On 1/22/2018 10:09 AM, Terri Brinegar wrote:
> Hello All,
> Can anyone tell me if recordings in the 1920s were transferred to disc at exactly the same speed as they were recorded? In other words, if someone is singing an “F” pitch on the recording, is that the actual pitch sung or could the engineer possibly speed it up somehow, thus raising the pitch? Not sure if that was possible back then.
Recordings in the 1920s were made direct-to-disc, not transferred from
an external storage medium, so if the master disc was rotating at the
standard speed, then playing it back at the same speed would result in
the correct pitches being reproduced. However...
Acoustically-made recordings, which were standard before 1925, were not
made at what became the standard playback speed, 78.26 rpm. Columbia's
acoustical discs, and Edison's, were typically recorded at 80 rpm,
meaning they should be played back at that speed for the pitch to be
correct. Victor's acoustical discs were typically cut at 76.6 rpm, which
meant that if they were played at 78 rpm, pitches would be a bit sharp
and tempi would be a bit fast. Victor's producers apparently thought
thjis was a good thing, as the result would sound brighter and livelier.
When the industry converted to electrical recording beginning in 1925,
most recordings apparently were standardized at 78.26 rpm. However,
there were exceptions. One of the most famous is Mississippi John Hurt's
recording of "Frankie" for OKeh in 1928; he told interviewers much later
that because it was a long song, the engineers had slowed down the
recording lathe to fit it all on the disc. Thus, if the disc was played
at 78.26 rpm, the pitch would be sharp and the tempo would be fast.
Early reissues (such as the well-known Harry Smith "Anthology of
American Folk Music") were in fact played back at 78.26 rpm, and a whole
generation of fingerpickers learned to play the piece fast. Later
reissues, such as the Smithsonian/Folkways CD set of the "Anthology",
were made with the disc playing at the correct speed.
I asked the listmembers a few years ago if there was a date by which
most labels were cutting at 78.26 rpm, aside from anomalies like Hurt's
disc. The consensus was that there wasn't, and that electrical
recordings often deviated from 78.26, so the remastering engineer needs
to do due diligence on every individual disc. However, I can testify
that most of the major-label discs I've encountered matched the standard
pretty well. Many of the minor-label discs too.
> Thank you!
> Terri Brinegar
> PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology
> University of Florida
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