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ARSCLIST  June 2009

ARSCLIST June 2009

Subject:

Re: take numbers on emerson records

From:

George Brock-Nannestad <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Fri, 26 Jun 2009 16:41:53 +0200

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (388 lines)

From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad

Hello all,

David Seubert wrote, calling us back to reality, and possibly because I had--
tongue-in-cheek poked fun at the generation of meta-data. However, the 
discussion is essential, and I shall go into both the philosophical issues 
and some mechanical realities.

First of all, we must discuss the rationale behind doing a good or ideal job 
of documentation ("ideal" being the worst enemy of "good"). There isn't even 
a rationale for doing a good job, because a great part of the end users do 
not care a hoot. It is only our respective ethics that prevents total chaos.

I have been one of those who rode on the high horses; I was the driving force 
behind an earlier revision of the "Standard" called TC-03 in IASA circles. It 
was only fit for giving people a bad conscience, because it is impossible in 
daily life to live up to the expectations. In your spare time, yes, as a 
dedicated hobby. It is the sad truth that what ought to be treated as an 
academic discipline and with quite obvious requests for respect for the 
information that is hidden in original materials is not thought of highly by 
the end users in general. Eric Jacobs' admirable approach to the treatment of 
spliced tapes, catering for the individual requirements of the bits, did not 
fare well on this list, and I fear that only private clients with a good 
grasp of quality will want to pay for it.

Imagine that probably more than 80% of the world's cylinders have already 
been transferred to (nowadays) digital without any calibration of the process 
at all. Some metadata on speed, choice of stylus, and perhaps corner 
frequency in the transfer, yes. This work will never be re-done in bulk, and 
it is undocumented. When I put the question "which type of transfer is never 
done with calibration" in a working meeting of the IASA Technical Committee 
and offered a prize for the correct answer it called forth a flood of abuse 
and anger from those who are still on the high horses but completely out of 
touch with reality. Why has there not been a single archive who in the 25 
years that I was a member of the IASA TC asked "how do we calibrate these 
transfers?". I/we would have created a calibration cylinder. In 1983-84 I had 
a consultancy to one of the world's most prestigious archives to evaluate 
their process of re-recording by means of a microphone in the horn of a 
cylinder phonograph, followed by a pillow. The head could not him/herself 
convince the technical archive staff that this was madness, so an outside 
consultant was called in.

Finally, a set of coarse-groove calibration discs became available from the 
AES in 2007 after many years of work by a group including myself, and I am 
convinced it has seen a token sale to archives. But I have yet to read a 
report of their actual use. They have tremendous symbolic value, but I fear 
there will be no second sale because of wear.

Many end users are musicologists, and the academic publications using 
recordings in the last 20 years that I have quite systematically collected 
display a complete disdain for the originals. They use tracks from 
innumerable commercial reissues that are completely undocumented, mixed (if 
we are lucky) with some private transfers, and that is that. The value of 
correct reproduction of the originals is not reflected on at all. And this 
from the subject area where a manuscript of a score is given all the forensic 
attention you may imagine.  I would love to see a publication from an 
academic (in the sense "authorized in the academic world, such as having a 
connection to an institution") that has any discussion of what is actually 
extractable from an original recording and how it might influence his/her 
conclusions. I do not see this approach in the samples I have taken of phD 
dissertations. I would love to be proven wrong. I am not here considering 
Patrick Feaster's work, because it falls somewhat outside our present 
discussion.

Ronda L. Sewald, in "Sound Recordings and Ethnomusicology: Theoretical 
Barriers to the Use of Archival Collections", RESOUND Volume 24, Number 1/2, 
January/April 2005 demonstrates, based on thorough literature studies, that 
ethnomusicologists in many cases do not even like sound recordings. So why 
should their transfer be documented ?[my question].


> The only way to determine for certain if a record is an alternate take 
> is to have access to the original documentation (or a discography that 
> used it) and understand the system the company used. 

----- I do not agree, as long as we consider direct-to-disc recordings. Here 
the mechanical features groove pitch, recorded radii, total number of 
revolutions (including fractional revolutions--this is what I termed the 
angle X), and groove profile will completely specify a recording. 
Furthermore, there may and will be markings "in the wax" that relate to 
different stages in the manufacturing process. And these features may be used 
in comparison between recordings. I do not mind taking you into the 
systematics of these things, but most would rather not have it in ARSCLIST, 
and furthermore I make a contribution to my living by teaching this stuff. In 
the case of dubbings these mechanical features are still useful, but you have 
to use them wisely.

