Sunday, 25 August 2013

Music Schmoozic!

Time to get off the technical bus.  Stretch my legs, take a deep breath of clean country air...

Statement:  I would happily trade all the time I have listened to any and all music, live and reproduced, for being present at one public performance of one of the piano concertos of Mozart, with the composer at the keyboard.

We all have our personal tastes in music.  Just as well.  I remember, as a small child, I really couldn't appreciate or like very much, the music my parents liked, listened to or performed.  Stuffy, old-fashioned, boring, tedious, incomprehensible, mouldy, no rhythm, funny tunes or tuneless:  in fact, not relevant to my world at the time.
Sometimes our tastes in music are really about what our current friends like, and we all finish up liking stuff that takes little or no effort to digest and enjoy or understand and appreciate.  Human nature likes the easy options.  Classical music? --  too hard, strictly for the "egg-heads"!  Just a noise!
Very sad.
Personally, I would describe most music written and performed for the masses in the last 50 years or so as being a negative influence and force in society.

Statement no.2:  Music should be a positive thing in our lives, leaving the individual listening to the piece in a better frame of mind and outlook.

Today, popular music, in all its forms, is selling us short.
The production of today's musical entertainment, especially recorded releases, is increasingly complex and convoluted.  Check out a modern commercial recording studio's facilities.  All that to produce some rap or grunge or hip-hop or house or.... you get my drift.
Where is excellence in melody, form, harmonies, theme variations, etc.?  Plenty of technical skill - little real musical ability.

I've had my say, could rave on more:  now it's over to you.

Back on the bus next time.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Dynamic Microphones

These are probably the most common and familiar microphones in general use today.
Used by vocalists, voice-over artists, drummers, guitarists on
their speaker cabinets, announcers, radio broadcasters, children's karaoke machines - the list is long and growing!
Depending on performance, specifications and construction
quality, prices can vary from $5.00 to several hundred dollars.  Some professional models, for use in public performances (on stage) can be configured with a neat attached radio transmitter, thus avoiding the need for an attached cable, and enabling flexibility of movement for the performer.  Maybe we'll discuss wireless systems on a later post.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Just Call Me Mic.

Everybody knows what a microphone is.  Most of us use one every day in our phone, or at the drive-through, etc.  They are everywhere in our culture.
Some you grab and sing or talk into, some are on stands, some are in funny mounts, some look cool, some are small, some are big and clumsy.  Some are connected to an amplifier and speaker(s), some are used for speech only, some for music recording.  All shapes, sizes, colours(!) and costs.

In the next few posts, I will be looking at microphone types - how they are sorted/classified according to construction and operating principles, the most appropriate choice(s) of microphone for a particular purpose or situation, and a bit of background on each microphone type's design features.

The microphone is the electro-mechanical "ear" of the recording engineer.  The human ear is, in essence, also a mechanical and electrical device which sends electrical pulses to the brain from tiny hair-like nerve endings in the inner ear which have been stimulated by sound waves arriving from the ear drum, through tiny connecting bones to the inner ear "window" structure.  Incredible design for an audio transducer!
Microphones are all audio transducers, responding to sound waves around or in front of them, and converting (changing) them into electrical signals.
As a child, I remember using the telephone in our home - a rather large device, mounted on the
wall in the passage near the dining room.  To use it you had to lift the receiver off the "hook", and ask the operator to connect you to your number of choice.  I was never allowed to make 'phone calls, just on very rare occasions say "Hello" to Auntie Flo or whoever.
The microphone used in this wonderful device was a carbon type - adequate to convey speech signals over the telephone lines, but not very sensitive and certainly not able to respond to sounds either in the low or high parts of the audio spectrum.  It is a "fun" vocal microphone, but not used much today.

                                       Here's one from the twenties or thirties.  Cute, eh?

   This one is more modern, and as far as I know, still available new.
Should work O.K with a harmonica.

Next time we'll have a look at dynamic microphones, and see what "makes them tick"!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Hearing and Sound Machines

Sound recording sure has come a long way since the wax cylinders of Thomas Edisons's days.
But just how far away are audio engineers from creating the perfect recording and replay system for domestic use?  And who really cares?
Human hearing, though not as acute as some animals you could probably name, is far superior to the average home stereo, and especially mp3 type players!
The first stereo recordings on vinyl L.P.'s ( Remember them? ) appeared in shops in the late '50s/early '60s.  Believe it or not, some of the best ever recordings came from that era and are being re-released on L.P.'s and SACD/CD discs.  Only 2 or 3 microphones were used in the sessions, feeding 2 or 3-track tape recorders with no noise reduction.  No racks of equalizers, compressors, limiters, boutique microphone preamplifiers, etc., etc. were used in recording and mastering, just basic mix-down if necessary at correct levels to produce the master tape for the disc cutting lathe.  The result of this approach were recordings of timeless quality that have been appreciated by several generations of music lovers.  Sometimes keeping it simple is the best approach, along with attention to detail at every stage and the use of the highest specified equipment available at the time.
Human hearing is analogue, and so were these recordings.
Then, at the close of the '70s, along came digital recorders and digital players.  The CD was born, and was touted as "Perfect sound for ever!".
I don't think so.
And, as for the lossy formats of music downloads from the internet.......convenient, but compromised.  Any audio information lost or altered to reduce the "file size" of the musical performance will, of course, detract from reproduction realism and over-all quality.  But does it really matter to listeners to modern pop and rock music?  The vast majority of non-classical music recordings have been greatly reduced in dynamic range (soft to loud) and have suffered much in the way of signal modification in any case.
So, is digital recording and replay the way to go for high quality ("realistic") enjoyment of recorded music?  Or is analogue to be preferred?  In my, and also the average Project Studio operator's situation, a professional level multi-track tape recorder is financially out of the question.  Digital is the only option for recording and replay.  Thankfully, immense advances have been made in recent years in high quality digital equipment.  More on that later.
If you have a collection of LP's, don't throw them away.  Treasure them, and perhaps one day invest in a new record-player so you can enjoy them for many years to come.  Vinyl is not dead, and has been experiencing somewhat of a "renaissance" in the last 10 years or so.  Some artists are now releasing their music on multiple formats: CD, LP, DVD and downloads in various formats, including high resolution options.  High resolution re-releases and new releases are available from several sources on the web:  check them out.

Next time:  the beginning of a recording - microphones -  the "ears" listening to sounds around them.