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Author Topic: American Epic PBS  (Read 7031 times)

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Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #75 on: June 05, 2017, 04:24:10 PM »
The CD book indeed says May 28, 1930, for "My Black Mama."

Offline alyoung

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #76 on: June 06, 2017, 03:09:44 AM »
Alex van der Tuuk and Guido van Rijn have done impressive work on dating Paramount sessions; it's all in a series of books published by Guido's Agram imprint (see the Agram website -- http://www.agramblues.nl/newyorkrecordinglaboratories.htm). The explanations they give for arriving at dates show the amount of research involved. No serious collector shld be without (casual listeners might find it all a bit esoteric).

PS: Declaration of interest -- I did do editing work on the volumes, but I have no personal interest in spruiking them -- I just think they're excellent. Good repros of many Paramount advertisements are a bonus. 

Offline arlotone

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #77 on: June 08, 2017, 12:09:35 AM »
I watched the fourth episode, American Epic Sessions, tonight and was impressed. What an achievement to rebuild that system and run two weeks of recording sessions with it.

I thought the performances were great, too. In fact, I take back what I said about Elton John earlier -- it was cool watching him write and arrange a new song on the spot. Jerron Paxton's song was particularly enjoyable. My only disappointment was the version of "Stealin'" with no harmonica, kazoo or jug. I guess it's inevitable to be disappointed by the part that's closest to my heart. On the flip side, seeing a bit of real jug playing on "On the Road Again" was an nice surprise.

I'm looking forward to watching the whole series again when I have the time. It's great to see such quality production lavished on these little corners of the music world.

Offline Stuart

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #78 on: June 09, 2017, 09:33:00 AM »
I agree. I watched the fourth episode online yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. Watching Jack White commandeer the sewing machine in a neighborhood upholstery shop to stitch the belt that holds the weight back together was worth the price of admission.

One thing that I'd like to see is a detailed treatment of the Western Electric recording lathe from both an EE and ME POV. While some will make the case that it's the music that counts and that we should look at the recording technology as a given that effectively functioned as fully formed (like the musical instruments of the day), I, for one, am curious about the technology required to design and build such an important contraption (or is ?gadget? more appropriate?). I saw that Nicholas Bergh has given presentations at AES meetings, etc., but seeing something in print or online would be fascinating. It might also be the basis for a NOVA episode, etc. The importance of the development of recording technology cannot be understated, IMHO.

https://www.endpointaudio.com/

Offline TenBrook

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #79 on: June 09, 2017, 09:39:00 AM »
Stuart,
I agree, a documentary or any type of in depth information on the development of the 1920s recording technology would be great. One thing I took away from the mp3 interview with Bernard McMahon I posted earlier was his mentioning how secretive the early recording companies were with their recording gear, in some cases taking steps to not allow the full set up to be visible in photographs. One wonders if that makes it more difficult for someone now to reach back into history to try to put together the story of how the technology developed.

Lew

Offline Stuart

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #80 on: June 09, 2017, 10:20:09 AM »
Hi Lew:

Safeguarding trade secrets and keeping IP close to the vest back in the day isn't going to make research in this area easy, as you say. And as technology advances, it's standard operating procedure "to leave the past behind," so other than what's in the Patent Office's records, it's possible that very little or nothing exists that will shed light on other recording equipment from the teens, twenties and thirties.  But one lathe has been restored, so it could be the basis for a program or book. One thing that I caught in the program was the Western Electric name plate with the patent numbers listed on it. I'm old enough to remember when that was pretty much the standard for electronics and appliances that contained proprietary technology. --Nameplates on the outside and/or labels on the inside.

I believe Nicholas Bergh (but it might have been someone else) at some point referred to AT&T as "The Idea Factory." There's a book by that name written by John Gertner. It's focus is Bell Labs and IIRC, doesn't cover recording technology, but it's quite good and worth reading if you're interested in that kind of thing. Here are a couple of links:

https://www.amazon.com/Idea-Factory-Great-American-Innovation/dp/0143122797

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/books/review/the-idea-factory-by-jon-gertner.html

Offline Gilgamesh

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #81 on: June 09, 2017, 06:21:21 PM »
Are they going to keep the Western Electric recording gear intact? I imagine a lot of today's blues or old-time music enthusiasts would love to record on it.

Offline Stuart

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #82 on: June 09, 2017, 07:21:36 PM »
I'd have to go back and watch the series again to be sure, but I think Nicholas Bergh restored the Western Electric recording equipment independently of the American Epic project. If you scroll down a bit you'll see a photo of the restored equipment in one of the photos:

https://www.endpointaudio.com/philosophy/

Here's another interesting page from the site:

https://www.endpointaudio.com/blog/gotta-keep-your-wax-flat

I'd suggest sending Endpoint Audio an e-mail with your questions, but I'm sure that they've received quite a few since the series aired. Nevertheless, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Where the equipment will reside--or whether it will travel--(after all, it was/is portable), is something you might ask if you decide to write.

Offline DerZauberer

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #83 on: June 12, 2017, 04:38:27 AM »
One thing I did not quite get - the audio quality of the recordings sounded quite brilliant when they were played back during the "sessions" piece. Of course, this is to be expected since this is neither the metal master that would have been cast from the recorded disc, nor is it the Paramount Records "we use a bit of shellac and whatever gunk we find" pressing.

But - anyone know if the "original" 1920s discs would have sounded so clear and bright? Because - even the transfers from metal masters that we get are nowhere near as good as what I think the fresh recordings sounded like (plus at one point I was scared when they played them back with a cheapo turntable - aren't these discs soft and easy to damage, even with a normal stylus)...?