The "original documentation" is as error-prone as humans. If ARC or (whithout 
purporting any link for Europe) the Lindstr÷m group were to use acoustic 
masters from a long defunct company, very frequently their in-house paperwork 
would not demonstrate what is blatantly apparent from the record as a 
physical object

Everything else, 
> A/B comparisons, "golden ears," micrometer measurements, or my marks on 
> pieces of paper are speculative to varying degrees. In the absence of 
> concrete information on how a company marked takes in the wax 
> (information I don't have for Emerson) it's all just "Bixing."

----- I cannot see how physical measurements on a physical object can be 
speculative to any degree. It is simply facts, and these facts can be 
compared between different physical objects. 

For use in educating conservators in the information that may be extracted 
from a physical object I did not use records but lids from ice cream 
containers. They were collected 1993-95, and they were made in white 
polystyrene (i.e. before the movement to food-grade Poly-Propylene). I had 
determined that they had "matrix" numbers: the tool in which they were cast 
was numbered, and I imagine that a number of machines being fitted with such 
tools were used. You could actually follow the wear and the cleaning of the 
tool surface (hard chrome) by the marks the tools left in the plastic. It was 
actually possible to make a line of lids showing increasing wear. Somebody 
who did not know that this was the way that lids were made might still have 
lined them up, but they might have reversed the order, because they did not  
know what increase of "wear" looked like. My point is that the physical mark 
is everything.

And on a record, it is also quite feasible to use a physical measurement to 
demonstrate that one performance is different from another: certain wiggles 
appear in different places in the two objects. So while I agree with Mike 
Biel and the "Bixing" community that listening is a most useful short-cut, it 
is by no means the only way.

I made a special point of acquiring Laurie Wright's "Mr. Jelly Lord", 
Storyville 1980. Not because I have a special interest in Jelly Roll Morton, 
but because of the approach to documentation that he demonstrates. Seeing its 
age I presume that the book will have been either revised or subjected to 
heavy criticism, but it has features that show the necessary dedication to 
detail. On pp. 117-123 he shows rubbings (made by Roger Richard) from the 
label area and surround to illustrate the kind of markings that Victor were 
using. US pressings did not enable this, because of the way the presses were 
made, but he draws on European and Australian pressings (and one Japanese one 
that is very similar to Victor). This is what discography is about: forensic 
attention to detail. And here forensic means academic to the highest degree.

> 
> I was hoping that somebody had information on the take numbering/marking 
> system used by Emerson. Without this information, I'm going to choose 
> the most accurate and most efficient means of speculating on what are 
> alternate takes and what are not. 

----- do you really have so many Emersons that this exercise is worthwhile? 
Why not transfer what you have and see to it that each record is identified 
by a number retrievable in the metadata, and let someone--perhaps one of the 
few people in the World interested in such matters look into it in 50 years' 
time? Do not feel compelled!

In the cases where I've used my method 
> on Victor discs with no marked takes and then compared my results to the 
> documentation, my method has been able to reliably predict whether an 
> alternate take was issued. Measuring with a micrometer would produce a 
> more accurate measurement but without knowledge of the system it still 
> wouldn't remove the speculative element of whether a disc is an 
> alternate take. 

----- I think that Victor is a particularly confusing example, because their 
takes are actually re-recordings of the same selection perhaps years later. 
The word "take" does not really apply to this situation.

I could record my caliper measurements and A/B every 
> pair of records in the collection, but that would leave an awful lot of 
> more important work undone and I'd have a big warehouse of records that 
> are uncataloged, unsorted, and unused rather than an organized and 
> accessible archive of sound recordings.

----- well, that's more like it, argument-wise. It is a question of 
priorities, and you do not want to ask the population of the US of the 
relevance of treating these originals with the academic respect they really 
deserve. You would get the answer "we don't care" by an overwhelming majority 
of 150,000,000 to 10 (or shall I be kind and say "1,000"?)

