Picture of a Típica

CAL-3080-FC CAL-3080-BCThe other day I had this mysterious Carlos Di Sarli RCA vinyl LP in my hands. Mysterious because of a picture on the back cover which doesn’t seem to be contemporary to the recordings contained on the album. The record’s title is “Lo mejor de Carlos Di Sarli”. On the front cover there is a charcoal drawing of Carlos Di Sarli and to the left side his name: “Carlos Di Sarli” written in yellow and red on a big off-white background, a relatively minimalist graphic front cover. The hand-drawn aspect of the typography reminds a bit the fileteado art of Buenos Aires. Checking the tracklist on the back cover there are some instrumentals and the rest are recordings with Roberto Rufino and Alberto Podestá from the 1940s. The picture on the back cover seems at first glance out of context and completely unrelated to the record because it’s showing the later Di Sarli outfit from around the mid-1950s! That’s really strange and it took me some time to get all the puzzle pieces together but then this picture gives a lot of information about the Di Sarli orchestra, also some unexpected information. Let’s investigate this …

From CD collections we know that most of the time the editorial effort is quite low (unless there is an interesting extra booklet or some liner notes), essentially we will find on the typical tango CD a list of around 20 tracks which follow a chronological order from the earliest recording to the latest. On the present LP album, it’s a little bit different. The record is called “The Best of Carlos Di Sarli” and indeed there has been a particular selection on the 2 times 7 tracks: There are exclusively recordings with the singers Roberto Rufino and Alberto Podestá, each represented with 5 recordings and there are 3 instrumentals on each side, 6 instrumentals altogether. I expect a lot of people would refute that selection and consider it a non-representative sample of what should be considered “The Best of Carlos Di Sarli”. A choice somehow exclusively limited to these two, indeed important singers, but not the only ones … Nevertheless, this is a strong statement, the editor who prepared the LP tells us: “The best of Di Sarli is Rufino, Podestá and some instrumentals and nothing else. Basta!”

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CAS-3080, the same record but in stereo

The record is a re-edition of inital shellac releases, it was issued in the series RCA Camden Coleccionista (CAL-3080) somewhere in 1967. It is therefore a posthumous edition as Di Sarli died on 12.1.1960. Tango vinyls are difficult to date because dates were rarely indicated on the records mostly to keep them as evergreens and especially this LP series was on for a long time. In this series the record numbers with the prefix CAL were for records in mono and the prefix CAS was used for stereophonic transfers (on the stereo CAS-3080, there is an alternative front cover, a collage of several portrait photographs of Carlos Di Sarli). “The label was named after Camden, New Jersey, original home to the Victor Talking Machine Company, later RCA Victor. It specialized in reissuing historic classical and popular recordings from the extensive RCA Victor catalog. The long play albums originally sold for $1.98 retail and consisted of [main]ly monoaural recordings, often drawn from 78-rpm masters.” [Wikipedia]

Looking closer at the back cover picture there is neither Rufino nor Podestá on it. They were long gone when that picture was taken. Curiously you will see two other singers: Rodolfo Galé and Argentino Ledesma who are not on any recording of the present record! Iconographically spoken, there is a contrariety: On the front cover you have Carlos Di Sarli in portrait and in a typogram, solo, and on the back cover Carlos Di Sarli in action together with his big mid-1950s orchestra. The album contains vocal recordings with Rufino and Podestá but there is no picture of them on the covers …

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Blow-up of the back cover picture, showing Argentino Ledesma and Rodolfo Galé standing behind the orchestra. What are they doing on a record with Rufino and Podestá?

In contrast to the rather difficult dating of the record itself, the picture on its back cover can be precisely dated because of the random presence of the two other singers. Like bystanders, they just happen to feature on the picture: Argentino Ledesma (background left) and Rodolfo Galé (background right) standing in the last row behind the orchestra. These two singers were shortly recording with the Di Sarli orchestra in the year 1956 between 3.2.1956 and 7.3.1956, around one month only! With Argentino Ledesma, Di Sarli recorded three tangos and with Roberto Galé one tango and one vals. Both were a little later replaced by Roberto Florio and Jorgé Durán. Together with the single tango recording Carlos Di Sarli made with the singer Carlos Acuña on 2.8.1941 “Cuando el amor muere” and his last singer in 1958, Horacio Casares, they are among his shortest casts, both in time and number of recordings. So we now know that the picture has been taken in between February 1956 and beginning of March 1956. We can even further track down the precise day when this photograph has been taken because there is only one day when both, Galé and Ledesma were together in the studio! On the 3.2.1956 Carlos Di Sarli recorded a single 78-rpm record, RCA-Victor 1A-0752, with the tango “Fumando espero” sung by Ledesma on the A side and “Noche de locura” sung by Galé on the B side. Therefore, most likely, the picture was taken on the 3.2.1956.

But why using a picture from the 1950s to illustrate a record with singers from the 1940s? Listening to the record I found out that most of the instrumental tracks don’t sound like being from Rufino’s and Podestá’s time. And as the record doesn’t indicate any recording dates next to the titles I started my own analysis. The outcome is the following extended tracklist:

A1 Organito de la tarde – Carlos Di Sarli : Instrumental – Tango – 31.8.1954
A2 Griseta – Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino – Tango – 21.6.1941
A3 En un beso la vida – Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino – Tango – 23.9.1940 (C: Di Sarli)
A4 Milonguero viejo – Carlos Di Sarli : Instrumental – Tango – 4.7.1940 (C: Di Sarli)
A5 Zorzal – Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino – Milonga – 3.12.1941
A6 Al compás del corazón | Late un corazón – Carlos Di Sarli : Alberto Podestá – Tango – 9.4.1942
A7 El choclo – Carlos Di Sarli : Instrumental – Tango – 30.6.1954

B1 A la Gran Muñeca – Carlos Di Sarli : Instrumental – Tango – 30.6.1954
B2 Nido gaucho – Carlos Di Sarli : Alberto Podestá – Tango – 30.11.1942 (C: Di Sarli)
B3 Verdemar – Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino – Tango – 7.10.1943 (C: Di Sarli)
B4 La capilla blanca – Carlos Di Sarli : Alberto Podestá – Tango – 11.7.1944 (C: Di Sarli)
B5 El ingeniero – Carlos Di Sarli : Instrumental – Tango – 31.1.1955
B6 Tú, el cielo y tú – Carlos Di Sarli : Alberto Podestá – Tango – 8.11.1944
B7 Bahia Blanca – Carlos Di Sarli : Instrumental – Tango – 21.11.1957 (C: Di Sarli)

Surprisingly I found out that the instrumental titles on the record are mostly from his return to the RCA Victor label since the year 1954, like the first track A1 “Organito de la tarde”. Adding to the confusion, Tangotunes states that the track is the version from 1942 but according to me it doesn’t fit several markers and it has the clear 50’s sound. It cannot be the 1951 Music-Hall version as this is a RCA record. Track A4, “Milonguero viejo” is from the 1940s, like all vocal tracks A2, A3 and A5 with the voice of Rufino and A6 with Podestá. The last instrumental track on the A side is “El choclo”. It is most probably from 30.6.1954, as the 1951 version was recorded under Music-Hall a repertoire to which RCA had no access.

