Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The essence of the music itself is there

When does a recording become a forgery? How much can be added that wasn't created by the musicians on the label before it is a fake? My post on a 'recreation' of Glenn Gould's 1955 Goldbergs raises some interesting questions, and so does the following story.

By chance I bought last week the excellent transcriptions of Handel's recorder sonatas for cello and harpsichord played by Tatty Theo (cello) and Carolyn Gibley (harpsichord). The girls are part of the local baroque ensemble, The Brook Street Band. The recording was made a few miles from here in Raveningham Church in Norfolk, the label is Avie, and the producer and engineer is Simon Fox-Gál.

Now here is the first interesting point. The sleeve contains the following message: 'Reverberation included in this recording from Classical Reverberations Impulses produced by Ernest Cholakis for Numerical Sound'.


Research reveals the Toronto based Numerical Sound: 'develops low level manipulations of sound's primary elements. Essentially, we deconstruct, analyze and separate sound by recognizing individual events, elements, or spectral properties, and depending on the situation use the resulting components to modify existing sounds or reconstruct new ones. For example, we might separate a tone into its harmonic or partials or percussive components, and then rebuild those elements into something new.'

A number of high profile classical recordings use Numerical Sound's technology, which shapes sounds to pre-determined profiles in a similar way to the Loft Recordings Tournemire project that I wrote about here. The Numerical Sound website includes some musical examples before and after reprocessing.

I don't want this to get out of proportion. Artificial reverberation has been added to recordings for decades (although why it is needed in the acoustics of a church is a puzzle). On the Handel sonatas disc we are told the sound shaping technology has been used for the reverberation only. But this technology can also reshape instrumental sounds, and this is where the story gets very interesting.

Producer and engineer Simon Fox-Gál of the Handel disc is the grandson of the Viennese born composer Hans Gál (photo below), and he has created recordings of his grandfather's orchestral scores using another technology that has featured here before - Vienna Symphonic Library - which synthesizes music using digital samples of real instruments. Here are Fox-Gal's words about the Hans Gál project: ' It's not a real orchestra, but the essence of the music itself is there, time and our imagination being the only limits to the extent to which we can achieve perfection in the smallest of musical details.' You can listen to the 'not a real orchestra' playing Hans Gál's Symphony No 2 here.

Yes, all perfectly above board, and just the wonders of technology. But let's not forget these words - 'He thinks he began editing “ambience” in the late 1980s.'

Now wonder How much is Stravinsky, and how much is Craft?

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6 comments:

sfmike said...

Recorded music is just that, and is frankly fair game for any engineering trick in the world. The classic Beatles albums, for instance, are as much the genius of producer and engineer George Martin as they are of John, Paul, George and Ringo.

It's only going to make live music that much more alluring for audiences, for authenticity if nothing else.

Pliable said...

Speaking of which has anyone else heard the Beatles album Love which is engineered by George Martin's son Giles in 2006?

The worst of recorded music - over-engineered, over-worked, and devoid of any spontaneity.

But I guess that is the risk you run when you work with entertainment corporation like Cirque du Soleil

Pliable said...

Email received:

Hi -- Regarding your post yesterday on the addition of reverberation to recordings, and the question to what extent such recordings are "fake":

Surely, the same question applies to live performances in concert halls which use electronic devices to increase reverberation or amplification. The Royal Festival Hall in London is one such hall. Are all live performances in the RFH therefore fake too?

http://www.acoustics.salford.ac.uk/acoustics_info/concert_hall_acoustics/?content=rfs

Best regards,

-- Peter McBurney
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Dr Peter McBurney
Department of Computer Science
Ashton Building
University of Liverpool
Liverpool L69 3BX
UK

Scott said...

Well, on this issue, I'm firmly in the Glenn Gould camp - what matters is whether the result is convincing.

I can't think why I should care whether the recording team tried different locations, moved baffles around, put sweaters on all the seats ... or tweaked the sound afterwards.

Gary said...

This Impulse response technology has been around for ages - AltiVerb gives the best room responses. This 'Numerical Sound' guff is complete bollocks.

David Murphy said...

I must reply to Pliable and say "Yes, the amplified hall is a fske". And if my ears are anything to go by, a pretty bad fake now and before 2008.

The Iturbi Hall in Valencia is superb and completely natural. You seem to be inside a wooden box. You are never too far away from the platform. But even seats at the back offer a livelier sound with just as much detail, a beautiful sheen to the strings, than top price front stalls seats in the RFH. Plus the interior looks just as stunning!

The Ravel Auditorium in Lyon, is more impressive, the sound is better, and instead of mucking around with cheap and cheerful electronic fixes, there is a truly mind boggling mechanical system behind the orchestra, which opens and closes huge floor to ceiling high shutters to optimise the sound.

An architectural natural designed solution, or simply get it right the first time, is infinitely superior to loudspeaker assistance....after all, I probably have a higher fidelity audio reproduction system at home. I go to concerts to obtain a reference point for my ears...not cheap thrills.