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Re: [ARSCLIST] Recording Speed

In the late nineteenth century Adlina Patti threatened to go on strike in London if tuning to 465 was continued at the Opera house! Perhaps this was the first attempt to standardize pitch for singers. She was the one singer there at the time who had the clout to do this. Early records and accounts would suggest that the effort only worked in London. There are references, if my memory serves to 421 1/2 in France and I've also read complaints that the orchestra in Vienna's opera house was especially sharp. We've all witnessed the first violin in orchestras providing a pitch for the tuning of the string section. Simply pitching early recordings to 440 doesn't always work though it's a place to start. The other problem is that early records often are not a constant speed from beginning to end. I won't do more than suggest it but the way organs were tuned brings up a whole different aspect of this subject.

Malcolm Smith.

On Jun 23, 2009, at 2:04 PM, Steven Smolian wrote:

Usually A=440. From 1916 on, certainly 440 in the US if newer musical instruments were used. The Navy recognized 440 that year, followed by the National Bureau of Standards then or the year following- I forget which. This may have been abetted by our impending entry into WWI. Years ago I gave an ARSC talk on this subject, not published.

Thus all US military and reserve bands were to use 440 and replace instruments if they were incapable of or, perhaps, awkward at, tuning to this A. The "Charles Ives" effect of bands playing at different pitches (his "Three Places in New England") may have been limited to amateur and municipal bands without funds to reequip themselves.

I'm convinced that this brought a bunch of older band instruments into the surplus market at much reduced prices. They may have gone to hock shops or been given to servants (in those days, many even lower class households had them.) I've long assumed the funky sound of some early jazz bands on record was a result of this technology transfer. I once mentioned this to Guther Schuller who disagreed, but I still think this aspect of musical history needs further exploring.

In the early 1960s I talked with a fellow at Steinway who tuned the pianos at the Victor Studios. He told me that he worked on pianos used at the time of Caruso's recording sessions to A=440. Caruso died in August, 1921 so that gives a "no later than" date.

Starr Piano Company didn't make Steinway-quality instruments but one assumes they took sufficient care with Gennetts to present their studio instruments in tune, seeing the records as, in part, a promotional tool. I have an H&D Gennett which advertises their pianos rather than records. I'm not sure at what pitch (from the pine) Wisconsin Chairs resonated to.

Steve Smolian

----- Original Message ----- From: "Don Chichester" <Dnjchi@xxxxxxx> To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx> Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 4:25 PM Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Recording Speed

I have one of those 'dog whistles'. 8>)
I guess I was referring to a reference tone, not a pilot tone. Tuning A.
What was that frequency back in the 'teens?
Don Chichester

In a message dated 6/23/2009 4:16:34 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
mbiel@xxxxxxxxx writes:

From: Don Chichester <Dnjchi@xxxxxxx>
Re: pilot tone. Is this what is recorded on some Euopean acoustics
back in the early 'teens? If so, what is their pitch? Don Chichester

A pilot tone is recorded continuously with the entire recording from
beginning to end. It is sent into a resolver which steadys it which
will restore the recording to original pitch and undo any variations in
speed that might have happened during recording. It will be either
filtered out of the sound recording, or is recorded 2-track out- of-phase
and will disappear when played with a full-track mono head. This allows
the tape to be synced with the film which is assumed to run at a
constant 24 frames per second. What you might be referring to is a
reference tone like what I mentioned with the Sarasate records where a
tuning A was played in a separate band at the end of the side. I don't
know of any others -- maybe our European collectors do. Unless you are
thinking about the high pitched chattering that sometimes is recorded on
wax master discs that get too warm. Since these are heard especially on
early Victor Orthophonics, they are often called "His Master's

Mike Biel mbiel@xxxxxxxxx

In a message dated 6/23/2009 2:58:27 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, mbiel@xxxxxxxxx writes:

From: Doug Pomeroy <pomeroyaudio@xxxxxxx>
Thanks Mike.
I was  most confused by George's reference to "the counter", which
appeared  with no explanation that I could find.

It was hidden away a few sentences earlier, at the end of the second sentence of the part I'm reprinting below.

> The frequency of the calibration track? It was calculated to be
> 10 times the rpm of the turntable, in other words, at 78 rpm it
> gave out 780 Hz, suitable for a frequency counter. In use of the
> tape as a secondary master, the content could be de-chipmunked
> by changing the speed of the tape recorder, and the tape rewound
> to the calibration track, which was measured by the counter and
> would give the rpm of the original record at the de-chipmunked speed.

It is much simpler than I thought. Doug

I believe as turntables with internal speed counters became more common,
George backed away from mass producing the little calibration discs, but
now more than ever with digitization of recordings being made without
documentation of rotational speed, this would be a quick and easy way to
supply a notation of rotational speed in just one extra step. If all
records had been made with a reference tone like the Seresate records,
things would be so much easier!

While we are on the subject of using known frequency tones to determine
speed, the ARSC presentation of the Early Sounds project explained that
Leon Scott's Phonautograph continuously recorded a tuning fork tone
alongside of the sound, which now enables the constant speed playback of
these hand-driven pre-tinfoil recordings. This is now called the "Pilot
Tone" system, and is still used to synchronize sproketless- analogue tape
sound with motion picture film. I don't think this has ever been
discussed, but not only did Leon Scott apparently invent sound
recording, he also apparently invented the Pilot Tone speed resolution

Mike Biel mbiel@xxxxxxxxx

Date: Mon, 22 Jun 2009 11:23:26 -0700
From: Michael  Biel <mbiel@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: (Fwd) [ARSCLIST] Fwd:  Recording Speed

I understand what George is saying partially  because I've seen him
do it and I am lucky enough to have one of his  calibration discs.
In case Doug and others still do not understand it,  Doug's snip
cut out the important info and left in material that has  no
meaning without the snipped part.

In 1982 George commissioned a 7-inch pressing made of a 450 Hz.
tone cut at 45.0 RPM. That disc can be played at any RPM and a frequency
counter will show a reading that is 10 times that RPM. (Play it at 73.7
and it shows 737.0 Hz. 78.26 shows 782.6 Hz. Etc.) If you have a
frequency counter handy, you can find what rotational speed you are
using. BUT,
if you include a few seconds of that calibration disc played on the
same turntable at the time of your transfer of the record you are
working on, then later on that frequency can be read with a counter and
at any
time you can establish the rotational speed you used. It's like an
strobe disc that has the unique ability to be recorded, and it is as
accurate as your frequency counter is. Sure, you could use a normal
test disc of, say, a 1000 Hz. tone, but George's disc is more directly
readable without using math to have to determine percentage of 1000
Hz. whatever tone you used.

Mike Biel mbiel@xxxxxxxxx

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