But check for yourself, I have provided here two of my own digital transfers from the A side of this LP, first “Organito de la tarde”, then “Milonguero viejo”:

Organito de la tarde (31.8.1954):

Milonguero viejo (4.7.1940):

 

On B1 “A la Gran Muñeca” is dated by Tangotunes to 29.8.1945. I would rather date it to 1954. The vocal tracks B2, B3, B4 and B6 are all from the 1940s. B5 “El Ingeniero”, triggers again a doubt because there are 3 recorded versions: 20.2.1945, the MH version from the beginning of the 1950s and the version from 31.1.1955. For me it’s missing the sweetness and tempo of the 1940s version therefore I think it’s the 1955 version. B7 “Bahia Blanca”, maybe the most difficult to distinguish as he recorded it twice in a very short period of time: 27.11.1957 and in 1958, on his last recordings with the label Philips, but as we deal here with a RCA record we can be confident that it’s most certainly the 27.11.1957 version. This is important to underline, the record companies never published the recordings of other record companies because they didn’t own the rights and also they didn’t have a master to make the copies.

I tested the recordings on several markers in comparison to other sources but there is something else which is quite evident when watching the VU meter: The line level of the 1950s tracks is stronger than that of the 1940s tracks! They are louder with a wider dynamic range and are therefore standing out, easy to identify. As a conclusion we can say that apart from “Milonguero viejo” all of the instrumental tracks on the present record are from the 1950s!

milonguero viejo spectrogram

Spectrogram of “Milonguero viejo”: the 1940s tracks have thinner regions above 10kHz and less detail in the bass

el choclo spectrogram

Spectrogram of “El choclo”: the 1950s tracks have full frequency range from deep bass up to 20Khz. Between the recording “Milonguero viejo” and “El choclo” there are 14 years in which the microphones have been immensely improved!

 

That extends the editorial statement and makes the relation to the back cover picture more meaningful: The editor now tells us the best of Carlos Di Sarli are also his 1950s instrumentals. And indeed, it’s the time when he found to his most typical sound: Marking the rhythm with the strings, banishing the bandoneóns into the background and developing a lot of energy with a relatively slow tempo! Whereas the 1940s were characterised by his most emblematic singers: Roberto Rufino with whom he started into the golden age at the beginning of the 1940s and the little later arriving Alberto Podestá. Even nowadays no milonga without at least one tanda Di Sarli/Rufino or Di Sarli/Podestá! And also, did you recognise? Around half of the recordings on the record are Carlos Di Sarli’s own compositions! Like Milonguero viejo which he composed in the late 1920s shortly after his participation in Osvaldo Fresedo’s orchestra.

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The full back cover picture of Carlos Di Sarli and his gran orquesta in the recording studio of RCA Victor probably taken on 3 February 1956

So let’s dive a little deeper into this picture of the Carlos Di Sarli orchestra. The picture is taken in a big RCA recording studio in Buenos Aires, maybe during a sound check or a pause and we can see all the microphones placed at their final recording position. There are also some podiums to higher the second row of instruments. That’s a trick which dates back to the time when recordings had been made acoustically during the Guardia vieja. And that was still an advantage in the current situation because the studio technique of RCA Victor in the mid-1950s consisted of organising the instruments into recording groups and not to pick them up individually like we would expect nowadays. To the right there is the string section and their group microphone is flying overhead. Next, in the middle, the bandoneón section has its dedicated microphone placed in front. Then to the left side, the grand piano and the double bass are sharing a microphone on a stand in a perfect triangulated position. There is another flying microphone, probably for the vocalist who had to stand just next to Carlos Di Sarli. This changes to the former 1-2 microphones technique which we know from the late 1920s until the 1940s. Like in the following picture of the Ricardo Tanturi Típica which might have been taken in the same location some 10-12 years earlier:

ricardo-tanturi-el-sueno-del-pibe-lp-argentino-976011-MLA20467852548_102015-FBy the way, notice that Ricardo Tanturi has the role of a conductor, there is someone else behind the piano. According to Gabriel Valiente’s Encyclopedia of Tango (Reprinted with corrections version of 2014), Ricardo Tanturi is reputated to have played the piano during his recording sessions with Alberto Castillo between 23.06.1937 and 07.05.1943. At least since the sessions with Enrique Campos he left that position, maybe to conduct the orchestra as we can see on the present picture. Some sources say that Ricardo Tanturi never was on the piano during any recording session because the playing style is too much tainted by that of Armando Posada, pianist of the orchestra on the left side of the photograph. The photograph must have been taken the earliest around August 1943, or later, as it is in August 1943 that Tanturi went first into the studio with Enrique Campos.

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RCA-77 type ribbon microphone

The microphone on the right side next to the singer Enrique Campos, is a RCA Type 77. Which was a very versatile microphone. It could be modified through a simple switch and therefore be used for different applications. For vocals it had a selectable cardioid pattern. Up to now, I was thinking the microphones used in that time would be completely obsolete nowadays. But apparently they are still in use and occasionally sold via eBay for very high prices. And I also learnt during my research, they still find their application in some modern recording studios! It is also important to note that these microphones were under constant development and for instance the RCA Type 77 went through several sub types, with the A model initially developed in the 1930s. Until the year 1945, there have been a B, C and then a D model. The D model reached in 1945 a frequency range from 50Hz-15kHz. It was definitely replaced in 1955 by the RCA Type 77-DX. These microphone improvements are something you can really hear when you compare recordings from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (see also the spectrograms above for a 1940s to 1950s comparison).

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RCA-44A ribbon microphone

The orchestra microphone in the middle of the Tanturi picture is most likely a RCA-44A or one of its successors. It’s the orchestra microphone par excellence and was manufactured since 1932. It later evolved to an incredible frequency response of 30 to 16kHz which is pretty much the full audible spectrum! It’s the central orchestra microphone in the Tanturi picture and might be the same type on the Di Sarli picture. Most of the ribbon microphones were construction-related omni-directional and some were modified through obturation and electrical modifications to become directional or to have other pickup patterns. RCA Victor’s instructions manual shows how to use a 44A microphone in a single microphone setup and how to take advantage of its omni-directional sensitivity in the form of an 8:

RCA44A

RCA’s suggestion for setting up the RCA-44 microphone and taking advantage of the omni-directional 8 pattern to record a dance orchestra or use it as a movie microphone with some actors

 

Nowadays a grand pianogrand piano would be picked up with a complex microphone setup inside the body of the piano, maybe using Blümein arrays to get a perfect stereo image as shown in the diagram to the left. The disadvantage of a setup like this is that one needs to EQ and compress quite a lot the obtained signal to get it right. It needs a lot of post-processing which was largely unavailable in 1950s and earlier. Also, these complex setups are more suited for recording solo pianos and not so much orchestras where there is a piano in the context of other instruments.

