Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Message From Bruno


Several people have tracked down Bruno through clues dropped in these entries and asked him to work his magic on recordings by _______. He's asked me to post this on his behalf:

"Can this audience/bootleg recording/MP3 be fixed?"

The answer is no, nothing can be done to make muffled cassette/audience recordings sound professional. And if anyone is asking, the same goes for low bit-rate MP3s which sound like gurgling water. The reason is that when cleaning up a vinyl recording, all of the sonic information in hearing range is there: it may be littered in clicks, compressed, strangely EQd, etc., but it's all there. With vinyl, the sound degradation is caused by *added* noise. So, restoring a vinyl recording is really about selectively removing all the added noise, to reveal the details of the recording underneath. With cassettes, MP3s, etc., the problem isn't so much noise, but that the finer details simply aren't there to begin with.

Think of a vinyl recording as a large printed poster which is full of creases and scratches, and perhaps a bit faded on the edges. You can scan it into Photoshop, and using "smart blur", eliminate some of them, although you'll also introduce other problems. But if you're patient, you can carefully zoom in, and with a variety of tools at your disposal, carefully patch each little imperfection one at a time. It's tedious, but the results are as good as one can get without going back to the masters. In essence, this is what I do.

In contrast, the cassette and the MP3 are the aural equivalents of the Polaroid picture and the heavily-compressed JPG. They were created for convenience and not for quality. They sound the way they do because they are lacking so much. There is simply no way, no matter how skilled one is, to restore the details that these formats lose. Forget about plug-ins which claim to restore lost harmonics; all these do is add harmonics via distortion.

"________ is my favorite band! Will you help me restore all their singles?"

Unfortunately, I'm already swamped with projects I wish to complete. It takes time to do this right.... a lot of time. So much that it can only be done as a labour of love, and by someone with a lot of spare time. I have never given serious consideration to offering my services for hire, simply because I don't see how I could do so at a reasonable cost. Secondly, I have no idea how long it will take me to do any given piece until I finish it. It depends not just on the condition of the record, but also the type of sounds recorded, and the types of surface noise present. Some albums I have been able to start and complete in the course of an evening, whereas a recent project of mine took approximately 2 hours of work for every *minute* of music.

Finally, my main focus is for recordings for which the master tapes are likely lost or damaged, in particular for obscure disco and electronic recordings from the 70s which have also suffered the indignity of being pressed at a time when the standards for vinyl quality in North America were quite low. It's rare that I would do this sort of work for an act as prominent as New Order. Most of the original Factory UK pressings are stellar (with the Temptation 7" and Run 2 being exceptions), and it's likely that the masters for all of their material are accounted for... [just so you know, most of them are missing - £50] it just seems that their label was unwilling to look for them or use them when it came to the recent reissues. However, there are untold thousands upon thousands of recordings, many unjustly fading into total obscurity, for which the only remaining existence of is through the ever-shrinking pool of second-hand vinyl. These have always been, and remain, my focus.

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