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If you don't understand it, don't mess with it - Louis Armstrong

Author Topic: 1920s and 30s recording speeds  (Read 3203 times)

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Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #15 on: June 03, 2016, 08:14:46 AM »
>> send me three C90 cassettes

I did at the time and still have the cassettes in a large drawer full of the things. Whilst I found the whole issue interesting, I had nothing to add in the way of comments myself, so I'm afraid I was one of the silent ones.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline waxwing

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #16 on: June 03, 2016, 11:04:12 AM »
To answer my own question:

"The American music industry reached an informal standard of 440 Hz in 1926, and some began using it in instrument manufacturing. In 1936 the American Standards Association recommended that the A above middle C be tuned to 440 Hz"

It looks as though they moved  to 440 over this period so we can't have any real certainty as to what was standard in the late 20's, early 30's. Would all the piano tuners and studios acquire new tuning forks...?

Phil, I would think that by stating that it was an informal standard by 1926 it would mean most musicians, and tuners, would be using it as a standard and the ASA caught up with what was in practice some years later. It would seem odd to have a standardizing organization impose a standard that was not already widely in use, unless of course the tuning fork industry had a very powerful lobby. (heh, heh). So few tuners would have to make the upgrade you suggest to comply, and through the era of blues recordings A 440 would already be the norm.

But good investigation.

Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Offline Stuart

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #17 on: June 03, 2016, 12:25:06 PM »

Offline Johnm

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #18 on: June 03, 2016, 02:46:48 PM »
Hi all,
I am very dubious as to the significance of this issue for music listeners.  Is there any evidence that any musician, not just Blues musicians, but Jazz musicians, Classical musicians, Pop musicians, you name it, altered the way that he/she performed music to compensate for the difference between recorded speed and play-back speed?  If whatever anomalies of tempo and pitch in playback that resulted in that era didn't bother musicians of that day enough for them to comment on the problem, attempt to solve it in their performances, or choose not to record because they couldn't stand the way their music was being reproduced, it seems pretty fussy for present-day audiences to worry about the effect of the technology of that day on musicians that none of us will ever hear in person anyway.  Why do we need to experience the music in a "truer" way than did the original audience that purchased the 78s when they were originally released?

Since all the structural aspects of the music apart from pitch, tempo and timbre alter at a constant rate when tempo is increased, as long as the tempo remains constant, the integrity of a performance played back at a slightly quicker tempo than it was recorded is not compromised.  This fact is one of the reasons why the pitch at which a recording sounds has no bearing on making the determination of what tuning or playing position it was played out of.  When the tempo shifts in mid-performance as in John Hurt's "Frankie", an obvious equipment failure, yes, the effect is screwed up.   

But even with Robert Johnson, who has been subjected to more of this kind of scrutiny than any other Blues musician, has anyone ever seen a quote from musicians who knew Robert Johnson, like Johnny Shines, Henry Townsend or Robert Lockwood in which they said Robert sounded different in person than on his records?  Once again, if the sound on the recordings was not a problem for the musicians making the music or the musicians and listeners who were most familiar with their music, why should it be a problem for us?

I suppose that these issues may exert some intrinsic interest for some folks--I happen not to be one of them, but I won't say, "If it's not a problem for me, it's not a problem."  It does seem a shame, though, to get side-tracked on something that distracts from simply listening to the music that has survived and enjoying it as it is.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: June 03, 2016, 02:52:14 PM by Johnm »

Offline Stuart

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #19 on: June 03, 2016, 04:48:30 PM »
Hi John:

Speaking only for myself, it's never been an issue or a problem. However, since it has to do with the recording technology that allows us to listen to all of this great music that we wouldn't be able to do otherwise, I do find it interesting. It's part of the history, background and context. It's not an obsession, just of tangential interest for me.

Stuart

Offline bnemerov

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #20 on: June 03, 2016, 05:01:29 PM »
Hi John,

I agree with your dubiosity (my word; feel free to use it). This is certainly not the most important topic on this forum.
However, a sped up (or slowed down) recording does affect one important musical value that you mentioned: tone; timbre, as you put it.