There is a simpler technique with one microphone from the side which is more fitted for a piano in an orchestra context. It’s the same technique RCA Victor used in the 1950s with Carlos Di Sarli:

Capture du 2016-02-05 22-07-50pianofig1.l

 

 

 

 

Putting the string bass next to the piano is a suggestion which can also be found in the above mentioned RCA microphone manual. The setup in the Di Sarli situation is very much identical.

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RCA KU-2A ribbon microphone

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Frank Sinatra Album Cover with RCA KU-2A

As Di Sarli was conducting his orchestra from behind the piano, I can image that he would have liked to have the singer very close to be able to communicate and that’s what the second flying microphone on the left side was meant for. There are some other documents which show that it was used for vocalists, like on that Frank Sinatra photograph. It’s a RCA KU-2A, with an unusual uni-directional cardioid pickup pattern and a uniform response in its operating range making it ideal for voice recording (the majority of ribbon microphones are omni-directional “8” pattern microphones). Most studio vocal recordings are made using a cardioid or uni-directional microphone, as these pick up less sound from the sides and rear.

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RCA KU-3A ribbon microphone

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RCA 44-BX microphone seen on eBay

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KU-3A RCA microphone sold on eBay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we move to the right side of the picture, we see the other flying microphone above the violin section. A violin has a frequency range between approximately 196 hz to 10 khz which is the exact frequency range of the RCA KU-3A uni-directional cardioid pattern microphone (very simular to the KU-2A). To my surprise it’s again manufactured by the company AEA as the AEA KU4 Supercardioid Ribbon Microphone at a price of around 6000€!

If the bandoneón section is recorded with a RCA-44A which can be seen on the stand in front of this instrument group (maybe a RCA-44BX if they updated in 1955 when the improved model came out), then there is a slight difference of how the sound of the bandoneóns is recorded compared to the violins (the bandoneóns from the front and the violins from above). Remember that since at least the beginning of the 1950s the violins are centerstage and marking the rhythm in Di Sarli’s orchestra. This central role could have been further emphasized by the use of two different kind of microphones for these two instrument groups so that the treatment of the sound places them on different layers in the musical image.

Quickly checking the cast of Carlos Di Sarli’s orchestra on the picture, we can see that there are six violins, four bandoneóns, one double bass and a piano. In the historical accounts, like Gabriel Valiente’s Encyclopedia of Tango, Carlos Di Sarli is supposed to have only five violins in 1956: Szymsia Bajour, Elvino Vardaro, Elías Slón, Alfredo Rouco and Antonio Rossi. There is one more in the picture. Who is the sixth? The bandoneón section is pretty much the official cast: Upper right side José Libertella, upper left side Alfredo Marcucci; Julián Plaza and Domingo Sánchez in the front row; Carlos Di Sarli on the piano and Alfredo Sciarreta on the double bass. And last but not least the two singers on the substitutes’ bench 🙂

As we have recognised RCA Victor was using its own recording technology and gear. No other foreign brand or equipment to see here. There is still an unidentifiable object in the forefront of the picture with a maybe hexagonal shape. It looks like a talkback or intercom system, for the control room to communicate with the musicians, or maybe some sort of timer. A lot of the electronic equipment, like limiters and later even compressors, were self-made by the sound engineers, maybe it’s such a customised device. I couldn’t find anything about it, so it’s pure speculation. But my best guess is that it’s just an ashtray on a stand 🙂

Odeón, the other big record company in Buenos Aires was working mainly with German equipment as one can see on numerous photographs of artists and bands who were under contract with that label.

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Tipíca Ricardo Malerba with Odeón recording equipment

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Tipíca Roberto Firpo with Odeón recording equipment

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“Osmar Maderna (piano) y su orquesta. De derecha a izquierda, adelante, el segundo es Leopoldo Federico. Estudio del sello SONDOR. Año 1946.”

Generally, one should pay attention as on some photographs you might see RCA Victor equipment with these artists too. Mainly, these were taken in radio studios most of which were equipped with RCA Victor gear. RCA did not only produce records but also sound equipment for the cinema, radio and later for television studios. Therefore you might find their microphones on pictures with Odeón artists performing at Radio Splendid or Radio LR1 El Mundo. Odeón’s German equipment seems to be coming from Telefunken (probably produced at the Neumann factory in Berlin) like the Ela M-14 bottle style microphone and alike, which were, compared to the RCA Victor microphones, condenser microphones. Pretty much as the ones we commonly use today. That could explain why RCA Victor and Odeón recordings do have another sound. Do you remember that Aníbal Troilo recorded his first record with Odeón in 1938? It sounds very different to the records he did when he signed with RCA Victor in 1941. His Odeón titles “Tinta verde” and “Comme il faut” are therefore difficult to put into a tanda with later instrumentals and one is tented to apply some equalization to pretend they would have the same sound. They actually don’t! Odéon was using condensor microphones whereas RCA Victor used ribbon microphones!

In 1944, on the other side of the Rio de la Plata, in Montevideo, the newly established Uruguayan record label Sondor seemed to be equipped as well with RCA Victor recording material. As you can see on the photograph to the left showing Osmar Maderna’s orchestra in the new Sondor studios. They were very much grouping by instrument groups and using several microphones already in the late 1940s! Maybe they had a very modern mixer because they used three microphones. There is only a maximum of three years difference to the Ricardo Tanturi photo above.

The technology used in the control rooms is of pure speculation, we know for certain that since the first multi microphone recordings there needed to be some sort of mixer in front of the sound engineer. In the beginning when there was a single microphone in the studio a single channel and a rotary knob to determine the gain would have been sufficient, later one needed a channel per microphone. That wouldn’t mean necessarily multi-track as these channels were always down-mixed into a single mono channel. Multi-track recording started to develop since the end of the 1950s with the first stereo equipment (2 channels) and multi-track reel-to-reel tape machines with several channels. That opened the field to post production steps and slowly ended the pure direct-to-disc recording technique. At least in theory.

To make a direct-to-disc recording, musicians would typically play one 3-minute “live” set in a recording studio. The recording was made without multi-track recording and without overdubs. The performance was carefully engineered and mixed live in monophonic sound. During the performance, the analog disc cutting head engaged the master lacquer used for pressing records and is not stopped until the entire side is complete.

