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Compression on classical music
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Ruphus
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13th January 2005
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Talking Compression on classical music

This has been brought up in Richard Dodd´s Forum, but only OT. As it popped up again in my mind I thought to talk about it in a separate thread.

There was an agreement yesterday on the opinion that compression can do good to classical music too.

When left completely without the classical music mix often ends up so smallish and distant and too dynamic, if not to say just uneven.

Anyway, as I have been remembering the topic today ...
Anybody remember a pop-classical orchestra named Rondo Veneciano?
They had huge success with the idea of delivering classical music in a somewhat pop-like way.

Every intellectual body hated them for `falsificating´the originals with that upfront and round sound, but I admit guilt to have digged their sound and playing, even if it went somewhat into kitsch at times.

Anyway, not having heard that stuff since those times I can´t tell for sure, but I´m almost certain that it was compressed as well.

Strings & Co. like some sqeeze hug too.

For no specific reason,

Ruphus
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If I did... the STC8 or the GML would be my first go too.....
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Not for me, thanks.

I want my ensemble recordings to maintain the dynamics and the blend of the performance. Keeping the acoustics of the hall is good too.

Then, I don't listen to "classical" music in my car or other noisy environments either....



-tINY

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Quote:
Originally posted by tINY



Then, I don't listen to "classical" music in my car or other noisy environments either....



-tINY

I suppose that is an important point, as the least own a dead quiet listening environment, which would be the only ambience that could let you really hear what´s going on in a thin mix.

Please consider that I´m not suggesting overly squashed mixes, but a light measure that would help the listening and give the music some fish bone.

In the end those anemic records that I have experienced the most to my ears don´t have to do much with a live-performance sound either.

... In fact last time that I was in the opera the accompanying orchestra almost sounded like amplified to me ( I was seriously checking the front wall for eventual speakers ), that´s how the room conditions brought the sound over.

That was a bold signal so to say, not comparable to the usual puristic record that vanishes under the carpet just to come out later and bang your head against the wall.

Admittedly though, I havn´t heard the majority of the classical records out there, this is based on a limited personal experience.

Oh, and in case it would be worth mentioning ... I mean to remember that the old classical LPs that my father used to play ( supposedly still shellac stuff ) when I was a kid to have been sounding more present than what I have experienced in the last decades as classical recording examples.

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The LPs did have some compression to them as a part of the process of making them. Getting the tonal balance right was a bit tricky too (I think that's where the mystique of the "mastering engineer" comes from).

But, today, we have better dynamic range, much better S/N and no RIAA curve to deal with. Well recorded CDs are very differnt animals than the LPs of old. The CDs are more like the reel-to-reel recordings that only the tweakiest people had at home. All of the classical r2r that I have heard are recorded as flat, uncompressd, and uncolored as they could be. As it should be....



-tINY

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Interesting to know, thanks Tiny!

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I'm with you Tiny, but Richard raises an interesting point that the microphone diaphragm does not respond like a human ear, esp. in that we have brain-based limiters to handle transients. So actually helping out the hyper realism of a good microphone can give the illusion of being more realistic. My limited experience suspects this theory is quite correct.

Love to hear more on this subject, it's very interesting.
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I'd love to hear some compression on Ravel's 'Bolero'.....always thought it starts out so weak.......

Andi

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Not to interrupt the compression matter, but I´d like to sneak in one other aspect of dynamics in between:
The performance itself.

How about the idea that todays dynamics in performance were overdone as a sort of ... fuss?

The habits of today are not even 150 years old. That ceremony of a standard program ( overture, solist, symphony ) and moreso relevant for our topic here the how-to-behave regulations.

The overdone quietness of the audience with even prohibition of applause in the pauses between pieces ( except of me. I once applauded and got company ) which brought with it that extreme performance of dynamics, going so low that it almost requires the public to stop breathing to hear that microscopic string pull down there in the second raw.

All this yet introduced with the late Beethoven ( the favoured of my dad, besides ).

How about if this was just overdone mannersim, never intended even by the composers?


Yet, in the early last century classical performances were happening in a relaxed atmosphere with the audience eating and drinking. Still behaved and usually not disturbing the performance, but with fun at the whole thing.

I must say I like the idea to get rid of all that pinguin mannersim and reanimate the classical music as a joy for the people.
Yeah, actually if I had the money I would open such an establishment and I´m sure that it would succeed.