When I was deep in bluegrass banjo mania, it was Scruggs' tone that was hardest of the three T's (timing, taste and tone) to capture. Fortunately we had high quality modern stereo recordings for models. I wore out two copies of the "Foggy Mountain Banjo" LP over a period of years. I still wish the Columbia engineers hadn't drenched his banjo in reverb. 

Some of the links above give evidence that one of the early "art" music singers was unhappy with her recorded voice and I know a cornet player who idolizes Beiderbecke ("the great white hope") and has found some of Bix's solos impossible to play in B natural, the play-back pitch. Of course Bix recorded them in Bb. It would seem non-pitch-adjustable instruments (and non-chordal instruments) suffer more when there are recording anomalies than guitars and fiddles and banjos do.

But there is the tone thing. And though it's not so pertinent if you're listening to a ragged-out 1928 Paramount, a 1930's mint Decca can give a very real idea of the player's tone.

best,
bruce

 
« Last Edit: June 03, 2016, 05:10:14 PM by bnemerov »

Offline waxwing

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #21 on: June 03, 2016, 08:01:12 PM »
I agree, Johnm. And I would also shy away from making qualitative judgements based on my own modern sensibilities. Because something sounds less urgent or more like a "natural" singing voice by modern standards doesn't make it more likely to be how the singer or player was actually recorded playing. Remember that these singers needed to cut through a crowd without amplification and found vocal techniques to do so that were very "unnatural" from a modern perspective. Sure, they were recorded with microphones, but that wasn't their performance norm, and even with A&R guys coaching them to sing more softly, it would have been pretty hard to totally change their vocal dynamic in a short session. I don't think these singers were ever practicing their mellow "microphone voice." Listening to performers recorded later, in the '50s and '60s I think you can hear evidence that they have been accustomed to singing with amplification. Today I see performers who won't do a living room without a PA because they just don't really project past the mic. But in the era of these recordings singers used their sinuses, their adenoids, chest, often in isolation, like a falsetto or gravel voice, to create a sound that would reach across a crowded bar.

Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

http://www.youtube.com/user/WaxwingJohn
CD on YT

Offline TenBrook

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #22 on: June 06, 2016, 07:21:16 AM »
John,
The main reason I bring it up is because, to me, when you even slightly speed up the human voice, you take away it's 'realness' and risk making a caricature of it. As for why the musicians themselves didn't have a problem with it, I'd imagine that they weren't even aware of it. Certainly if the equipment used when they recorded was spinning at say 76 rpms then any playback they might have heard that day (if any) would have sounded correct to them (as it was presumably spun back at 76 rpms). And, based on what I've read, most early blues musicians never had much chance to actually hear the records they made once they were released. Also, who's not to say that when they did get to hear their own records they didn't adjust the speed of the phonograph themselves til it sounded correct.

That said, I don't think this is an issue that should detract from our enjoyment of the music. It's merely a factoid that I think deserves to be more widely known (and I'm still looking for the person who can tell me that the early re-issue labels (aside from one or two) knew about the issue) . I listened to music from the 1920s and 30s for years before it even dawned on me that the music I was hearing had, in the majority of cases, been dubbed from 78s because no master recordings existed. It then took another few years for me to find out that not all 78s should be spinning at 78. And so when I put on an early blues record and it sounds a bit fast and the vocal sounds a bit unnatural (meaning to me that it sounds less human and often times a little unbelievable that they were really delivering their lines that fast) it just makes me want to hear the music as it was truly sung by the man or woman I'm listening to and revering at that moment.

But again, we still have the music no matter what the speed and I'm just thankful for that.

Thanks again everyone for your comments, facts, figures and links, it's all been really helpful.

Lew

Offline Sunflower

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Re: 1920s and 30s recording speeds
« Reply #23 on: March 28, 2020, 10:55:21 AM »
Hi,
I?m new to this forum but have been listening to music from the 1920s and 30s including blues, old time, gospel, Cajun and others, for the last 8 years or so. Most of that listening was through digital files but recently I started getting seriously into collecting various LP collections from labels like Document, Yazoo, Agram, Herwin, Old Timey, etc.