BC2b_3

The monophonic RCA mixer BC-2B came out in 1952. It permitted to connect several microphones

I can image that during the 1950s RCA sessions, they still produced under direct-to-disc conditions, having one output master channel going directly to a lathe cutting a 78-rpm wax and maybe optionally a second output master to tape. Direct metal masters were ideal and fast for the production of shellacs records whereas for vinyl a tape master was more suited and direct to the goal. Therefore for an intermediate period, in between the end of the shellac era and the not yet fully started vinyl times, this would have made sense and the mixers had this capacity of double output. In the radio studios, it was used to direct one audio feed to the broadcast antenna and the other to a transcript acetate disc cutter to record the radio feature for later broadcast or archival. Even later, during the vinyl age, there still have been experiences with direct-to-disc recordings because this process has a very authentic aspect.

“Direct-to-disc recording meant that there was no way to cheat or to alter the result and there had been very few takes because of the high price and intensive preparation work of the recording support. Most of the time these sessions were done in one flush at first take. Unimaginable today. Though, this direct-to-disc process had been around until the end of the LP era as you can read in the aforementioned Wikipedia article! And it’s coming back, look for instance at the new label Berliner Meister Schallplatten, they are reintroducing the direct-to-disk process with vinyls and taking it to a new climax, they even invite the public into the studio during a recording session. The direct-to-disk process makes me think about Roland Barthes who wrote about silver photography in his essay ‘La Chambre claire’, long before the advent of Photoshop, that the noema of photography is the shocklike ça a été (that has been), as with these direct-to-disk recordings which are an immediate conserved state of sound without any cosmetics! A shocking document of what has been … A great deal of the emotions we live while listening or dancing to these recordings certainly result from this circumstance!” [Quoting myself: http://jens-ingo.all2all.org/archives/1794]

The first microsurgo (microgroove) records, in short LP (33 13 rpm), were issued in the first half of the 1950s and were mostly reissues or grouping albums of preceding shellac pressings, either in extended-play format on 7″ records (EP) or as long-play records (LP) (first as 10″ with 2×4 tracks, then towards the end of the 1950s as the full size 12″ LPs like we know them today with 2×6 or 2×7 tracks). Starting at around 1953, Odeón is among the earliest labels to issue vinyls as 10″ records in their LDS series and as 7″ in their DSOA series with artists like Osvaldo Pugliese, Mariano Mores, Carlos Gardel, Francisco Canaro, Oscar Alemán, Roberto Firpo and others.

In general no genuine new stuff. Some exceptions confirm the rule: Mariano Mores’ first LP “Un argentino in París” from 1954 is maybe one of the first genuine vinyl productions in Argentina. The recordings of the day were still first issued on the older shellac 78-rpm support. For the record companies the conversion to the new technology represented certainly a big investment but also the households had to buy new record players to be able to playback the newer vinyls. Bringing the older music as vinyl samplers on the market enabled the record labels to test vinyls sales without taking too much risk. It also transferred the older music to the new format and made it available. Even the last Carlos Di Sarli recordings were issued first on shellac and later on a grouping LP and, to be precise, it was in the beginning of 1952 that Carlos Di Sarli became the first tango artist to be published directly on vinyl at Music-Hall on 7″ records starting with the record number LP-1001 in February 1952. Music-Hall later reduced the number of issued vinyl copies and then completely moved the series back onto shallac 78-rpm as the consumers weren’t ready for the new medium. This slow shellac-vinyl conversion, taking nearly ten years, could also be in relation with the economical lag during the first Peron era where a quite protectionist economy was advocated. “In the 1950s and part of the 1960s, the country had a slow rate of growth in line with most Latin American countries, while most of the rest of the world enjoyed a golden era. Stagnation prevailed during this period, and the economy often found itself contracting, mostly the result of union strife. Increasing economic wariness as the 1950s progressed became one of the leading causes for Perón’s downfall in the Revolución Libertadora of 1955.” [Wikipedia] At least for the tango history we know that 1955 is the outer limit of the golden age.

The first multi-track tape recorders were in development since the mid-1950 like the Ampex 8-track recorder. But as we have seen these technologies might not have spread as fast as expected: “The original multi-channel recorders could only record all tracks at once. The earliest multi-track recorders were analog magnetic tape machines with two or three tracks. Elvis Presley was first recorded on multi-track during 1957, as RCA‘s engineers were testing their new machines. Buddy Holly‘s last studio session in 1958 employed three-track, resulting in his only stereo releases not to include overdubs. The new three-track system allowed the lead vocal to be recorded on a dedicated track, while the remaining two tracks could be used to record the backing tracks in full stereo.” [Wikipedia]

The arrival of the first stereo equipment at the end of the 1950s must have naturally introduced at least a simultaneous 2-track recording ability. And indeed, by the end of the 1950s, there is sometimes evidence that the orchestra and the singer were separately recorded in Tango. Around 1961 the Philips label asked the singer Edmundo Rivero to re-record the voice part of some titles they previously recorded with Di Sarli and the singer Jorge Duran. The result are 4 recorded titles “Nubes de humo”, “Si nos queremos todavía”, “Por quererla así” and “Dónde estás”. A pure studio trick were Jorge Duran’s voice had been replaced by Edmundo Rivero’s. Rivero was never a member of Carlos Di Sarli’s orchestra and is therefore in no discography of the maestro. It shows that on Di Sarli’s last recordings at least the orchestral part must have been separately recorded permitting later, sometime after Di Sarli’s death, to overdub the pieces with another voice.

 

“Lo Mejor de Carlos Di Sarli” is all in all a very information rich LP album. It connects to the tradition of anthology vinyl albums reproducing older initial shellac releases. It invites to rediscover Di Sarli’s 1950s instrumental tangos considered back then in 1967 as being integral part of his best recordings. I’m also happy with the recordings on the record and their sound quality, these transfers are far less manipulated than on vinyls from the early 1980s where the tracks were altered with excessive reverberation. The pitch on the 1940s tracks is not always perfect though. The picture on the back cover gives an unexpected insight into the 1950s studio technique. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words!

Why the expression tango DJ is perfectly suitable

I heard quite some opinions about why tango DJs should use different other words for what they are doing because the expression DJ wouldn’t fit them. I totally disagree with this and that’s why I drop these lines. The abbrevation DJ means Disc Jockey where Disc stands for a phonograph record, and, in extension any sound recording, and the word Jockey stands for operator. So in short it’s an operator who presents or mixes different sound recordings to an audience.

Some people argue that a tango DJ doesn’t mix and therefore you ought not call him or her a DJ like as the expression became reserved to the single context of clubbing. But the meaning of “to mix” is not that narrow it can also mean juxtaposing not just superimposing. And indeed the expression disc jockey is also much older than the electronic or scratched music culture from the 1980 and the first beatmatching experiences from the mid-1960s. It has started with early radio programs where presenters were playing records to the audience. Check this photograph, it’s from a time when records were still cylinders and they got already played to an audience!

cylinder-jockeyAccording to Wikipedia “In 1935, American radio commentator Walter Winchell coined the term ‘disc jockey’ (the combination of disc, referring to the disc records, and jockey, which is an operator of a machine) as a description of radio announcer Martin Block, the first announcer to become a star. While his audience was awaiting developments in the Lindbergh kidnapping, Block played records and created the illusion that he was broadcasting from a ballroom, with the nation’s top dance bands performing live. The show, which he called Make Believe Ballroom, was an instant hit. The term ‘disc jockey’ appeared in print in Variety in 1941″.

