Sunday, September 25, 2016

Slowing down some records, and Zon-O-phone's Superior quality

My friend Ryan Wishner and I have been going through all of the transfers available of these records that were played at the wrong speeds, and with these, we have been changing the speed to sound right and according to singer's voices. So far, this endeavor has been going very well, and has opened my eyes(and ears) to what these records really sounded like, and debunks pretty much all the stereotypes and preconceptions people have about early acoustic recordings. I already assumed that these records sounded very loud and full, from a handful that I have heard(the ones I cannot share the links to), that sound like this, and they are just set on the machine and played, with no means of "fixing" or editing. 

Enough explanation, I must begin with these amazing new transfers.
This first one is perhaps one of the best-sounding brown waxes we have gone through so far after the slowing down, and revealed many assumed ideals I had about Hylands' playing before,that turned out to be true! 
To begin, here's the original transfer, played far too fast:

Far too fast, and quick to be normal, is what we had long assumed, as this one is a record I have wanted to hear slower for years. And here you go:

I could not get over how clear and full it sounded. Still can't. 
The one thing that really gives away that this is the right speed is the song and dance part at the end. It's at exactly the right tempo for a short dance part. Really try it out, get up and try to jump around to it a little, you'll realise that it's a perfect tempo for dancing. Also, the laughs in the background sound like they're piano distance, and I think we know what that means... it's probably Fred Hylands.
You can hear the room, the tone of the piano, and the distance at which the piano is, which is very uncommon for a brown wax cylinder. Also, for an added bonus, EVERY bass note can be heard, and this time I mean it, even if you're not very experienced in picking out bass notes on these records, you can hear them on this new transfer. 

This next one is by a singer I should probably mention more on this blog:
George J. Gaskin.
This is a record I have used for many reasons, most being the strange and important aspects of the piano accompaniment. It's one of those infamous coon songs that Gaskin recorded, that all the Columbia talent staff mocked him for. The piano accompaniment on this record is very folksy, in a way that Hylands' playing usually wasn't, which means that Rag-Time geeks should take note of this record. 
Here's the original transfer:
It sounded a bit fast according to Gaskin's voice, so this one wasn't really played too fast, but the piano sure sounded a whole lot different after it was slowed down. 
Here's the new transfer:
Hylands' playing on this sounds very folksy, with bluesy sounding grace notes, which I have heard him play before. Before I heard this new transfer, I didn't realise that Hylands was playing that strange bluesy thing that I had heard him play before, and finally, this revealed to be another example of this! This record turned out to be a better example of Rag-Time than previously thought, and also, it's in A flat, a key generally associated with early rags by black composers, which is even more interesting. 

This next one is by:
Dan Quinn once more! 
This record has been buried on the internet archive( for many years, and has been played far too many times at a very quick speed, far too much so in fact. This one required the most slowing down, and made the track much longer, longer than expected. Slowing down this one made the record just over thirty seconds longer. It made Quinn sound so much more natural, and it revealed the superior quality of early Zon-O-Phone records. I had assumed Zon-O-Phone records had better quality than all other disc record brands in the second half of the piano accompaniment era(1899-1905), but after slowing down this one, it really gets the point across. one thing that Zon-O-phone records did that other labels didn't was catch certain syllables that were spoken or sung. One common syllable that was most often not caught by records was the "sh", and this new transfer really caught it unusually well. 
Here's the original transfer:

And here's the three minute long fixed one, with all syllables and words intact:
Now that is what Dan W. Quinn sounded like. The new transfer of this really gives the best example of what Quinn really sounded like on records. I cannot get over how well the record caught the first lines of the song!

I must have been a silly sort of Josh
the fact that she's, a lot too fond of me
never out alone she'll let me stray--

This record really tests to the ability to catch certain syllables, as there's a lot of "s" and "sh" in the lyrics, so it really does do this. The fact that this record caught all of these rather well, as well as catching the piano accompaniment extremely well really gives a whole lot of merit to Zon-O-Phone records, more than previously thought. This record can be compared to this Zon-O-phone from the year before, where all of the same syllables are very clearly heard, especially the "sh". This is something that I will now consider when listening to a very clear Zon-O-Phone with piano accompaniment. 
The next one is also by Quinn, and it's one of more often used records on the internet, that has been used at the wrong speed for many years. Here's Quinn's 1894 cylinder of "And the Parrot Said" newly slowed down:
This cylinder sounded better quality wise than we could have expected, as we could hear the tone of the piano, and that the room this was recorded in was very small, though it sounded all-right. This record is also a great example of Fred Gaisberg's piano style, and you can hear it just as clear as the AtLee records from 1893 and early 1894. Other than that, there's not much to say about this new transfer, it's so much more fun to listen to now though. 

The recording that was on the Santa Barbara cylinder website of the Columbia orchestra playing Hylands' "The Darkey Volunteer" was played infamously fast, and prompted I, Charlie Judkins, and Ryan Wishner to learn the piece as we heard it on the transfer, even with the notion that it was played too fast. I had assumed that the record was originally played a half step too fast, but that seemed to be too quick yet, so it was slowed down even more to get to an even B flat to E flat, which made sense, though it sounded a bit slow. The tempo ended up being perfect, so I can't argue with that, and the arrangement seemed much more logical at that. Anyhow, here you go:

The arrangement can at last be understood, and sounds much better according to Hylands' tempo choices. It didn't make the record too much longer, which was pretty surprising, since there's a lot of music in the arrangement of this tune. It's surprising that Hylands was able to get as much of the piece on the record as they did. Wonder now if this was the key that Hylands intended the piece to be in?

Speaking of AtLee, we also got the chance to slow down the famous recording AtLee did with Fred Gaisberg in 1893, "Why Should I keep from Whistling". This was a record that I had not interpreted as being played too fast, but it made more sense after hearing it played slower, since it was in a more logical key once this was done. On the original transfer:
the key is A, which is a little weird, and awkward for us Rag-Time piano players, but on the new transfer, it's at an even A flat, which sounds very clear and pure, on the piano and AtLee's part in fact:
We can't understand the lyrics and better(don't think we ever will...), but now all of us early Rag-Time geeks and relearn the piece correctly, especially since the piano can be better heard. 

Now before I overwhelm you with even more transfers, I only want to share one more of these, but it's a real good one! It's that classic Hylands piece
Yes indeed.
(this is my copy of it by the way) 
The recording of it is Hylands and Spencer's famous April 1899 Berliner. Without further ado, here's the original transfer:
It's in a weird key that Spencer never sang in, and the piano playing is too fast to make out certain playing characteristics, so with all of that, here's the new transfer:
It's so much better, and the pianist can much better be distinguished. Spencer's voice also sounds very natural, more so than the original transfer. I still have yet to hear their original Columbia take, which is probably the best one they did of this tune, but this is just as good until I have the chance to hear it. 

There are many more records we fixed, including a few really early ones by Edward Favor and Gaskin, but I will save those for my next post, since it will make this one longer than it needs to be. There will be even more records fixed within the next few weeks, so many of these next posts will be on these records most likely. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

No comments:

Post a Comment