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14th May 2003 - Mutton Jeff


14th May 2003 - Mutton Jeff?

Is this lemonade off or is it me? No? I was listening to Yessongs as one does from time to time and what struck me was the fullness of the sound from that tape. Now, even with their assorted boxes of tricks (which were limited in hindsight), we're still listening to five musicians doing that thing they do so well. So why, when listening to a studio album made between say ‘93 and now, do we encounter the audio equivalent of a sterile field?

I remember My Mate Phil (big fan of It Bites) commenting how 'Once Around the World' sounded almost over-produced. It takes nothing from the enjoyment of the album of course but the clarity of some productions feel almost antiseptic.  My Mate Phil's brother, My Mate Gary, bought a Roland D50 when it came out, the big brother of my D20, He was salivating in anticipation at its increased sampling quality, only to discover that, when played live, it appeared to slice through all the other instruments like a hot scalpel.

I'm a fan of clarity and steered clear of choirs and orchestras on record because of the woolly-sounding result (the views expressed by these ears are in no way endorsed by HHH). String quartets I like and I really enjoy the odd crumhorn or shawm (and I'm sure it's no more than coincidence that they bear a passing similarity to some of the woody/brassy Moog sounds; what purists may refer to as the Fizzy-Fart Effect).

That being so, even such an instrument will still sound different in the recording depending whether it's digital or not. Those of you given to tinkering with the occasional MP3 file will know, even in a non-technical way that MP3's get their compression by dumping the frequencies that our ears don't pick up anyway. I remember too, the warnings that accompanied the advent of the CD regarding the dangers of incredibly clear frequencies, normally lost, damaging the ear.  What My Mate Phil calls the 'nail through the head' effect.

It seems to me, a deaf old cove who's starting to bump into the furniture, that there's something about an acoustically produced recording that's akin to the effect inside a piano.  The instruments (maybe those invisible frequencies?) get to interact with one another at some stage. It's that acoustic interaction under the baby grand's bonnet that bounces around on strings that aren't being deliberately sounded and, as a result, make it so very different from a digitally generated (even sampled) piano sound.  No wonder it's always been so tricky to copy.  Those little chaotic sounds, of course, don't register to our ears in a conscious way but it seems we know when they're missing all the same; when a sound seems 'too clean'. All of this is sheer speculation which is why it's here in the Nag's and I'm hoping that perhaps our newest addition, Graham, can maybe sort the wheat of sense from the chaff, dog poo and lost kites of drivel.

I'm sure there must be some reason relating to digital recording but why is it so important? Well if there's something that makes an old fashioned steam powered album give a warm glow of satisfaction (no, the bladders' still okay at the time of typing), then wouldn't it be great to re-introduce that to recordings being made today?  Because someday we'll listen to them and enjoy them all the more because of it.

As a footnote, Verbatim are producing what they term 'digital vinyl'.  Okay, it's only cosmetic; CD's that look like vinyl 45's but they'd be a nice novelty for a collection don't you think? Take a look at for the story at the Register and for the Verbatim site itself.  We live in exciting times.

Crisps anyone?



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