It's a topic that could use a good summary, written in plain English (but scholarly in the sense of
having plenty of references and footnotes). Going back to the acoustic era, there were different
methods used in different places. You could start by reading the Sooey brothers' memoires, online at
the David Sarnoff Library's website. Also should read books and memoires by early EMI people and
other Berliner associates. In the electronic recording era, it's worth paying attention to methods
used by EMI/HMV, Columbia, RCA Victor and other major producers of orchestra recordings in the 78
era. My interest has mainly been in the tape era, specifically about 1950 into the 1970s. I also
have interest in the early digital era, but haven't focused on what if any changes were made in such
things as how sessions ran and microphone techniques (and there were changes, simply for the fact
that early digital rigs didn't offer as much multi-track/remix options as people at Columbia, RCA
and EMI were used to by the late 70s).
In more recent years, the big change has been the shrinking budgets and marketplace for orchestral
classical recording, which has forced mostly live recording in the US. The typical recording is
primarily live performances with a "patch up" session held after a performance. Low-budget labels
like Naxos mine overseas broadcast orchestras (sometimes just releasing broadcast recordings) and
3rd-tier US ensembles either without unionized musicians or with cheap/flexible contracts, to make
low-budget recordings, usually with quantity trumping quality.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Brandon Michael Fess" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, May 01, 2015 8:49 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] A-440, was speaking of pitch
> I've known Deb Fox for years; I was an early supporter of Pegasus Early Music when they were just
> starting out. The Hochstein concert was my only option for seeing the concert, as I work in
> Rochester on weekends.
> Thanks for all the interesting info on early orchestral recording. It's rather fascinating for me,
> as someone surrounded by thousands of such records at Belfer, to have that information as part of
> my understanding. Are there any other written works on the history of orchestral recording
> practice that you know of? If not, I can sense an opportunity for some scholarly work of my own...
> Brandon Fess
> LIS Candidate, Class of 2015
> Graduate Assistant, Belfer Audio Archive
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Tom
> Fine <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Thursday, April 30, 2015 9:05 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] A-440, was speaking of pitch
> Carl, thanks again for referring us to that article. It makes for interesting reading.
> If I do my presentation on the evolution of classical recording in the US again, I'll definitely
> some info from it.
> Those mic diagrams illustrate some of the reasons that classical recordings from that era don't
> sound very good to my ears. There are too many mics with too many arrival times. Even with
> post-session mixing from the multi-tracks, there is no way to prevent the problem of collapsing
> stereo image when the orchestra gets going full-tilt. The sound becomes muddy and the image
> collapses because there are too many sounds arriving at too many different times to too many mics.
> Perhaps today, you could transfer those multi-track tapes to a Protools rig and mess with
> time-alignment during the loud passages, to clarify the stereophony. These techniques evolved
> because producers and engineers wanted to ever greater "inner detail" clarity during soft
> Carson Taylor used fewer mics than the Columbia and RCA guys, and he generally mixed the orchestra
> to 2-channel at the sessions. But he got some strange frequency combing by using those coincident
> stereo mics at different distances from the orchestra. On some sessions, he'd put an AKG stereo
> about just behind the strings and a Neumann stereo mic above and behind the conductor, out in the
> hall. The problem is, if the brass gets going, it makes a very strange-sounding balance between
> primary sounds and reverb because both are hitting the stereo mics at different times. But, with
> other mics Taylor used, he was building on the classic Lewis Layton RCA Living Stereo approach of
> filling in the quieter sections and mixing the mics low relative to the front array. This worked
> very well for Layton into the early 60s, but he kept adding mics and the sound got muddier, as
> detailed in Mike Gray's history of recording Reiner/Chicago original published in The Absolute
> -- Tom Fine
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Carl Pultz" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Wednesday, April 29, 2015 7:19 AM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] A-440, was speaking of pitch
>> Parenthetically, the 1/1972 issue of Recording Engineer/Producer contains a
>> very informative article on the contemporary orchestral recording practices
>> of the three major US producers, via interviews with Max Wilcox, John
>> McClure, and Carson Taylor. Taylor speaks about his rearrangement of seating
>> for Cleveland and his experience in Chicago.
>> Scans are available at http://www.americanradiohistory.com/ originally from
>> the collection of Doug Pomeroy.
>> I recently recorded performances of Monteverdi's Vespers conducted by Paul
>> O'Dette. Their tuning was A466, determined in part by the tuning of the
>> cornetti. That was mean-tone, so it's a whole different scheme and effect.
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
>> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
>> Sent: Tuesday, April 28, 2015 9:57 PM
>> To: [log in to unmask]
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] A-440, was speaking of pitch
>> Part of John Marks' research into that article included contacting the
>> Cleveland Orchestra's music librarian and archivist. Not surprising to those
>> familiar with George Szell's music and biography, he was an absolute
>> stickler for consistent tuning to A=440.