Maybe start out with smaller combos and chamber music, accompanied with well done cousine and later grow the thing up to real orchestras like it used to originally be.

And I know that there would be classical artists who wellcomed the idea. Just as F.R. Duchâble or Friedrich Gulda would if they had had a chance and like Kyle MacMillan.

Anyway, with a relaxed public you couldn´t do that extreme up and down in volume like they do today and the music would be much better digestable in my ears while still and certainly having its expression in dynamics.

Might be even the trend back to the original procedure to be the trend to come. A popular magazine had the exact topic on the agenda just last week.

Ruphus

PS: Yes, we know; Beethoven liked to start out quiet and then give it a sudden bang to make the audience quiet and listening.
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Interesting points, but a great artist can make an audience listen no matter what.

Having said that, I don't think of it as a necessity to make a recording sound like a concert- they are completely separate mediums with different aims and means. Things that are possible with stage craft are often not possible in the studio
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From my point of a pure subtle acoustic music I can say that according to my experience and feelings a compression always steals a bit natural breathing and dynamics of music (I tried few times, always returned to a natural breath). Yes, vocals, percussions etc. may sometimes separately benefit from compression. But I always prefer to keep a big natural dynamic uncompressed range for the whole mix. A silence or "near to silence" has also a big power. Unless you listen on a highway, of course ...
As for classical music recordings, I prefer that attitude too. From pppp to fffff full power
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I'm going to go against the purist grain and say that I think compression can be very useful in classical music. Sometimes a performance can just be too dynamic.

I recorded a performance last summer where 500 musicians were involved (http://gearslutz.com/board/showthrea...threadid=17725) The dynamic range of the performance was over 55dB. Even on a really good system, it was difficult to listen to.

I use some very mild compression and manually changed some of the dynamics (lowered a couple loud sections and raised some particularly soft ones). I still had upwards of 40dB in the final release, but it was much more listenable.

It is all in the way that it is done...

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Opto's are notoriously popular with my classical pro audio customers. That's one of the big reasons (IMO) why you see companies like Buzz Audio, Pendulum, and Millennia all making them. Capable of gentle, mostly program dependent, and sonically clean leveling.
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I agree that the huge dynamic range available now can be (and is) overused with results that don't do justice to the music.

When you're hearing an orchestra live in a good hall, there's a natural compression of sorts that results partly from the acoustic response of the space--i.e., a good room enriches or enlarges the quiet passages and takes the edge off the loud ones. Translate the same dynamics intact to CD, play it in a small listening room, and it just doesn't sound right, no matter how good the gear.

I have two CD versions of Mozart's 40th symphony, one the amazing 1958 version by William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony, the other the 1983 digitally recorded Christopher Hogwood version. Without even getting into performance/interpretation issues (a fair analogy would be Louis Armstrong vs. Chuck Mangione), the Steinberg version is hugely superior as a recording--partly because the dynamic range is significantly less. The large dynamic range in the Hogwood doesn't really make it more realistic, it just robs the recording of intensity, presence, whatever you want to call it.

I don't know exactly what technical processes resulted in the "compression" on the Steinberg--whether they used a compressor and/or limiter in the mastering, or hit the tape a little hard (it almost sounds like that in places). But it works. The recording is big, juicy, full of feeling, without sounding at all flattened or distorted.

The bottom line is that listening to a recording is NOT like listening to a live concert, and if mix or mastering engineers ignore this fact, all they do is guarantee that the experience of listening to the recording will be less powerful than it could be. I don't give a rat's arse how true the recording is to the "concert hall experience"--I just want it to convey the imaginative/expressive intention of the composer to me, in my little room. I'm not in a concert hall, and I don't want to pretend I am. I want to hear the music, right here, right now.

Phew! End of rant.
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I think it is a combination of things- people recorded analog back in 1958. Tape naturally compresses... Also, when it went to vinyl, it was likely compressed further... The question is how and at what stages.

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Quote:
Originally posted by NathanEldred
Opto's are notoriously popular with my classical pro audio customers. That's one of the big reasons (IMO) why you see companies like Buzz Audio, Pendulum, and Millennia all making them. Capable of gentle, mostly program dependent, and sonically clean leveling.
That is why I've use the Vari Mu and Millennia comps for classical mastering... A clean digital comp can also work well.