Duncan’s with the Miller Bros. western swing band recorded in Fort Worth, 3/16/53, DJ record copy

The term is very much connected with radio programs or dance venues where recordings are played in a juxaposed manner just as we do in modern milongas.

Therefore please spare me with words like TJ or other rare flowers. Also the word musicalizador is taken from a radio context and more specific to South-American Spanish and doesn’t mean anything else as DJ. Pinchadiscos, diyéi or disyóquey seem to be more common in Spain. Just changing the language of a word doesn’t necessarily change its meaning. Let’s keep it simple and call a spade a spade! 🙂

D’Arienzomania – Review of the new Tangotunes transfers

Christian Xell from Tangotunes.com asked me a couple of months ago to write a small article about Juan D’Arienzo’s second studio contract during the years 1935-1939. Here is an excerpt:

On 24th June 1935, Carlos Gardel, the most popular tango star at that time, died tragically. Such was Gardel’s prominence in Tango music that his sudden death left a void, but that was to change. Precisely 8 days after this sad event, Juan D’Arienzo reentered the recording studio, signing an initially short contract with the Victor label for a series of instrumental themes. This time, D’Arienzo would put aside his violin and take the lead as conductor for his ensemble. The first record he produced with Victor included the vals « Desde El Alma » on the A-side and the tango « Hotel Victoria » on the B-side. As it turned out, he would remain faithful to the same record label for the rest of his long career, laying the foundations that would revolutionise the tango genre forever, and open the door to the Golden Age of tango!

D’Arienzo constructed his new arrangements around four accented beats per bar, creating the impression of a more sustained rhythm where the beat is over the melody. The new « D’Arienzo sound » was characterised by a faster tempo that suggested more action and movement, it subconsciously recalled fundamentally natural rhythms, like that of a heartbeat. This new music had a great impact on all the major bands of the time and by the end of the 1930s most of the orchestras had adopted a faster pace and stronger accentuation of the beat. Everybody got caught up by the D’Arienzomania and tried to catch up with its success.

[…]

You can find my full article on the Tangotunes blog

Christian and his team were busy on making new transfers from shellacs available on their website which cover this complete period of D’Arienzo’s second outfit. Some of these titles had already been published previously by Tangotunes but they decided to do the whole series again. Right now three download volumes are finished and already available on their website but they want to release all of the titles. The rest will be available soon. I think it’s worth to dig a little deeper into this great restoration work as it has some aspects which witness very high transfer standards.

In recent times there have been two major papers which sustainably unveiled a new approach towards transferring and dealing with tango records. One is Age Akkerman’s manual on how to retune tango recordings called Lost in History – the Keys of Tango Music. This analysis is based on the conclusion that most of the CD transfers which are available nowadays are out of tune, most of the time overclocked. As a result all the instruments and voices in the recordings sound false and unnatural and he shows a method to bring them back into tune by analysing the frequencies of the A reference tone, which is also called the concert pitch.

78speed-breedOften these pitch shifts were introduced intentionally by some recording companies in later reeditions, see my previous posts on this subject, or, happened directly during the recording sessions. Peter Copeland shows in his Manual of Analogue Sound Restorations also some possible causes which could have influenced on the correct speed of a 78 rpm recording, like fluctuations in the power network which wasn’t yet so stable as it is nowadays. In the 1930’s, especially in cold winters, the frequency of the current could vary from the standard 60 Hz oscillation and make the motors of the record cutter run at a slightly different speed (nevertheless Buenos Aires is less likely to have had very cold winters) … Most of the record players at that time, as Age stressed out, had a pitch control, permitting for an instant correction by the listener.

The other paper is that of Igor “El Espejero” Shpigelman, called the Equalizer-4-TJ, The Equalizer fo31-eng-explr Tango DJs. It’s a comprehensive guide which shows how to use an equalizer to get the best sound out of a given tango recording. Showing precisely how the sound spectrum of a tango recording goes and where frequencies might be attenuated or amplified to obtain a certain result to fit the venue or the sound quality. This work is very interesting as it does not exclusively apply to the playback domain, the tango djing, but also shows some interesting findings which could be applied to the transfer of recordings.

According to Tangotunes, the idea of the new D’Arienzo series is to offload most of the processing into the analog domain. Using a good restoration preamplifier and an equalizer to have the best and purest deemphasized signal for a careful last digital processing mainly limited to click and crackle removal. If you put together the two before mentioned methods of retuning and equalizing and offload those steps into the analog field then you can get excellent transfers. And that’s what Tangotunes did!

Doing the retuning in the analog phase, by speeding up or down the turntable just inverses what happened when the recording speed fluctuated and the musical keys went out of tune. Doing it on a digital sound file, though, by computing all samples, might introduce quite some interpolation errors. Where information is missing, the computer will add something, so the result could be different. By the way, the computing gets more and more imprecise the higher the percentage factor of a digital pitch filter.

And indeed, up to now, the best transfers I can currently think of are earlier LP transfers done by the Japanese collectors label CTA, Club Tango Argentino. Their LP transfers are among the best restoration works on tango recordings I ever heard. To a certain extent, these vinyls sound even better than their recent CD transfers as they did most likely not undergo any digital processing at all. Hence, reproducing the initial sound signal of the original recording session in the purest imaginable manner.

It’s interesting to recall what these original recording sessions were: They were direct-to-disk recordings. No multichannel, no tape, no editing, no overdubbing, just plain recording directly onto the wax platter without any stops, intermediate or post-production steps. This also meant that there was no way to cheat or to alter the result and there had been very few takes because of the high price and intensive preparation work of the recording support. Most of the time these sessions were done in one flush at first take. Unimaginable today. Though, this direct-to-disk process had been around until the end of the LP era as you can read in the aforementioned Wikipedia article! And it’s coming back, look for instance at the new label Berliner Meister Schallplatten, they are reintroducing the direct-to-disk process with vinyls and taking it to a new climax, they even invite the public into the studio during a recording session. The direct-to-disk process makes me think about Roland Barthes who wrote about silver photography in his essay “La Chambre claire”, long before the advent of Photoshop, that the noema of photography is the shocklike ça a été (that has been), as with these direct-to-disk recordings which are an immediate conserved state of sound without any cosmetics! A shocking document of what has been … A great deal of the emotions we live while listening or dancing to these recordings certainly result from this circumstance!