> 
> I also still maintain that aural memory is unreliable (though it does 
> vary from person to person), and furthermore, simultaneously playing two 
> records is great for a night of cigars and trading collecting war 
> stories, but is totally unrealistic in an archive. 

----- well, our ears were part of our evolution, and distinguishing sounds 
has been essential for survival for very long, although no longer. The ear is 
able to perform remarkable feats and distinguish phenomena, in particular if 
you are training it. You are doing fine without needing to trust your ears, 
but do not think that one can do without them and that others may not be able 
to use aural analysis.

Yet before I get 
> attacked again for being lazy or incompetent, I would point out that 
> managing an archive is ultimately a matter of managing priorities. 
> That's at the core of archival appraisal, something that a few 
> collectors might want to take a course in. Archival science is as much 
> about the process of making decisions about what not to keep, not just 
> about knowing what to keep.

----- selection rears its ugly head: I have stated it before, and I will 
state it again: we need to be able to provide material for questions that we 
cannot imagine today, and so we must first and foremost have breadth. It 
seems that you are so pressed for time that you want to skimp on breadth as 
well as on documentation, and that is a most unhealthy combination. We do not 
want to hear the world through your ears! The only way that you can create 
demand for your holdings is by advertising them, and that is by transferring 
them. From the world of information science "better quick and dirty than 
perfect and never-ending". Rather transfer 3 times as much than spend time on 
first selecting a small group and then do a lovely transfer on those. 

Please note that I am not telling you how to run your archive--I do not know 
the precise context. I have merely tried to throw some ground rules into the 
air. I have been castigated before for this, but I think a healthy discussion 
is absolutely essential.

Please let us have a discussion--this is ARSCLIST stuff, not 78L stuff. And 
the subject line should be changed, only I am so na´ve I do not know how.