--Ben
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Yo Brian, great post.
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Quote:
I think it is a combination of things- people recorded analog back in 1958. Tape naturally compresses... Also, when it went to vinyl, it was likely compressed further... The question is how and at what stages.
Right. It also occurs to me that a savvy conductor doing a recording session in 1958 might have told the musicians to do a little ad hoc compression in the performance, putting a little more sound into the quiet passages to compensate for the limitations of the medium. That might partly explain the intensity that I love about Steinberg's 40th--he might have told the players, "you don't have as much room as you're used to dynamically, so you're going to have to be that much more expressive."
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I'm not really sure what's being discussed here. As far as I know, classical engineers have used 'hand-limiting'-just plain old fader riding- for ages. They might feel above using a compressor but the ultimate goal is the same, it's an art in itself and although I'm in no way an expert, I have heard enough, say, piano recordings, where they used compression to smooth out the touch of the player to get those 'pearly' runs that they never would be able to deliver in a concert hall.
You'll never get the same sense of dynamics and space in a living room as opposed to listening to a great orchestra in a great concert hall, so with the recording being less dynamic to begin with, why tame it even more? Are the 'stupid loud' aesthetics of most current pop fare really so desireable?

And to Ruphus: You can't be serious about 'Rondo Veneziano'! That's some of the most watered down, lame-ass, just plain SQUARE music there is. Mozart probably would have killed those jokers.
If you want something heavy and almost 'rock and roll', listen to Pierre Boulez' recording of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' with the Cleveland Orchestra. Prepare to be floored. And yes, it's very dynamic, I guess that's the point in fact.


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Quote:
Originally posted by Brian Middleton
II have two CD versions of Mozart's 40th symphony, one the amazing 1958 version by William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony, the other the 1983 digitally recorded Christopher Hogwood version. Without even getting into performance/interpretation issues (a fair analogy would be Louis Armstrong vs. Chuck Mangione), the Steinberg version is hugely superior as a recording--partly because the dynamic range is significantly less. The large dynamic range in the Hogwood doesn't really make it more realistic, it just robs the recording of intensity, presence, whatever you want to call it.
It's interesting... I mentioned this debate to a classical musician (not engineer) friend. He recalled his teacher (who's spent decades playing in the National Symphony) saying that, "every generation of musicians tries to make the soft parts softer and the loud parts louder." The implication being that, while there are obviously aesthetic concerns, there's some one-upmanship involved as well.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Steinberg version didn't have any compression on it at all. (I don't know for sure, of course.) The conductor may have simply had a more , um, compressed sense of dynamics.
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From another perspective:
How loud does the "average" classical concert get in the auditorium - 105db A weighted?
How loud does the "average" consumer listen to that concert off a CD at home? 95db A (IMO that´s almost maximum unless he´s a jerk)? Now when the concert is getting REAL pppp (barely audible) the listener at home will have 10db less than that.
So there SHOULD be some kind of compression on the CD, but maybe riding faders is better than compression. Depends... maybe upward compression to keep the transients?

Peter
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Quote:
And to Ruphus: You can't be serious about 'Rondo Veneziano'! That's some of the most watered down, lame-ass, just plain SQUARE music there is. Mozart probably would have killed those jokers.
If you want something heavy and almost 'rock and roll', listen to Pierre Boulez' recording of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' with the Cleveland Orchestra. Prepare to be floored. And yes, it's very dynamic, I guess that's the point in fact.
Thanks for the tip. I might come back to it in the future as I´m planing to start a collection of the best classical music recordings, pieces and performances anyway ( since ... 20 years now ). About all of the classical recordings that I have grabbed are failed purchases ( lame-ass and thin ).

BUT, say what you want, what I recall is that the recordings of Rondo Veneciano were great. Fat and round and still dynamic. I liked that.
If I would hear them again maybe I would conclude that it could be a bit less bold for classicals than that ( RV was inteded as poppy by means ), but it sure shows that completely pure tracks mustn´t be the holy grail of classical recording, - certainly not on preformances that are overly expanded in dynamic range.


