Well, that was neat – the “warmup” storm was the big one, the big one swerved north at the last minute and weakened, mostly missing us, and then surprise-collapsing over Victoria. Still, we did lose power and were offline most of a day, so if you missed Friday’s post about recovering damaged recordings – a bit of a geek-out, really – that’s what happened.
I took advantage of the unexpected uptime to finish up that project, by the way. It was interesting, and I learned stuff, like usual. The condition of the tape (and damage in the recording) varied all over the place, and arguably too much even to try to split it up into a million shards. Though there was a lot of this kind of crap:
This is one phrase of lyrics
That’s a combined automation of level and compression ratio. Here’s what it looked like over a larger area, about 3/4 of the way through. Yes, meaningfully more got added to this:
And the sad thing is, that’s just me trying to attain listenability throughout. I’m not trying for “good” – that isn’t attainable, but less noise and less distortion and fixing dynamics over time, that I can do.
Some of the tape wasn’t really that bad! I mean, it’s a 23-year-old cassette recording made on some sort of portable device set on what sounds like two different autolevelling schemes – it changes once when the recording was stopped briefly, I suspect the operator changed modes and I really wish they hadn’t – so “not really that bad” comes with a lot of caveats. But still, not that bad. Lots of hiss, lots of tape rumble, small dropouts, and so on, but not unintelligible. Fatiguing to listen to over time.
Here’s a short sample of “The Crawl,” early on, direct from the tape. Hissy, some sort of mid-band distortion that isn’t too bad in short doses (but really gets annoying over time), off-centre sound placement. But otherwise not that bad. You can hear stuff.
So I ripped the hiss off, did some work to improve dynamics, pulled out what I could of the distortion, threw on EQ to bring back out the low end, re-centred and smoothed it a bit, and here y’are.
Then there are other sections. After that mode switch got thrown, the whole recording got weirder. “The Profiteers” was particularly bad. Here’s the original. I know the lyrics and I still can’t make them all out here. But I can in the restoration. It’s not good, but you can make things out. This is where I needed that whole stack of plugins I talked about on Friday.
And just as importantly – and something short samples like the above won’t give you – it’s listenable over time. Some of these problems are really hard to tolerate over the two hours of this recording. They’re not bad in short doses, but they grate.
Like, the original seems to have more high end, right? But it’s not real. Eventually your brain figures out it’s just hiss, with your audio centre filling shapes into it, and it’s wearying. In short comparisons, the brightness is attractive, and the restored version sounds kind of dull in contrast at first – but as with light, your ears adjust to recordings, and that goes away with listening.
Similar are all the damn-autolevel-to-hell level changes. They’re not necessarily so bad in short doses – some of those are like punches to the face, but most aren’t. But even with that, EVERYTHING REALLY LOUD PUNCTUATED BY surprise underlevelling is also wearying.
So the restoration maybe doesn’t sound good, on any kind of normal scale – but I got it to the point where, particularly on laptop speakers, it sounds pretty okay. I can listen to it. Occasionally – just occasionally – it even sounds musical. And there’s enough there there to remind me how much I miss this Great Big Sea.
There was one thing I couldn’t fix though, no matter how I tried. And that’s during “Excursion Around the Bay,” wherein early in the song, some fucker orders espresso at a George Street bar. And so you get that espresso machine foam blast noise right in the middle of a verse.
WHAT. THE. FUCK. YOU WANT COFFEE, GO TO STARBUCKS.
Gods damn you, espresso man – gods damn you.