Part 1. A Few Good Reasons
(Including technical stuff)
I’ve had it in my mind to present a new edition of Stormcock to the world for some years now. It seemed a shame that one of my best-loved albums was hanging around as an inferior to its original 12-inch forebear. I’ve spent a long time thinking about it, and how I should go about re-kindling its bright light in my canon. The release of this new edition marks the fruition of those thoughts.
There are a few good reasons for an update and re-release. The first is that the cd packaging has never remotely been able to capture what was possible with the original album art. Secondly, the transfer of what was a very dynamic record on vinyl to a cd with a 44.1 sample rate format just didn’t seem to come across properly.
Another good reason is that there’s been a lot of interest in this record in recent years. It has never lost its place in the music pantheon, and as time goes on it seems to be gaining in stature. It’s become wholly appropriate that it should have the kind of new presentation we have now given it. In digitally re-mastering it I’ve attempted to take off some of the distortional effects and digital noise brought over by the transfer from tape/vinyl to cd. Apart from that very little has happened to it. I now believe it to be an altogether better audio experience.
As a footnote to this, I would have to say that I’ve never been a fan of the vinyl/tape to cd transfer. I can feel a loss there, which is often unacceptable. There are also other audio artifacts that can be created in the transfer from an original vinyl record to compact disc. I’m faced with a few of these still existent in the catalogue. In time I’ll probably deal with a couple more, I’m just pleased with being able to address some of this on Stormcock. The ideal of course, would be to either go back to tape or ahead to at least a 192k recording and formatting status quo!
I guess that my problem is that with the advent of MP3 type formats, most of us have got used to listening to crap reproduction. So much so that records are now being made with crap reproduction in mind. So that crap reproduction is now the standard. That’s the same sort of step backwards that humans often make when they lose sight of their received culture and history. You would hope that it’s not going to take fifteen hundred years to get back to fidelity this time!? I always said that until we all record at 96k, (at least), and it reaches the market place in the same format, that we will not be approaching the fidelity of true tape to vinyl recording again. Of course, doing that will create a huge scrap heap of all the worlds’ consumer players. Just one last question.. why on earth did the original ‘experts’ settle on 44.1 as a sample rate for cd reproduction, when they knew full well that progress was going to make that seem archaic? (And mp3 is a few steps worse than that…. And yes, it does matter to me, simply because it’s not as whole as it was when it was first recorded).
Actually, the question is rhetorical.. James Russell invented the CD in 1965, eventually licencing it to the music marketing corporations in the early 80s. Sony, Philips and etc knew that the world was effectively in a race to approximate fidelity, and they probably stuck with 44.1 as soon as they realized they were in a position to make money, and before the future could catch up on the money already invested in the licences. A problem that the market economy regularly manifests. Speed and quantity before quality. From the DeHavilland Comet at the high end… all the way down to dodgy toys from China.
I’ve re-mastered Stormcock so that at least it can now be listened to in places like the car, which didn’t used to be the case, at the same time as not allowing it to show as many of the artifacts as it used to.. at least to my ears.
As this is a market place, and everybody is in effect competing with everyone else, volume becomes a particularly important ingredient in any cd release. There are questions about the harmful, (and illegal), use of volume on modern records. So that the mastering or mixing engineer who first starts using an over-sampled peak meter capable of representing the audio waveforms may at first be frustrated that it is difficult to get their final result as loud as they could by using other kinds of sound re-enforcement. (This is only partially true). The following quote is taken from a professional viewpoint.
‘Of course, since many popular music CD’s have been clipping consumer digital to analog converters, accommodating those systems will inevitably require lowering the level by some method or another, in some way resulting in a quieter final product, although likely by only a few decibels. Where this is not necessarily true, however, is that the PCM system and the CD both allow for the representation of illegal waveforms such that it is not a requirement to lower the level just because the mastering engineer is endowed with tools that show him that he is allowing a distorted result to be reproduced. The red book format for CDs and the DVD specs both allow for this illegal content, and the mastering engineer is still allowed to put out releases that meet the spec while allowing consumers’ players to distort, (at least for the discerning). With an over-sampled peak meter the engineer will be able to hear, feel and see that the music is clipping, and by how much, and where. With this knowledge the engineer can then decide with complete information whether or not to
accommodate the legal range of digital audio on a PCM sampled system.
The consumer has continued to complain that CDs and DVD’s sound ‘harsh,’ the mastering engineers have argued that peak meters continue to be inaccurate, and everyone continues to demand better sounding mixes. Utilizing an over-sampled peak meter in the digital audio studio that represents the reconstruction filters in digital to analog converters is the first step toward an improvement in audio quality in music releases.’ But will an effective UN agree to this? Or, more importantly, does size matter?! And at what point does constipation require a surgical solution? There were different problems in the analog era, somehow, at the time, they seemed to be more human. Just another illusion.. perhaps… as we’re all swamped, 24/7, by noise pollution none of us expected to experience, in a shrieking world that doesn’t have full control of its dynamic.
The inception of the compact disc was years away in 1969, and these problems were beyond the horizon. I was very happy with the record when it was released. It thought that it captured the essence of my enquiry at the time. In many ways it’s a defining moment. There have been a few peaks in my recorded output, but this one can be regarded as the first, and I look back on it with great affection.