Brian´s remark sounded quite interesting and plausible to me:
Quote:
Originally posted by mdbeh
I wouldn't be surprised if the Steinberg version didn't have any compression on it all. (I don't know for sure, of course.) The conductor may have simply had a more , um, compressed sense of dynamics.
If it would be conducted more evenly ( as likely originally intended and performed anyway ), maybe compression wasn´t needed.

Besides, that rhetorical threat with the hint towards modern squashed pop doesn´t work out, cause noone here asked for square waveforms. Just about slight spices to make things more even, and audible ... and sounding.

Whether either or both ( conductment or comps ) could support the matter would be fine.

Ben nailed it for me here I guess:

Quote:
Originally posted by fifthcircle

It is all in the way that it is done...

--Ben

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I'm against any processing whatsoever. Most natural mics into most transparent pres into most transparent AD. Less is more in audiophile records.
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ruphus
Thanks for the tip. I might come back to it in the future as I´m planing to start a collection of the best classical music recordings, pieces and performances anyway ( since ... 20 years now ). About all of the classical recordings that I have grabbed are failed purchases ( lame-ass and thin ).
BUT, say what you want, what I recall is that the recordings of Rondo Veneciano were great. Fat and round and still dynamic. I liked that.
If I would hear them again maybe I would conclude that it could be a bit less bold for classicals than that ( RV was inteded as poppy by means ), but it sure shows that completely pure tracks mustn´t be the holy grail of classical recording, - certainly not on preformances that are overly expanded in dynamic range.Ruphus
You know, I try to listen to classical music more often lately. IMO, it's really inspiring exactly because the aesthetics and methods are so different from pop/rock. But then again, they're not. I really have learned a lot about mixing just by listening to an orchestral score like say Debussy's 'La Mer' or the afore mentioned Stravinsky bit.
What we shouldn't forget is that the classical world , like anything, goes through fads and cycles. At some point baroque music was suddendly supposed to be played on 'authentic' instruments only and variations in tempo or big dynamics were 'forbidden'. There's no better example than Segovia, who came out of the romantic late 19th/early 20th tradition where you played very emotionally and dynamically. Suddendly it was declared old-fashioned and 'egoistical'. Well, there's no danger in overdoing dynamics with, say, a cembalo because there are no dynamics in that dreaded thing to begin with!
IMO, what is important is seeing recording as a different process and challenge than a concert. I guess that's where a lot of classical musicians are at loss and in that sense I sure doagree with the posts above.
I once read that Bach would always clap his hands first in the room he was supposed to play in and adjust his performance accordingly. Tempos are probably the biggest challenge I guess, playing something too fast in a reverb-heavy room might completely spoil the thing. He was smart enough to think about his 'mix' centuries before any recordings were possible.
And let's not forget that an artist might wildly change his interpretation to match his feelings and insight on that particular day. It used to be a one-off experience and the next night would be different. Once recording entered the picture, everybody tried to go for 'definite' interpretations etched in stone. Why? I enjoy different interpretations of a given piece, so hearing say Haydn (my favorite classical guy) Symphonies in different versions can really be a lot of fun.
I'm a big fan of Leonard Bernstein but I once bought a version he conducted of Holst's 'The Planets' which left me totally cold. I thought maybe it's the piece itself, some years later I got a version by Simon Rattle and was floored, an amazing listening experience but yes, I could imagine a 'more modern' guy like Rattle being very concious of the virtues and shortcomings of the recording process.

And Ruphus, last night, just after typing my 'Rondo Veneziano' bashing, I checked the newspaper only to learn that they will play here in Basel this very month! I won't go, I wonder whether they use compression live though?
Is Auto-Tune being used on classical recordings?

Andi
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Doorknocker if you like those pieces try these:

Stravinsky - Petrouchka (heck grab all the early ballets )

Elgar - Enigma Variations

Mahler Symphonies (I love Chicago/Solti)

Maybe you already heard this stuff
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Quote:
Originally posted by krs
Doorknocker if you like those pieces try these:

Stravinsky - Petrouchka (heck grab all the early ballets )

Elgar - Enigma Variations

Mahler Symphonies (I love Chicago/Solti)

Maybe you already heard this stuff
Thanks krs, in fact 'Petrouchka' is on the same CD I got with Boulez conducting the 'Rite of spring'. Gotta listen to it again. I got a bit into Mahler lately. Symphony No. 1 with Tilson, mainly bought it to check out SACD. What I don't like is the ending, romantic composers sometimes like to do these 'heavy metal' endings that are so trite and obvious (kinda like a band jumping up and down in time with the drummer destroying his last bit of hearing with China Cymbal crashes). or is is the interpretation?
I also bought Mahler's 6th recently, again with Boulez conducting. Absolutely love it! I seem to enjoy the works that are labeled as difficult the most , don't know what that says about my psyche .
Another fave is the complete set of Bartok string Quartets done by the Emerson Quartet. AMAZING musicianship. Wow!

