Wednesday, October 11, 2006


78 R.P.M.
Sleeving 78's in the '30's in Buenos Aires

Simple Primer: Vinyl (a record) sounds better than tape. Stereo appeared in 1958. It was all mono 78's until the early 50's. 78's were acetate, not vinyl, unfortunately.

Tango lp's of older music were manufactured from masters compiled by recording 78's onto magnetic tape. Now you have 2 sets of noise introduced and the limiting tape environment in the way.

ProTools I use ProTools (Mac G4) with 3rd party plug-ins.

These are the 4 basic stages of restoration as I do it:

Correct pitch and tempo when necessary;

Gently take away surface noise;

Equalize and process for clarity and richness;

Perform micro-surgery on damaged waveforms by hand to remove clicks, dust, skips, etc.

This is a clean, new commercial CD version (not mine) of Cantando Olvidare by D'Agostino / Vargas. Sounds pretty good. It's sped up (not severely, but ....)

I have taken it from an early 60's lp - and in this version you can truly hear them as they sounded.

I could clinically describe the process of restoring old tango recordings, but I would rather write here about the results and pleasures.

Needless to say, I find the best sounding source material (typically any lp I can get my hands on ‚ but also CD's), enhance the sound quality and clean away the artifacts by hand - one tiny click or piece of dust at a time. I can easily spend 20 minutes cleaning one third of a second when dealing with a lot of noise.

It's quite an experience to hear all the great music without a curtain of time over it (all the noise of records - or today's too-clean noise reduction). And at the correct speed for dancing.

I discovered ways to reduce distortion - with the added benefit that that allows for more top-end. I learned how to coax the waves back into shape through really damaged areas. I got the bands sounding as big as possible and the singers' and bandoneons' breath right in your ear. And then I was dumbfounded. But more about that later.

My first excitement came from doing the D'Arienzo, Biagi and Di Sarli Cronolgica's and hearing every song they recorded in order. My love of history would have me picturing the sessions in the hot Porteño nights.

For instance, Di Sarli hadn't recorded for 10 years when he was re-signed by RCA and went into the studio on December 12, 1939 to record Corazon and El Retirao. This was just as the Graf Spee incident ("The Battle of the River Plate") was taking place out in the Rio Plato. (It was finally scuttled by the crew December 20, about the time Di Sarli's re-emergence hit the streets and airwaves). Buenos Aires during the war was much like Lisbon, Istanbul and other cities for intrigue.

I found it interesting to hear the choices they made about what to put out next (they recorded 2 songs per session, usually a couple of times a month). Listening to them in order, you get a real feel for the times.

I move a lot to the music that fills the room 16 hours many days. I found my dancing became more refined and subtle, more rhythmically inspired after a few hundred hours of work/play. It's all about the music.

All of the big orquestas can be heard doing remarkable, even stunning things that just can't be heard without all the treatment. Makes sense - would El Arranque do as much for you if they sounded like a 1941 recording? I don't think so.

But I've made early recordings sound so clean and rich that they can be played alongside El Arranque tonight at a milonga. THIS is the excitement for me.

Well, it's all in the programming. The quality of each of the artists' work varies, even after restoration. You still get the sound you started with, if you know what I mean, even though you've cleaned and helped it as far as possible. So, I am careful about what I put before and after a thinner song, naturally.

I cannot make Tristeza Marina by Di Sarli/Rufino sound as "good" as my Milonguero Viejo - but it is just fine and such beautiful music that, placed appropriately - it sounds heavenly all the same.

I now have a plethora of songs useable that from modern CD's we wouldn't play for dancing because they are just too inferior in quality.

But at some point in every song I work on, it takes on a different aspect somehow as you take the tiny (and big!) clicks away. Restoration brings the music out, is all I can say. It sounds smoother, more refined. These moments - when the song becomes a new thing - are thrilling. They happen when the rests and spaces are cleaned; when the clicks that are often on a downbeat are removed. And I always take great care with the endings - the last note and after. They need to be super clean and hang just right going to black. The little tricks I use here are part of my personal style.

