Using Audacity and Quicktime in the Band Rehearsal

February 9, 2009

If you haven’t checked out Audacity lately, the newest version has some very cool new features.  The one I was most excited about was the ability to record multiple tracks in the same window and work with them simultaneously.  Below is a screen shot from my computer showing how I used it in today’s rehearsal of “Scenes from the Louvre”.

The lesson was on the fugue in the third movement- my students are not understanding that each voice that enters must be heard clearly and all of the lines must be balanced and blended so that there is good clarity in the ensemble.  The way I approached the problem was to have a reference recording of the section we were working on (edited in Quicktime Pro so that I had just the section isolated that I wanted) where I could just click on it when needed (without having to start at the beginning or rewind, etc) I then recorded the band using my Zoom H4 recorder in it’s audio interface mode (this is why I still think that Zoom’s H4 is the best value in handheld recorders) allowing me to record directly into Audacity using it’s excellent built in microphones.

After I recorded the band, I normalized the audio (within 5 seconds it was done) and was able to play back what the band had performed in high quality with optimized volume thanks to the normalize feature (I do this so that the volume of our recording isn’t too loud or soft, which invariably complicates things when I ask the students to give feedback- their first response is always about how the reference recording is louder than ours)

We listened to the first take- ouch! not very good.  Students gave feedback and I made some adjustments- we recorded again and did the same procedure.  We did this a total of five times, and the last one was a little better.  The greatest thing about doing this particular lesson is that I can do a direct comparison A/B with the first recording and the final recording right in the same window- this is the key to making the lesson magic when students can see a big improvement after they have worked intensely.  In the past when I did this lesson with other technologies, the problem was the lag time cuing up the recordings- students cannot really grasp the amount of progress they make over the course of a rehearsal because the improvement is so minute between repetitions.  Capturing the first “raw” take without any improvements, playing that for them, and then immediately playing the last recording after all of the cleaning has been done is really very powerful.

Audacity meets Quicktime


Restoring LP’s to digital- be careful what you wish for!

February 3, 2009

If you recently purchased a USB turntable and have been anxious to dive into your old band recordings on LP and start converting them, here are a few words of caution. I titled this post “be careful what you wish for” because there is a price to pay when restoring your prized University of Michigan Revelli recordings…

We have all been spoiled by the pristine audio of today’s digital recordings. Our ears have become extremely sophisticated, and when we listen to legacy recordings, we are often disappointed that they do not sound like what we remember.

This is due to a number of reasons- there are so many variables when we are talking about analog reproduction- however surface noise is probably the biggest distraction. The constant hiss, scrape, and pop of surface noise is certainly ill-tolerated in our digital world!

Aaahhh…but there are sweet promises of restoration- programs designed to scrub away the hiss and surface noise, leaving only the heavenly strains of your one-of-a-kind recording of Trauersinfonie…

Beware, because the quiet comes at a price. It really isn’t rocket science to figure out that when you have Audacity (or any other program for that matter) learn a noise profile, it takes out all of the frequencies in that “fingerprint” from your music!  Remember, even with the improved noise removal from Audacity 1.3.3 (latest distro), software CANNOT “put back” the MUSIC in those frequencies- when they are gone, they are gone.  This can lead to some pretty harsh results as the music can take on a “tinny”, “echo-y” or “shattered” sound (the later is caused by digital artifacts when the noise was removed).

You really need to consider carefully for what situations you will use your recordings made in this way- a reference recording of a tune that is very hard to find so that you can play it for your band is one thing.  You may work very hard on a recording and get it to sound “good enough”.  Expecting that you will “re-capture the magic” of the original recording is quite another matter.  There is a very good reason why ALL analog recordings were not preserved digitally- it is really, really difficult to do this “right”.  The equipment and expertise necessary to really do justice to restoring a classic analog recording is far beyond what we are able to do with a computer, a USB turntable, and Audacity. 

Thank goodness that many classic recordings have been restored and are available again, and great ensembles keep recording great music on great equipment!