DARIENZO19351939COMP01DARIENZO19351939COMP02DARIENZO19351939_03

The Tangotunes series has the mention “Golden Ear Edition” to distinguish it from their former transfers of the same orchestra. Now, the retuning effort clearly merits this self assigned label. It’s something quite special which hasn’t been done yet openly for larger reeditons. According to Tangotunes, they used the CTA D’Arienzo transfers (CTA-301 to CTA-318) as a reference and found out that during the year 1939 the average A concert pitch measured in these recordings suddenly changed from 435 Hz to 440 Hz:

“When we measure the pitch, it should be taken from the piano in the recording, provided that the tuning of bandoneons could range from 435 Hz to 445 Hz. The violins are not a well-tempered instrument and the musicians always adjust themselves to the piano or the bandoneon, so we cannot rely on them.

cta pitch

Since the only possible pitch would be 435 Hz and 440 Hz, the figures significantly show that:

1. The standard pitch of 435 Hz was used by D’Arienzo’s Orquesta until 1939.
2. The standard pitch of 440 Hz was applied by D’Arienzo’s Orquesta since 1940
3. The CTA recordings, statistically, were 2.60 Hz higher transferred in average than the original play, which is around 10-15 cents.

[…] Naturally, we can find that the time when D’Arienzo’s orquesta was retuned is between 1939-03-03 to 1939-04-18.”

Source: Frank Jin of Tangotunes

The dramatic pitch jump up to ~448 Hz in the diagram between 1939 and 1941 could also be a hint that the speed of the recordings could have been intentionally increased on some of D’Arienzo’s studio sessions at around 1940-1941 as the Tangotunes document further states. According to them there are also some recordings where one is able to hear differently tuned bandoneons playing together during this retuning periode, like in Di Sarli’s recording El retirao from 11.12.1939 …

I have traced the spectrum of different versions of the recording El cencerro, which is one of the titles of the new Tangotunes series, all are in 44.1 kHz 16 bit, FLAC, the last Tangotunes is in AIFF. What we can see in the following spectrograms is that the first, taken from the El Bandoneón CD-43, has nearly sheer edges on the left in the bass, cutting off at around 60 Hz and on the other extreme, a high cut starting almost at around 4 kHz, leaving not so much music in the low and high frequencies. In the middle range you can see also a drop between 1000 and 2000 Hz, maybe due to the strong echo effect which had been added to this version.

EBCD43

Overall spectrum of El cencerro from the El Bandoneon CD EBCD43

audiopark-elcencerro

Overall spectrum of El cencerro on the Audio Park CD Vol. 1

CTA-elcencerro

Overall spectrum of El cencerro from the CTA-303 CD

el cencerro-tt

Overall spectrum of El cencerro from the Tangotunes download, AIFF file D’Arienzo Vol. 1

Comparing the Audio Park to the CTA, one can see that Audio Park cuts off a little less towards the 20 kHz, in the treble, compared to the CTA version. The CTA on the other hand seems to leave in all the infra-bass region. Just judging from the spectrum the Tangotunes seems to have the most balanced frequency range. Listening to it confirms this very good impression …

One word about the background noise which is quite subtle on the Tangotunes AIFF version and a little stronger on the CTA and Audio Park CDs: Once coffee and milk are mixed, it’s difficult to remove the milk without removing some coffee too. The same applies to sound restoration. It’s better to attenuate the background noise and not to try to remove it completely. The El Bandoneón version is the quietest because of its strong shelve filters in the bass and treble regions but it’s therefore missing music too, sounds muffled and has added artefacts, a strong reverb effect and other noises resulting from heavy filtering and which are actually not in D’Arienzo’s music! From a psychoacoustic point of view, the human ear is very well capable of removing carefully attenuated background noise from our perception. Whereas it is very aware and annoyed by artefacts and missing frequencies. In the end, we can use an equalizer to cut off hiss and other background noises and individually decide how much to remove during playback. Most of the time, anyway, it’s the bad PAs at the venues which eat all the background noise as they tend to be good in bass and mid-range reproduction but often are deficient in high tones. From my experience, events with audiophile 3-way systems are rare.

As Tangotunes is dedicated to music for the modern milongas the two polcas from 1937 will be missing as polca is not so much in vogue anymore 🙂 By the way, the Tangotunes version of Don Esteban is, like the CTA version, take 2. Could be cool to add take 1 with the two added Biagi solos too which is quite rare without reverb effect. For a deeper analysis of take 1 and 2 see my article News from Don Esteban.

Their recent Ángel D’Agostino transfers were already very good but they missed the retuning part which is now integrated into this new series. Already since the D’Agostino series, their sound files look very well done, no clippings left as it had been the case with some files in former series.

wave-form-el-cencerroDuring our talks, Christian told me: “What I find most exciting is that everybody can use their ears to get an idea if a recording sounds right and if the speed is correct. Especially with strong speed fluctuations this is easily possible.” So let’s trust our ears, that’s what it’s all about!

Checking for corrupt FLAC files

Recently I had some strange conditions during playback of certain FLAC files in my digital tango collection. First I thought there must be a bug in my player but checking the player’s logs showed that the problem was within the FLAC stream. Somehow, some of the files must have gotten corrupted. This could have different causes, like power failures and unclean shutdowns, maybe an error on the media or an uncompleted copy task. Once a byte get’s changed in the FLAC file in the worst case it might not be playable anymore. In my case, I had two different conditions: First the file would start playing and then after a certain point the music output stopped. In another situation the corrupted FLAC file would trigger an exception in the decoder and it crashed the whole player application.

As a matter of fact this is a feature of the FLAC audio format: “Suitable for archiving: FLAC is an open format, and there is no generation loss if you need to convert your data to another format in the future. In addition to the frame CRCs and MD5 signature, FLAC has a verify option that decodes the encoded stream in parallel with the encoding process and compares the result to the original, aborting with an error if there is a mismatch.”

So the good news are that the FLAC format has a MD5 checksum mechanism integrated which provides for an easy integrity check. There is also a command line programm to check a FLAC file:

flac -wst flacfile.flac

Here are the command options explained:
-w, –warnings-as-errors Treat all warnings as errors (which cause flac to terminate with a non-zero exit code).
-s, –silent Silent: do not show encoding/decoding statistics.
-t, –test Test (same as -d except no decoded file is written). The exit codes are the same as in decode mode.

Now this is useful to check an individual FLAC file but when you have to scan several thousand files it might be more useful to put it into a shell script and run it against the whole music folder. I found this script which I saved as flactest.sh in my home folder:

#!/bin/bash
cd ~/Musique
if [[ -f flac-errors.txt ]]; then
rm flac-errors.txt;
fi
touch flac-errors.txt
shopt -s globstar
for file in ./**/*.flac; do
flac -wst "$file" 2>/dev/null || printf '%3d %s\n' "$?" "$file" >> flac-errors.txt;
done

The script changes into the Musique folder in my home directory and then creates a text file called flac-errors.txt, if it’s running consecutively, it tests if this text files exists and when it exists it deletes and recreates it as an empty file prior to proceeding.

shopt -s globstar means that the Bash script will perform recursive globbing on ** – therefore matching all directories and files from the current position in the filesystem, rather that only the current level.

