Monday, July 22, 2013

Transferring cassettes

The latest gadget which I have bought from DX is a cassette player with a USB interface: this allows cassettes to be played without batteries and imported into a sound editing program on the computer.

I initially tried to connect the player to my desktop computer but the latter wouldn't recognise the device, so I connected it to my mobile computer. The device comes with the Audacity program, which has the means to decipher data being sent on a USB line as music.

Naturally, the first cassette to be transferred was the first cassette I ever recorded. My friend Robert received a cassette player as a gift at the end of 1972, probably for Christmas, and it didn't take long for me to press the player into use as a recording device. I was teaching Robert how to play the guitar at the time, but he was only at the first stages. We recorded nearly sixty minutes of music in January 1973, me playing crappy acoustic guitar and singing, whereas Robert played bits of guitar and hit found percussion. I doubt whether I have heard these recordings much since they were made, and certainly not in the past 30 years.

I have to separate the listening experience into four: the songs themselves (mainly written by me), the playing, the singing and the recording. Some of the songs have remained in the repertoire until this day and have been sequenced for MIDI; some of those in the pre-Reason days and some in the Reason era. In other words, some of the songs I consider to be good by any standard. Other songs are not so good, and generally display a lack of development. Already my harmonic palette had been formed; there are no 'three chord wonders' and few full cadences (ie V -> I). All the songs are in 4/4.

My rhythm guitar playing is enthusiastic but not particularly subtle. Certainly, I'm not banging out four strums to a bar, but the strumming pattern seems to be almost the same on every song. Most songs display no dynamic variation whatsoever, and obviously I had yet to hear about finger picking. Robert's contributions are enthusiastic but unfortunately only rarely add something to the performance; most serve to distract. There's one instrumental which sounds like he was playing the chords (probably DMaj7 and Em7) whereas I'm playing lead guitar. Unfortunately, it sounds like Robert was playing a 6/8 rhythm whereas I was playing a 4/4 line and we weren't sophisticated enough (we weren't sophisticated at all) to make this sound good. It sounds as if we are out of time with each other and makes it extremely hard to listen to this mess. Now I know why our mothers complained.

The singing is surprisingly good. My voice is higher and thinner than it is now, but I'm belting out the songs with confidence and enthusiasm. It sounds like the higher notes are lacking in accuracy, but in those days we didn't have autotune and so were less used to perfect vocals.

The tape recorder had a built-in microphone so obviously this picked up a certain amount of hum. I suppose if I wanted to be a really good engineer, I would isolate the frequency of this hum and then equalise it out, using a very narrow band. The recorder also had a slide volume control which we used to fade recordings in and out; sometimes these fades worked well and sometimes not. Although we had the 'luxury' of recording second and third takes, these were done by recording over a previous recording, so there are multiple clicks before and after songs. After I transferred the recordings to the computer, I was able to edit these out; I also fixed the fades, sometimes by editing out material at the beginning and end of songs.

I'm pleased that I manage to salvage these recordings - I'll transfer them to disc shortly - but I very much doubt that I'll ever listen to them again. We were at the bottom of a learning curve, and hopefully things can only get better from here. Next to be transferred is a cassette from a few months later: I remember that I played piano on several songs and hopefully Robert improved as a guitarist, so presumably the songs will sound better. On the other hand, I'm not too sure about the songs.

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