Gotta check out Elgar and some Mahler done by Solti

Andi

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Hi Andi,

interesting when you mention that the rigid ideals coming from records!
Another point that must have combined together with the required procedures in the halls to current habits.

Yet without having an overlook by far I have to agree on Haydn for sure.
And from Bernstein I got me a 5 LP thing or so ages ago that never touched me. I tried to approach to it a couple of times, but ...
There is much better stuff out there than that work.

( Besides, isn´t it great that you can now just hold a CD under a scanner and zap! have a listening on the fly in the store? I always wanted something thellike. Apart from a certain store where one could sit in a cabine - as special guest - and listen to venyls, shopping used to be pretty blind in the past.)

Anyway, I do agree with you that things in the orchestral world should losen up a bit and probably will.

- And ... what if you went to Rondo Veneciano and found them giving you a great listening experience?
You´ll not find out.

I didn´t know that they were still existing.

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Broadcast style parallel compression

No-one has mentioned this yet??

This is done by multing your stereo source material into a compressor set with a low threshold and extremely high ratio around 100:1 say.

During the loud passages the multed compressor track is inaudible because it is being squashed so much but during the quieter passages the source falls under the threshold and the compression dies away resulting in a very natural sounding 6dB 'cushion' to stop very quiet passages dissapearing into the noise floor of your living room!

This is an excellent way to reduce the dynamic range of a recording and the advantages are three-fold:-

1. The net result is, sonically speaking, extremely transparent (this is certainly not the use of compression as an effect).

2. The musicians are not being asked to compromise their performance so passages that should be played very sensitively still can be.

3. No damage has been done to the transient response on louder passages. These play exactly as they were recorded (classical music fans want to hear transients!).

I think Deutsche Grammophon pioneered the technique and it later found favour with the BBC and other broadcasters who used it extensively in order to stay within the dynamic range required by some broadcast equipment and standards.
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Quote:
Originally posted by doorknocker
Is Auto-Tune being used on classical recordings?

Andi
You may have asked this as a joke, but while autotune itself is not really used, pitch correction quite definitely gets used on occasion. In most cases, pitch correcting a single part is impossilbe in classical recording because you are micing an ensemble- not an isolated performance. Even when you have a mic on the singer in question (ie a solo mic for a singer), you will get a lot of bleed into all the other mics on stage. Most trained singers do pretty well with the pitch, but occasionally, it would be nice to fix that high note that they didn't quite hit.

Now, where I use pitch correction on a regular basis is when I'm editing acapella choral music. Pitch will slide all over the place. sometimes the pitch can move by a 1/2 step or more. Of course, when you stop for a new take, the pitch is restored and you have a major problem. In this case, I'll carefully pitch correct the material across all tracks to make the edit work. Sometimes it means correcting the pitch, sometimes it means putting the new material at a new pitch. I have an acapella job coming up next month and I can't wait to use the Elastic Audio feature in Sequoia. I'll be able to manually automate pitch to correct any of the deficiencies that come up in the session.

thenewyear- you are mentioning parallel compression... It is a trick that mastering studios that work with all genres have been using for years... It is a great technique for giving a performance a bit more body/spank/whatever you want to call it without harming the sense of transients that give us our dynamic information.

--Ben
#30
14th January 2005
Old 14th January 2005
  #30
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ruphus wrote:
"The overdone quietness of the audience with even prohibition of applause in the pauses between pieces"

I read today in a Chilean newspaper about a french pianist playing classical music in bars. This is happening in Berlin at a place call "Cookies", and the pianist is Helene Grimmaud. This is put together by "Deutsche Grammophon" record label.
Cheers........Joaquin.

By the way I'm sure before digital, and due to the dynamic range of Tape, classical music was compressed.
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