>> The bigger issue I was surprised and somewhat dismayed to learn details of
>> is EMI's practice of using 3rd generation dub tapes as their master of
>> record for almost everything recorded by Carson Taylor in the U.S. That got
>> me acquiring some copies of the original LPs and I was shocked to hear how
>> much better many of them sound, even compared to late 90s "Recordings of the
>> Century" remasters by Abbey Road. It goes to show that even if you have a
>> good playback and a good digital chain, with skilled engineering, if you
>> have a several-generations dub tape there's only so much fidelity you can
>> get out of it. Plangent would help, but it's still better to get as close to
>> first generation as is practical, particularly with classical music (because
>> the dynamics, pitch and instrument tones are so effected by the slightest
>> aspects of output<>input inherent to all tape dubs).
>> According to what I learned from talking to people with knowledge of EMI
>> Classics' practices (still in effect with Warner Classics), using the 3rd
>> generation tapes is the path of least resistence because Capitol had some
>> way to keep what were Angel master tapes in the US and only send out dubs
>> for UK pressing. Apparently in the cases when a UK crew came over here and
>> made recordings (standard practice after about 1980), then the master tapes
>> were retained in England. In those cases, if the Angel LP was cut at
>> Capitol, it was likely cut from a dub tape, so the UK EMI LP is likely to
>> sound better. Taking it back to the modern era, I still can't get a
>> definitive answer if the Capitol-made EMI classical recordings' tapes are in
>> a vault here, and if they'll ever be used to make a new series of remasters.
>> -- Tom Fine
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: "Steve Smolian" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Tuesday, April 28, 2015 8:51 PM
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] A-440, was speaking of pitch
>>>I can't find the references at the moment, but I gave a paper at a long-ago
>> ARSC about this issue.
>>>I'm depending on memory for the dates, but it'll be pretty close.
>>> The U.S. Navy adopted A-440 in 1916. The National Bureau Standards did so
>> in or about 1918.
>>> I'm pretty sure that the bands of most or all U.S. Armed Service bands
>> that were in training and
>>> later participated in WW I were equipped with A-440 instruments.
>>> It is my speculation that many older instruments were given by masters to
>> servants or found their
>>> way into hock shops, which thus made such instruments available to poorer
>> musicians. I've not
>>> seen any writing about this issue during the formative jazz band years.
>> Those more versed in the
>>> reminiscences of the early layers may have encountered comments about
>> adjusting or not adjusting
>>> tunable instruments and, where impractical, living with the sound.
>>> In the early 1960s I contacted a piano tuner through Steinway, a fellow
>> whose responsibilities
>>> included the instruments used by Victor during Caruso's day. He told me
>> that they always tuned
>>> tuned to A= 440. I believe I included this somewhere in one of my
>> American Record Guide columns
>>> then as a result.
>>> Each orchestra has a collection of tuning forks, or, at least, used to,
>> and their period of use
>>> is often documented.
>>> As to older situations, read "The Story of A" by - can't recall his name.
>> It carefully explain s
>>> and documents pitch issues over the centuries when a court in Germany
>> hired an Italian or French
>>> court composer who then had instruments made for use during his tenure.
>> It also talks about the
>>> issues of different pitches for instrumental and instruments with vocal
>> music and organ keyboards
>>> that played in either of two pitches, depending on the type of service.
>>> Pitch is also affected by temperature. The way concert halls are and were
>> heated had a direct
>>> effect as well.
>>> It's really complicated and fascinating.
>>> Steve Smolian
>>> Original Message-----
>>> From: Tom Fine
>>> Sent: Tuesday, April 28, 2015 6:12 PM
>>> To: [log in to unmask]
>>> Subject: [ARSCLIST] speaking of pitch
>>> This is a good telling of John Marks' tortured journey on discovering a
>> seemingly small but very
>>> audible pitch error.
>>> I did some further reporting with people I know who are very familiar with
>> the EMI classical
>>> library. Apparently, the fast-pitched tape from which all digital media
>> have been mastered came
>>> Capitol USA, and no one can locate the original 2-track master tape made
>> by Carson Taylor, from
>>> which the first edition USA albums were mastered.
>>> Now, after all of this consternation, it seems to me that one could do as
>> I did -- own the
>>> 96/24 download and then simply apply pitch-correction software to it. I
>> couldn't hear any audible
>>> degradation after doing that and, in fact, it sounded better because it
>> turns out that once it's
>>> A=440 (to which Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra strictly tuned), the
>> music relaxes and flows
>>> better, just from that very slight slow-down in tempo.
>>> My personal opinion is that John Marks' dream of remastering this
>> recording from the 4-channel
>>> Dynatrack tapes will never happen, but I do hope that Carson Taylor's
>> original 2-track master (ie
>>> second-generation tape, made directly from the Dyntrack session tapes)
>> will be found and this
>>> error then corrected in all current in-print media.
>>> -- Tom Fine