fit into one channel.

-- Tom Fine

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