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Old 19-03-2018, 10:53 AM   #1 (permalink)
Degraded old tapes
Ffabbia Ffabbia is offline 19-03-2018, 10:53 AM

Long, long post. Probably of interest to only a tiny minority of people - if indeed anybody. Sometimes you just have to type stuff out though.


Fukc degraded old cassette tapes!!

I have a lot of audio cassettes at home. I started recording my music in various forms from 1979 onward. All through the days of the various bands, recording practice sessions etc - to the solo days beginning in 1984 when I'd create music by repeatedly overdubbing a motley collection of instruments between two cassette tape decks. These tapes go right up to 1999, before ditching it in 2000 and going entirely digital. There's boxes and boxes of tapes - many of them in the form of various 'albums', or at least collections of songs written specifically for inclusion on that tape.

Around eight years ago I decided to start digitizing some of these old tapes for posterity. I had no real desire for other people to hear them - this was purely for my own purposes - the same desire that all hobbyists share, regardless of who else might be interested in the fruits of their labour. What most people call hobbies are really obsessions.

Digitising a tape is easy enough - plug a cassette deck into the sound module, load up Adobe Audition, hit record, play the tape - done.

What's far harder is getting the tape into a form that is at least reasonably listenable. Just digitising (I decided) wasn't enough. I also had to attempt to clean up, process, filter, and otherwise enhance the recordings to my best ability.

Back in the 80s and 90s my method of recording took the following form:

Record drum machine and bass guitar/keyboard onto tape

Shove tape into another tape deck, hook up deck to four-track microphone mixer.

Play back tape, overdubbing next instrument onto a second tape.

Repeat as required.

Do vocals last, and by this time most of the drums, with the exception of the kick had been obliterated due to repeated overdub degradation, so I developed a method of dubbing fresh drums over the top using my mono synth generating a short burst of pink noise, which sounded somewhat 'snare-drum-like'. I'd sing and hit the synth keyboard at the same time for the final dub.

The results were noisy lo-fi, mono and ultra-hissy. The repeated overdubs built up a solid, dense wall of static-like hiss that saturated the recording, coupled with instrument hum, amp hiss etc. Removing even some of this noise after digitizing is a huge challenge. The original recordings were extremely flat and tinny lacking any kind of dynamics, and over the years prone to all kinds of wear and tear, with damaged bits, sections where the sound goes in the left or right channel etc. I did it anyway, slowly and painstakingly over the years. Laboriously digitizing, noise reducing, filtering with the paragraphic EQ to add dynamics, adding studio reverb to give a pseudo-stereo effect and finally punting the whole thing through the L1 Ultramaximiser.


So... last week I decided to tackle some of the 1990-1992 stuff. By this period I'd added two new Casio keyboards to my instrument collection, one of which was the famous SK-1 sampling keyboard, a kind of very, very, very poor man's Fairlight which allowed four seconds of sampled sound to be recorded into an onboard mic and played back on the keyboard.

But disaster!

The 1991 tape was a complete mess. Chewed up, damaged, horribly degraded. It looked like a dog had actually chewed the tape, and then efforts had been made to repair it using a cheese grater. I have no idea how or why this happened.

Despite my best efforts, two songs, which I'd hoped to digitize were too badly decomposed to work with - defeating all my rescue efforts. I stomped around for a bit until my wife suggested I re-record them. This got me thinking....

Could I recreate the sound of a restored, lo-fi cassette recording using digital equipment; effectively making a forgery? I still had all the original instruments, what I didn't have was an actual cassette recorder, my only remaining deck is playback only. The DAWS was my only option.

Have you actually tried to create the sound of a badly-degraded, hissy analogue, overdubbed recording on clean, digital equipment? It's not easy! It's really bloody hard!

Re-recorded the songs, no problem, but the results were so pristine-sounding, even when recorded in mono, and leaving in all the instrument hum, mic hiss etc. Added synthetic tape hiss, added saturation using the Ferric TDS tape simulator VST - still too clean. Resampled to 8 bit wav, which was a bit more authentic, but it also destroyed the vocals, so that they were distorted, and full of horrible sibilants. Bit crushers just distorted the signal.

Eventually I experimented with adding tape hiss, saturation, and then converting to 12,000 hz before filtering out the tape hiss, and processing as I would a restored tape. It still sounds quite a bit better (in terms of fidelity) than an original recording, but I guess I'm just being super-picky. Most listeners probably wouldn't be too aware.

All that for a hobby, and for the recreation of two old songs that probably nobody but me will ever hear! I must be crazy.
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Old 22-03-2018, 14:40 PM
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All that for a hobby, and for the recreation of two old songs that probably nobody but me will ever hear! I must be crazy.
Fantastic! I think that it is worth the time and effort you have put in! I would love to hear and perhaps you might share some of this material?
Peace
Eric
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Old 22-03-2018, 15:56 PM

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Hmm. I dunno, you'd have to bear in mind that the quality of everything - not just the fidelity; but the song structure, composition, lyrics, performance and execution are all far inferior to anything I've released in the last eighteen years.

The tapes are interesting (to me at least) because they show a very distinct progression in competence, creativity, and functionality. The gradual addition of new instruments and recording techniques as the years pass by. The 1984 stuff is absolutely sodding awful to my ears in terms of the clumsiness of the lyrics and song delivery - but hell, I was only 17 at the time.

I might upload one of the 'counterfeit' tracks that I did last week just for the heck of it, and contrast it with a genuine recording from roughly the same period. We'll see
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Old 22-03-2018, 16:50 PM
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The 1984 stuff is absolutely sodding awful to my ears in terms of the clumsiness of the lyrics and song delivery - but hell, I was only 17 at the time
Let your friends on mp3u be the judge
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Old 22-03-2018, 17:08 PM

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Old 23-03-2018, 22:51 PM
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Old 24-03-2018, 14:10 PM
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enjoyed reading about archives, old material, buried treasures, rediscovered and the perplexing awareness of that was then, and this is now, and what do I do with this?

Enjoyed the banter from Eric as well as the detailed offerings from Ffabia.

The Simpsons image speaks well of human nature.

Nice thread, guys.

T
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