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Re: [ARSCLIST] Aren't recordings original sources?

see end...
----- Original Message ----- From: "George Brock-Nannestad"
I usually get all ARSCLIST messages double and have to delete half of them.
The text below did not even arrive once, so I repeat it:

being the one having introduced the concept "source criticism" regarding
sound recordings way back in 1981, I have a comment, based on research:
an acoustic record actually has the potential of giving a truer account of
many of the features of the sound that was available in the recording venue
than electric recordings. This is provided 1) you know (possibly have
available) the precise recording apparatus (horn, conduit, soundbox, stylus
shank, characteristics of the original recording material) and 2) the groove
has not been modified or the recording re-recorded.
Then you are able to document even the absolute sound level of the sound
pressure used for recording. The spatial distribution of e.g. a mouth as a
sound source combined with the horn as a receiver will tell you something
about the distance. Any amplification means tampering with the level, and I
have not heard about any electric recording, where the level was fixed
beforehand (calibrated) and nothing tampered with (some experimental records
may have this feature, though).
Hermann Scherchen's wartime broadcasts in Switzerland went out with no gain
riding and no individual balancing: he had found a concert hall setup in which
his orchestra sounded just as he wanted on the radio; the musicians just took
their seats and played according to his direction.
A sound recording, irrespective of tampering, is a source and may be analysed
to determine if the features one wishes to retrieve are sufficiently
uninfluenced by any processing. Digitizing throws away many of the available
features (a lot being fixed in/on the original carrier as ancillary or
secondary information), and for this reason any digital version is a poorer
source. Its usefulness must be viewed in the light of the survivability of
the original, however, and the original's possibility of being played at

Sadly, virtually nothing is known about the construction details of the recording
apparatus on, AFAIK, ALL (or nearly so...?!) commercial acoustic records...
given the fact that the studios are all long since demolished (with few, if any
notes taken prior thereto...?!)!

Also, in the cases (mainly Victor) where recording ledgers (1) still exist,
and (2) make any mention of control settings...the information is functionally
useless, since the numbers cited were on long-discarded knobs which
adjusted (usually) potentiometers, and the schematics for the equipment...
IF they ever existed...are probably long since discarded...?!

Steven C. Barr

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