When the song is done, it really should just sound like a song by an orchestra. "SO?" isn't really that bad a reaction. If you don't think anything's been done to it, I've done a good job. But the reaction is quite different when a comparison is made with a typical commercial CD version of the same song. Then you notice the quiet, the bigness.

Playing them in a milonga is my big reward. And it's a curious thing, that I might be dreaming, but I swear the floor has less bumping on it when the music is clean. See how koo-koo I've become?

I also hear from first and second hand conversations that people are hearing something new about the music. That's when I know I'm not crazy.

Really, it seems my whole life has been leading up to this. When I first fell in love with tango in 1990, I collected lp's right away (there weren't many CD's around). I came back from Buenos Aires with Maria Nieves's album collection ‚ a gift from her, my sister-in-law at the time. In it was a lovely Readers Digest set of 120 songs released on great vinyl in 1968.

So, I've been on - am on - a mission from god, so to speak. I dream of seeing Carlos, Juan, Osvaldo, Ricardo, the Angels - ALL of the musicians and singers who were there - resting more peacefully knowing their exceptional life's work is getting some loving attention and care.

Their genius continually amazes me as I hear what they really put down in all its glory.

factory Berliner's second record plant on rue Lenoir in Montréal. This was to become RCA Victor's first studio as well. Courtesy Berliner Musée

Now, here comes a most interesting story.

As it happens, I am doing this in Montréal a short distance from the location of the world's first factory set up in 1900 by the inventor of the gramaphone, Emile . As it happens, I am doing this in Montréal a short distance from the location of the world's first factory set up in 1900 by the inventor of the gramaphone, Emile Berliner.Berliner made players and produced 2,000 records during his first year of operation in Montréal. In 1901, he sold more than 2 million records.

Here Emile registered the trademark for his company, "Nipper" - the dog listening to a gramophone. The painter Francis Barraud created this image which was used for more than 70 years. This trademark first appeared in Montréal on the back of record # 402 - "Hello My Baby", by Frank Banta. There is a Berliner Museum in Montréal.

(In 1924 the company was bought by Victor Talking Machine which merged in 1929 with R.C.A. to become R.C.A. Victor - the company that recorded most of the big tango orquestas, including Di Sarli, and then burned the Masters in the '60's. Hence, a big reason for the restoration project).


Keith is told - "You Are Deaf!"
Well, duh ...

It's finally happened. One of the people who commit what I call Murder on the Audio Express has come right out and said it to me in writing.

I refer to an Argentine gentleman now living abroad who apparently knows a lot about the history of Argentine tango music and purports to "restore" it. He has recently sent me 35 of his "restorations" and keeps them coming. (They all sound pathetically sick like the one offered here).

As politely as I could, I frankly told him that I thought he was destroying the music, not restoring it. I quoted him the definition of "restore" in the dictionary. I wrote to him, "I play my work for 200+ dancers every week. It has to be pleasing for the many to hear - and on big sound systems. You can certainly always identify the individual instruments in my work - but in yours, I don't know what I'm listening to. It doesn't sound like music to my ear." As I told him, I'm not just playing with technology for myself at home. What he does (I wrote to him) is painful for me to listen to. In reply, he scoffed at me and dancers. He wrote, "I think you are deaf! And I don't care about dancers." ( ... I thought they were people, too).

God save us from people doing "restoration" who think that using software without the hand/mind/ear of man is the answer.

Here is an short sample of what I objected to and was called deaf for railing against - this gentleman's rendering of Firpo's "TRISTE MEMORIA" (blank spaces are his). As he sent it to two dozen people when he sent it to me, one assumes he is proud of it. (Firpo, of course, was a pianist. I defy you to identify the sound of a piano in this clip. Or any other instrument).

A person with a computer and some utilitarian software is not necessarily doing restoration. As the ages warn, a little knowledge can be dangerous.

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