Mysteries over mysteries.

Great show (and cool how they hide all the cameras and numerous other microphones ;))
"The blues is not a plaything like some people think they are." - Son House

Offline Stuart

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #84 on: June 12, 2017, 11:01:48 AM »
I really don't know. Again, Nicholas Bergh is the person to ask.

The Western Electric recording equipment was the same, but I believe that the recording medium (then vs. now) was different. I don't know how that would factor into any comparisons.

My guess is that if the recording medium was the same--and the playback equipment was the same, the results would sound the same. But what do I know?

Also, cf. the Savory collection:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/arts/music/17jazz.html

Offline TenBrook

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #85 on: June 12, 2017, 12:43:54 PM »
I haven't watched the 'Sessions' episode yet but watching the below clip of Willie and Merle (at 1 min 11 seconds) it looks like they are using the recording gear to cut straight to a vinyl master which I'm assuming is nearly as stable as an LP for playback purposes and also gets rid of the wax to metal master to pressed shellac component of actual 1920s and 30s recordings. That could explain why the playback seems/is so much better. Of course having not watched the 'Sessions' maybe they explain all this and I'm making assumptions...apologies if that's the case.


Offline Kokomo O

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #86 on: June 12, 2017, 12:58:29 PM »
Seems pretty clear that they're cutting a wax, or whatever material, master. But that's not what we're hearing when we see the video you posted, or the ones in the show--that's the soundtrack to the video, which is going to be relatively broadband compared with a 78rpm master off of 1930s technology sound recording equipment.

Offline TenBrook

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #87 on: June 12, 2017, 01:45:10 PM »
Kokomo,
It seems the sound (in some of the videos at least) is actually coming "directly from the discs they were recorded to, with no editing or enhancements." That's the statement that accompanies the below clip anyway (14 seconds in). I don't know if they stuck to that throughout the 'Sessions' episode or not. Also for comparison's sake I'm posting the recording of Willie and Merle from the soundtrack, which I would assume is definitely taken directly from the disc it was recorded to.





Lew
« Last Edit: June 12, 2017, 01:48:22 PM by TenBrook »

Offline DerZauberer

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #88 on: June 14, 2017, 03:39:36 AM »
The website clearly states that "All the musical performances in this film are live. The audio you hear is taken directly from the discs they were recorded to, with no editing or enhancements" -- which led me to think "wow, I wonder if the original wax masters would have sounded that great".

So who has the contacts to drag those key people from that project in here? ;)
"The blues is not a plaything like some people think they are." - Son House

Offline TenBrook

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Re: American Epic PBS
« Reply #89 on: June 15, 2017, 09:12:30 AM »
So, I turned to the age old oracle of google and found a blog where a guy, whose credentials I don't know (though he sure sounds like he knows his stuff), expounds on his thoughts on the material on which the American Epic Sessions recordings were made. I thought it might help shed some light on why the playback of these records seems clearer than the playback of actual 78s from the '20s and '30s (he even touches on that same thought in the last quote below).

Said blogpost is here: http://moviemagg.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-american-epic-sessions-lo-max-films.html

And here are some relevant quotes:
"There was only one way in which I could tell they ?cheated,? and that was though they still referred to the master discs on which they recorded as ?waxes,? instead (judging from the visual evidence of the machine in operation in the show) they used lacquer masters."

"Lacquer masters could be played back immediately after the recording was made, and the giveaways that the technical crew on The American Epic Sessions were using lacquer instead of wax are: 1) the black color of the master discs (the wax discs used before lacquer were usually either tan or light brown, the natural colors of beeswax); 2) the absence of the warming oven needed in studios using wax to keep the master blanks soft enough to make good records (many 78 rpm discs have a high-frequency whine that starts about midway through the record and gets louder as it progresses: this is what happened when a wax master sat too long at room temperature and cooled too much before it was used); 3) the absence of a technician wielding a soft-bristled brush and holding it over the cutting lathe to sweep off the wax removed from the master disc as it was inscribed (with lacquer, the cutting stylus merely etched a groove into the master disc without removing any material from it)"

"What?s more, MacMahon and White insisted that, while they had the studio miked separately to catch between-songs chatter and false starts, what you hear when the musicians are actually playing comes from the masters being cut on that old machine ? which, if true, is quite remarkable evidence that the recording machines of the late 1920?s were capable of capturing far more sounds than the playback machines of the time could reproduce. By using lacquer masters, pressing on vinyl instead of the noisier shellac-and-clay mix used to make 78?s, and playing the vinyl 78?s on modern equipment, they were able to showcase that old recorder at its very best; compared to modern recordings the sound is a bit congested and doesn?t have a full frequency range, but it?s also honest, noise-free and quite a bit better than even the best-sounding reissues of actual 1929 recordings. "

There's also the below from IMDB (which may very well have been contributed by the above blog writer):
"The producers of this show said they sought to recreate the recording art as it stood in 1929, but in one respect they "cheated." Instead of recording on wax masters, they used lacquer masters, which were introduced into recording in the mid-1930's. Lacquer had three advantages over wax: it sounded better, it was more durable and the masters could be played back immediately. A wax master had to go through elaborate metallurgical processing before it could be made into a playable records, and artists in the wax-master days couldn't hear their recordings until about three weeks after they were made, when the record companies sent them test pressings." That's found here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6140044/trivia?tab=gf&ref_=tt_trv_gf
« Last Edit: June 15, 2017, 09:24:40 AM by TenBrook »

 


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