In the for loop it will loop through all FLAC files in the Musique folder and its subfolders performing the integrity test. If the FLAC file is OK, the output is send to /dev/null which means the output is deleted and if the test is not OK, meaning that there is corruption, it will be written into the flac-errors.txt file with a little formatting. So you will have the title and the path of the corrupt FLAC file written each on one line in the text file for a later analysis and eventual restoration of the dammaged files.

The script will take quite some time to loop through all files. What I do is opening the flac-errors.txt for continuous reading to see the progress in another console, like this:

tail -f /home/jens/Musique/flac-errors.txt

So every once in a while such a test might be a good idea to check if all the music files in the collection are still OK. This rules out bad surprises during playback!

By the way, the foobar2000 player has such an integrity test in the interface, Mixxx will write FLAC stream errors into its log file.

The test script can also be useful to be run on newly added folders in the music collection to check that all FLAC files are in OK condition and that the encoding worked out well, like a last test before playback or archival. The verify feature of the FLAC audio format is actually a big advantage compared to other formats which don’t have such a mechanism!

El cencerro

Since quite recently I observe a general shift in tango djing. A lot of DJs are today putting a lot of effort into recovering the most authentic sound in the milongas. This translates into investing in high end sound devices, prefering lossless sound formats over lossy codecs, analysing sound files and playing correctly tuned tracks. Trying to find tango tracks in unfiltered versions and without certain artefacts which have been added to the original recordings in later copy cycles. Unveiling somehow unplugged, purer versions of the presented repertoire with a close to perfect sound. They rather like to have some surface noise than a cleaned to death recording!

To visualise this effort, one has to be aware that the time interval which is of most concern to modern dancers, 1925-1955, the Epoca de Oro with pre and afterparty, is parallel to the technical invention of the electrical recording systems in the second part of the 1920s and ends with the introduction of the modern vinyl record and the first stereo systems around the mid-1950s when the full frequency-range recording had been finally made possible.

Westrex electrical cutting

Westrex electrical cutting

If we look at the records’s frequency spectrum we can see that in the beginning certain frequencies especially in the mid and high ranges weren’t yet completely present and towards the 1950s these frequencies were successively added as the recording systems improved. Let’s take the year 1926, most of the record companies licenced the new Westrex system and were able to reproduce a recording bandwidth from 50 Hertz to about 6,000 Hertz, beyond which the high frequency sensitivity declined. This had been a sensational improvement compared to the former acoustic recording systems (200 to 2,400 Hertz and sometimes less) which were in place until around 1927 mostly in an effort to empty their stock of acoustic records. None of the older acoustic recordings (nearly everything before 1927) are played in any milongas nowadays. They don’t suit our needs because they are close to inaudible and one gets easily tired from them. But listen to a very early electrical Argentinian recording, A media luz interpreted by the Orquestra Francisco Canaro from around November 1926. Though from the early electrical recording days the sound quality is astonishingly good and it still fits perfectly into a typical today’s milonga program.

The missing frequencies let the tangos, we like so much, sound to our contemporary ear like if they were recorded on a different planet. And that’s maybe one of the reasons why sound engineers who transferred the early 78 rpm records to vinyl from the 1960s to the 1980s had added artefacts so that they sounded more familiar to their comtemporary hearing habits. By the late 1960s it must have been almost 15 years ago since the last 78 rpm records were sold, by the beginning of the 1980s, these old records had already disappeared from the market 30 years ago and playing 78 rpm records had been by then impossible for the large public. Therefore a new media had to be used for public reeditions to be able to still listen to the Epoca de Oro tango repertoire.

This had been in the beginning exclusively the new vinyl record and later the tape and compact cassette. A lot of people I meet are unaware of this circumstance and very much focused on the CD editions as the ultimate reference. Often they try to show me some hidden logic in how the tangos are distributed over a particular CD. Whereas the CDs often represent just a lot of 78 rpm records put together in a chronological order sometimes covering all 30 years of the larger Golden Age but in an uncomplete manner as a tango CD typically holds only around 20 to 30 tracks. This batch is often put together on an availability basis and rarely in an editorial manner. There are some exceptions though like the English Harlequin CD collection. In reality the reference is neither the CD nor the vinyl or tape. The reference is the original 78 rpm record release for mostly every published tango before 1955. A 78 rpm record looks iLP Carlos Di Sarlin size like a vinyl LP record but contains only one track per side. After 1955 started the vinyl era and some of the still present tango bands recorded then vinyl albums. In the case of D’Arienzo there were often a series of EP records and at a later stage a LP regrouping the EP releases. Di Sarli’s last recordings with Philips were later published on a single LP. I have a 1980’s reedition of this stereo record.

Grampian 636 Reverb Unit 1966

Grampian 636 Reverb Unit 1966

A typical artefact which had been introduced back then to the original recordings, is called a reverberation effect. While listening through the same titles of my collection I can distinguish versions with and without an echo effect. Famous examples are some of the early D’Arienzo recordings with Rodolfo Biagi on the piano. The initial recordings date from 1935 to 1939. If you listen to the echo containing versions, you have the impression that the orchestra must have been quite huge, recorded in a big hall with a lot of musicians. Whereas the standard version without the echo effect, sounds like very close and intimate. If I compare it to classical music, the echo version is the symphonic orchestra and the version without echo the chamber music.

The first known delay effects where available since around the 1950’s and were called Tape echo. To be more precise the echo effect is called a delay effect. With reverberation there are multiple delays and feedback so that individual echoes are blurred together, recreating the sound of an acoustic space. And I think this was precisely the intention of the sound engineers when they later added the echo to the old recordings: To add more depth to the flat sounding recording of the mono era. With the upcoming stereo culture of the 1960’s and 1970’s they wanted to give these old records a face lift and make them enter into the stereo age. As a side effect the echo also camouflaged imperfections of the original sound recording. And indeed when you listen to the echoed versions there is nearly no surface noise left. They make a clean impression.

Let’s have a closer look to the edition history of some of these tangos.