A few weeks ago I was reading the liner notes of the Tompkins Square Arizona Dranes re-issue which states "Prior to 1927, most performances in the US were recorded at 76.5 RPM but played back at 78 RPM, thus ?speeding-up? the playing and the singing and also altering the pitch of the original recording." It then goes on to state that they have corrected the relevant Arizona Dranes recordings for the CD re-issue.

This slightly blew my mind. But sure enough if you listen to the Herwin Arizona Dranes at 33 rpm it is slightly faster than the Tompkins CD.
It struck me as really odd that nowhere in the extensive liner notes for any of these reissues from the 70s and 80s does anyone make mention of the speed at which the records were recorded versus the speed at which they were played back/committed to LP. It seemed especially odd knowing how discerning most of the collectors and avid fans of 78 recordings are and were.

I then reached out to Joe Bussard for confirmation of the Tompkins Square notes and he concurred, stating that he plays 78s at 76 rpms on his Country Classics show. He then said (about the use of 76 rpm as a recording speed) that ?we found this out a few years ago.? Now, knowing Joe, a few years ago could be 30 years ago but if not then it gets to my main point/question: are all of my 70s and 80s reissues of music from the ?20s playing at the wrong speed when played back at 33 rpms?

To be honest this revelation has been a bit of an existential shock to me. And I?m starting to notice so many early blues singers who have a slightly high pitched singing voice and I?m wondering if, in fact, their singing voice was deeper and I?ve just never actually heard their true voice.

I?ve done some internet digging on this subject and unfortunately most of what I discover has to do with the Robert Johnson speed controversy (which seems unrelated to the Tompkins square factoid). I found some mention of Charley Patton and Yazoo records re-issues though there the general thought was that his 30s recordings were too slow and the speed of his earlier recordings was correct. However it seems more likely to me that in fact his early recordings are too fast and when we hear his 30s recordings (now letting us hear him at the correct speed) our ears are thrown off.

I am not a musical purist nor do I know much about keys, tunings or other such things. I do however love to hear a person honestly sing their song and share their voice and the thought that the voice I?m hearing is actually a slightly sped up caricature of what that person truly sounded like is concerning, again, especially because so many blues connoisseurs claim to be so concerned with authenticity and accuracy.

I?ve got more thoughts on the subject but I?ve probably already written enough. But I?m curious if anyone has any thoughts, factoids and knowledge to share on the subject. I?m also curious if anyone adjusts the speed when playing back re-issue LPs.

Thanks for reading,
Lew

Talking about recording speeds of 20's and 30's  , I would like to know your opinion on Blind Willie McTell first recordings on the 12 string guitar.  So from Three Women Blues to Travellin Blues at least  where the pitch of the recordings are  an half tone below standard (Loving Talking Blues Played out of G position pitch F#, Dark Night Blues played out of C  pitch B)  or in Vestapol  Travelling Blues  pitch D !!!  I mean he was using a long scale 26,5 12 string guitar and honestly we know is not easy to tune so high that type of guitar. Maybe he had a short scale 12 string guitar but we dont know (at least from pics of him) But listening to those songs , to me they doesnt sound with Mc Tell real voice.
Lets compare    Stole rider blues  played on a 6 string guitar                Drop d tuning  pitch C+
         with        Statesboro blues 12 string guitar 26,5 scale                 Drop d tuning  pitch C#+
He tuned the 12 string higher than the six string guitar!!!!  Isnt'it strange?.
Another example are the singing  ( because from the voice we can understand that is not " natural") of Three women blues or Dark Night Blues or Loving Talking Blues.  Is it on those songs Mc Tell real voice pitches???
If we compare it with later recordings ( Where the tuning of the 12 string  is where it s should be) we can hear that his singing is a lot different. 
About tuning high a long scale 12 string, we know from Barbecue Bob that with the right strings it can be possible, so maybe Mc Tell did the same in his first recordings. But while in Barbecue Bob everything is right , I mean his voice is like it should be, Listening to those Mc Tell first recordings with the 12 string guitar his voice seems not natural and different from all others recordings that he made in his long career.
I would like to know what is your opinion. 
« Last Edit: March 28, 2020, 12:50:40 PM by Sunflower »

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