Kind regards,


George

---------------------------------------------
> 
> Michael Biel wrote:
> > From: David Seubert <[log in to unmask]>
> >
> >   
> >> James, George Dick et al.
> >> Thanks for your help here. Every company is different, but I'm
> >> always skeptical that I'm misinterpreting the data if I find
> >> too many alternate takes (except Edison). Above about 10% in
> >> a given run of 78s 
> >>     
> >
> >
> > Perhaps it would make more sense to bring this up on the 78-L where
> > there are far more 78 experts than on ARSCList, but I find nothing
> > strange in higher percentages of alternate takes on acoustical records. 
> > All the early century records that stayed in the catalog had alternate
> > takes, and even in the post WW I years some labels like Columbia might
> > have 20% of their sides with alternate takes.  Sometimes three different
> > takes.  It wasn't just Edison.
> >
> >
> > And I am appalled that classical collectors and archives do not
> > routinely check multiple classical sets for alternate takes.  I find
> > them all the time on both Victor and Columbia classicals.  (Some of you
> > might remember that I discovered a forged sheet in the Rachmaninoff
> > artist file at BMG which re-designated alternate takes as the approved M
> > master takes on 9 of the 10 sides of his Rach 2 to hide the usage of
> > secondary takes for decades, including all the microgroove issues.)
> >
> >
> >   
> >> like Emerson where I don't know the system used for designating
> >> takes, I usually question if what I think are take numbers are
> >> stamper numbers or something.
> >> I've never really relied on aural comparison (though it is obvious in 
> >> some cases.) I don't trust my ears enough to detect the often slight
> >> variations between takes.
> >>     
> >
> > Surprising statement.  I have no problem in many cases, and if there are
> > any doubts it is easy to simultaneously play both records.  Every
> > collector I know does it.  I just spent the weekend with jazz collectors
> > who can identify a trumpet player in a 12 piece band and identify three
> > alternates of some pieces,
> >
> >   
> >> In the acoustic era it's not exactly like different versions of
> >> The Dead doing Dark Star (though many would say these all 
> >> sound the same too, I suppose), but aural memory is notoriously 
> >> unreliable.
> >>     
> >
> >
> > You ARE kidding, of course.  Aren't you?  You're not??  You don't hear
> > differences in jazz solos?  In inflections of voice even in regular pop
> > records?  Timings of instrument or vocal entries?  Emphasis of one
> > instrument over another of a note here and there?  All the collectors I
> > know can.  My aural memory is notoriously reliable.  I've spotted
> > alternate takes in records I am familiar with but might not have heard
> > in years.  I was just tonight watching the LaserDisc of The Court
> > Jester, and was listening to hear if the soundtrack songs were the same
> > as on the Decca LP -- and I spotted where there was a deviation.  I've
> > spotted the change in the syncronization of the train bells in different
> > pressings of the Original Cast of The Music Man.  I hear these
> > difference in acoustical recordings as well as any other kind of record.
> >  My VISUAL memory is not as good, and I know that many people have very
> > good visual memories but lousy aural memories.  People's brains are just
> > wired differently.  But it IS possible for some people, many people, to
> > spot alternate takes easily.
> >
> >
> >   
> >> My method is usually to lay the edge of a piece of paper across the 
> >> center hole of the disc and mark the beginning and end of the grooves. 
> >> Then I lay this paper on the other disc and see if they match. Even if 
> >> one take is only a few seconds shorter or longer it will be obviously 
> >> different as even a couple of grooves difference is noticable.
> >>     
> >
> >
> > My method -- and the method of every other collector I know -- is to
> > play the records, simultaneously if necessary.  Often time two takes
> > will have the exact same time but still sound different.  If the takes
> > ARE a few seconds shorter or longer the sound of the recordings will be
> > MORE obviously different.  Different copies might have different groove
> > lengths because the engineer might have run the machine longer before or
> > after the recording.  And of course this doesn't work for Pathe family
> > discs since all are dubs.  The take indication for Pathe's is the letter
> > above the dash because the number after the dash is more of an
> > indication of transfer dub number.  And I can think of many other cases
> > where this doesn't work when some blank grooving can be shaved away,
> > either because of extra blank grooving, or else they are adding a
> > different lead-out.  
> >
> >
> >   
> >> I'm sure George's method works too, but the paper and pencil method
> >> is very quick and we are essentially measuring the same thing in 
> >> different ways.  David
> >>     
> >
> > No, we are measuring the sound, the differences in the sound.  There are
> > too many flaws in your method.  Your method does not take into account
> > alternate takes of exactly the same time length but yet are different. 
> > Etc etc.
> >
> > Mike Biel  [log in to unmask] 
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > On Jun 19, 2009, at 11:15 AM, James L Wolf wrote:
> >
> >   
> >> David,
> >>
> >> I've worked a lot with Emersons in the LOC's collection, and while 
> >> we don't have many duplicates of the same record so that I could 
> >> aurally compare different takes, I did notice that the matrix 
> >> information (e.g. 3391-1) was usually matched by the known 
> >> discographical information. Which, of course, only means that 
> >> previous discographers have taken that matrix info to be take-number 
> >> information, but that may count for something.
> >>
> >> Furthermore, for the acoustic era I don't see anything odd about one 
> >> copy have 2 first takes and another having a second/third takes. 
> >> I've seen similar situations on many labels in the acoustic era; 
> >> Victor, Columbia, Edison, etc.
> >>
> >> Until something definitive comes along saying otherwise, I think it 
> >> would be safest to assume that the matrix information refers to the 
> >> take number.
> >>
> >> James
> >>     
> >>>>> David Seubert <[log in to unmask]> 6/19/2009 1:42 PM >>>
> >>>>>           
> >> I'm de-duping a stack of 9" Emerson discs and in the dead wax there is
> >> what appears to be a matrix followed by a take number. However, there
> >> are too many different take numbers for me to believe they are take
> >> numbers. For example, I have one copy of #9118 with 3391-1/3397-1 and
> >> another with 3391-2/3397-3. Are these stampers? Does anybody know 
> >> how to
> >> distinguish alternate takes on Emerson discs?
> >>
> >> Thanks,
> >> David
> >>
> >> -- 
> >> David Seubert, Curator
> >> Performing Arts Collection
> >> Davidson Library
> >> University of California
> >> Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9010
> >> Tel: 805-893-5444 Fax: 805-893-5749
> >> [log in to unmask]
> >> http://www.library.ucsb.edu/speccoll/collections/pa/
> >>     
> 
> -- 
> David Seubert, Curator
> Performing Arts Collection
> Davidson Library
> University of California
> Santa Barbara, CA 93106-9010
> Tel: 805-893-5444 Fax: 805-893-5749
> [log in to unmask]
> http://www.library.ucsb.edu/speccoll/collections/pa/

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