El cencerro performed by Juan D’Arienzo in 1937 is in it’s original 78 rpm record version of course without any echo effect. Later the same label, RCA Víctor, reissued El cencerro on a LP sampler called Evocando el Ayer, Vol.4, Serie Apoyando el Buen Tango CAL-3234. d'arienzo-vol4The 6 D’Arienzo instrumental LPs of this collection are very accurate reproductions of the original 78 rpm releases. They just contain some dating errors and some have no date indications at all but the sound quality is outstanding with no to very few reverberation effects and close to perfect tuning. This series had been issued somewhere in the mid to late 1970’s. In 1980 El cencerro had been again republished by RCA Víctor, this time on a 10 LP set called Serie Tango De Ayer, Vol. 3 D’Arienzo Biagi, containing a strong echo effect. It’s interesting to see how this tango is transfered later to CD: The El Bandoneón CD edition El Rey Del Compás EBCD43 (1999) as well as the Serie Tango Argentino CD Juan D’Arienzo Sus Primeros Exitós Vol. 2 (around 2004), seem to be based on the 1980 echo remix by RCA Víctor.  Also Milonga del corazón is the same version on the newer RCA Víctor BMG CD El Rey Del Compás 70 años El folderfolder.versoEsquinazo 1937-1938. It looks very much as if this LP had been the initial matrix for all follow-up D’Arienzo echo containing transfers. Therefore most of the dancers in America and also in Europe know only (or at least only had access to) the echo version as you can see on nearly all Youtube dancing videos like this memorable performance by Puppy Castello and Graciela Gonzalez from 1991 (I guess the music is played from a turntable or cassette deck and just from that aforementioned 10 LP set Serie Tango De Ayer, Vol. 3 D’Arienzo Biagi as neither the El Bandoneón nor the Tango Argentino CD existed at the time of this video!):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6f_BYsvVUz4[/youtube]

 

78RPM master record

78 rpm master record

Please see also in this context the mystery about the Don Esteban recording as described on Johan’s website and which appears to be the only ever reedition of this tango by RCA Víctor. According to Johan it looks like the masters might have been lost. This is particularily sad as this reedition and all others have this strong echo effect and the El Bandoneón and RCA BMG CD copies inherrited it! Also this version of Don Esteban appears to be slightly different to the japanese CTA version which would suggest that there might have been two seperate recording sessions back in the 1930’s

See here the sound samples:

In a way the echoed version of El cencerro made it into the salón and became some kind of accepted sound icon.

cencerros

cencerros

Maybe as a tribute to Juan D’Arienzo as he only made one recording of this particular tango back in 1937 when the recording techniques were still evolving. The echo version could be seen as an attempt to port the thin 1937 recording to a more space filling version as represented by the late D’Arienzo repertoire.

On the other hand nothing prevented the King of the Beat to publish a monumental version of El cencerro during his lifetime recording sessions which covered still another 20 years during the full frequency range stereo era from 1955 to 1975 — but as a matter of fact he didn’t, maybe he just forgot to do so … 🙂

If you want a version without the delay remix, you need to get Audio Park’s Epoca De Oro Vol. 1 APCD 6501 or CTA’s Juan D’Arienzo Vol.3 CTA-303. The japanese editions are based on their own 78 rpm transfers.

Now with this particular case presented in detail, I don’t know in how far people are aware that the echoed version is a pure invention? From the strict point of view of authenticity the echo version is untrue, some would say a lie. Back in the end of the 1970’s it had another meaning as we have seen and just until a couple of years ago it had been the only available version of this tango on second generation media, LPs, CCs and CDs! A lot of music in that time used extensively delay effects. Like on the 1977 David Bowie album Low which is interestingly from the same record label as the Juan D’Arienzo recordings, RCA Victor. This suggests that there must have been an interventionalist sound engineer at this company who added all sorts of artefacts to the historic recordings: Echo, tempo acceleration, low pass filters, etc. As to update these tunes to the taste of the day. And indeed other lables have been much more fidel when they restored and reedited their historic tango repertoire. In comparison EMI who inherited the ODEON catalogue had issued mostly very correct and authentic sounding LPs …

[youtube]Ihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkNmilE9ibk[/youtube]

 

Another added artefact to the original recordings is incorrect tempo as I just mentioned. This is actually by far a wider spread problem than echo effects, too strong noice reduction, wrong preamplification schemes or other record problems. The incorrect pitch which arises from incorrect record transcript sessions is the kind of problem which remains often unnoticed, but seems to haunt the listener unconsciously. Let’s see an example: Age Akkerman has described recently on his blog a case of an out of tune recording, Di Sarli’s interpretation of El ciruja. He  explains that he didn’t like this tango before and how retuning the tango to the correct pitch changed his mind and appreciation of this tango. Different tonal tunings can create different feelings or emotions in the listener. This can lead in the worst case to refuse and unlike a track. Most of these tonal shifts are due to a too fast running turntable during the transfer session. If you speed up or slow down a turntable you will hear how the keys of the music move around and change. Nobody really knows how these sometimes quite huge differences made it into the transfer recordings, it could have been via damaged transfer turntables or on “an early reel-to-reel tape recorder by changing the diameter of the capstan drive shaft, or using a different motor” [Wikipedia].  Nor do we really know if these changes had been done intentionally or by accident. But it seems that a lot of tangos are affected. Here is a quick test you can do in your own music collection to find such pitch problems: select the same tango, same recording date but from different sources/CD editions and check the duration and BPM fields. Are they different?

A couple of days ago I have recognised that there is something wrong with the pitch of Carlos Di Sarli’s Cosas olvidadas which sounded just too fast. Through an analysis of the partitionPartition Cosas olvidadas, determinating the original key most proberly used by the band in their arrangement and carefully listening to the voice in the recording, while slowing down the track, I have pitched down the track by a total factor of around 2.5%. Now it sounds natural. For a comprehensive guide to retuning tracks, please see Age Akkerman’s paper Lost in Keys and check the examples on his website. This kind of pitch shift can get really dangerous when women voices are involved. They are already very high and if they are then pitched up further they arrive in regions where they can produce a pain in the ear (See my article on Too fast El Bandoneón recordings).

See here the different version of Cosas olvidadas as selected from my music collection for a comparison:

Cosas olvidadas Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino TA Canta Roberto Rufino Sus Primeros Exitos Vol. 1 Duration 2:19
Cosas olvidadas Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino RR Various Artists 1941-1956 Vol. 3 Duration 2:15
Cosas olvidadas Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino BATC-DIEGON Milonga Del Sentimiento Duration 2:21
Cosas olvidadas Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino El Bandoneón El Señor Del Tango Duration 2:17
Cosas olvidadas Carlos Di Sarli : Roberto Rufino Retuned version from Sus Primeros Exitos Vol. 1 Duration 2:23

Now one could say that these different speeds don’t have any effect on the audience but I have talked to some dancers and it seems that often these pitch shifts are noticed, in most of the cases unconsciously, they say then, the music is not so nice or restless. With some DJ collegues I also recognised that they won’t play repertoire of which they have a lot of too fast transfers. they say then: “Ah, Donato, I don’t like” or “Late D’Arienzo is too hysterical”. Other DJs like these faster versions if they need to mobilise energy in tired dancers, then again I think it would be an advantage to first correct the tunings and to operate in a second step a further up pitching while locking the keys, this can be done live with modern dj programs like Mixxx or Traktor. That way tangos can be speed up without affecting the tonal keys.