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Music Media Science

From the Higgs Boson Particle to Leadbelly 194

Roland Piquepaille writes "Physicists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are using the same methods to search for the elusive Higgs Boson particle and to digitally restore audio recordings from the past. Berkeley Lab signed an agreement with the Library of Congress to digitize the many thousands of early blues or jazz recordings it has in its archives. And the results are spectacular. Compare for example, these two versions of "Good Bye Irene", before and after being optically reconstructed (WAV format, 18 and 19 seconds). This news release describes the method used by the physicists. This overview contains other details and extra references about this project." We also covered finding Higgs Boson recently as well.
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From the Higgs Boson Particle to Leadbelly

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  • RIAA-MGM? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by numbski ( 515011 ) * <(ten.revliskh) (ta) (iksbmun)> on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:37AM (#8903157) Homepage Journal
    So out of the goodness of their little hearts the RIAA is sponsoring this restoration, or are they going through and copyrighting all of this material?
  • quality loss (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mister Coffee ( 771513 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:37AM (#8903158)
    Even if a lot of quality of the songs are improved a bit of authenticity of the songs is lost. The cracks and the spikes in a song can give it a certain charm.
  • by OwlWhacker ( 758974 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:44AM (#8903197) Homepage Journal
    It seems a bit sad to think that the Higgs boson detector has been demoted to a record player.
  • Improved quality? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mike Morgan ( 9565 ) * on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:44AM (#8903199)
    Perhaps the Library of Congress should have hired some acoustic engineers to do this job. The Berkeley Lab seems to have replaced one type of noise with another (random static with a pulsating hiss.) I'm not sure which is more distracting.
  • Re:Why WAV? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gollum ( 35049 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:48AM (#8903226)
    Why not? Would you prefer MP3, perhaps or Ogg Vorbis?

    What's better than an uncompressed format for this sort of archival work? I don't think there was any mention of the sample rate in the article, but it seems to me that they could make it as high as they want to, given that they are generating it from a model of an analogue system.

    Obviously they are limited by the resolution of their scans, and the quality of their model, but it seems from the story that they have got both right already.
  • by TheRealStyro ( 233246 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:49AM (#8903237) Homepage
    Granted, it is better without all the static. But the flutter (shwush, shwush, shwush...) introduced is still distracting and a serious quality problem. Actually, the new version gives me a low scale headache from the constant flutter.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:50AM (#8903249)
    Exactly. While the cracking noise is almost gone, there is an audible loss in high-tone harmonics, which is pretty bad.
  • Noise != charm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tweakt ( 325224 ) * on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:02AM (#8903307) Homepage
    Even if a lot of quality of the songs are improved a bit of authenticity of the songs is lost. The cracks and the spikes in a song can give it a certain charm.
    Sorry, I disagree. The spikes and pops are merely a function of poor recording quality, and doesn't represent anything about the original performance Actually, it's far more likely due to higher noise floor, subtle nuances in the music are actually lost forever. The only reason you feel it sounds more "authentic" is you're used to hearing it that way. When it comes to acoustic music (classical, jazz), the closer to capturing the sound as if you were sitting right there with the musician, the better. The only coloring of the sound that's sometimes desirable is from the acoustic properties of the venue in which they were performed if it was a live show.
  • Re:Good thing(TM) (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdreed1024 ( 443938 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:23AM (#8903464)
    I wonder what they were recorded on - acetate? There's much better quality recordings done in the 1920's that have been remastered using technology we've had for years.

    That's precisely what they were recorded on, according to the article. That, and shellac, and wax. And it's not that we can't remaster them now. In fact, I have a CD of Leadbelly's LOC recordings. It's that this is a non-destructive way of remastering them. Prior to this, remastering them was merely playing them again. Granted it was in a controlled environment, with a near-perfect stylus and the record was painstakingly cleaned, but it was still playing them, and that is by definition destructive. Think of how this will change things. You can remaster something merely by taking a picture of it (yes, i'm oversimplifying). It will make remastering these recordings cheaper and more copies will be available (since the LOC doesn't have to worry about each remastering destroying the original)

  • Re:mod parent up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Peale ( 9155 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:39AM (#8903598) Homepage Journal
    That 'lame pulsing sound' is the sound from when it was originally recorded. It's the sound of the wax cylinder spinning.
  • Re:RIAA-MGM? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aboyko ( 16319 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:45AM (#8903659)
    "RIAA" there is probably referring to the RIAA equalization curve []. Simplified, you have to post-process the raw signal on a record according to that curve, because the original signal was written to the record with the inverse of that curve.
  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:53AM (#8903731) Homepage Journal
    Well, the idea is to pull out ever bit of audio information possible and archive it. If you want to post-process the data locally to remove that hiss (and any other audio in that frequency band), you can still do so, but the original should be kept pristine. After all, noise filtering is dramatically better now than it was 20 years ago. In another 50 years, I don't want an audiologist complaining about how great those 2004 re-masterings could have been if only they'd known about the Transflugian Transform and hadn't wrecked the archives with ham-fisted turn-of-the-millenium binary methods.
  • Re:Noise != charm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nanojath ( 265940 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:53AM (#8903734) Homepage Journal
    I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand I agree that excess noise is not signal, and the idea that something is more authentic because it's showing the age and limitations of its media is very questionable. I think it is true though that many methods of eliminating noise also end up eliminating some of the signal. I have a number of early CDs with relatively noise free but unfortunately flat, lifeless recordings that don't sound half as good as an old LP, scratches and all.

    But it seems like the methods for this are getting better and better. You're always walking a line, I think, when you start "extrapolating" information, and the more damaged a recording, the more of this you end up doing. It's all artifice in the end, I guess, but it does get you into interesting territory about recording... once it becomes digital it becomes totally fungible and who's to say what it "really" sounds like?

  • Bullshit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ayanami Rei ( 621112 ) * <rayanami@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Monday April 19, 2004 @10:07AM (#8903843) Journal
    I've got images of the Windows 95B CD in my home directory. I don't see that going anywhere anytime soon, and I'm not even trying for preservation.

    Listen, you can by an SDAT tape drive that can read DAT tapes that were invented 15 years ago, and consolidate 10 of them into one new cartridge. And if you want to be safe, you make a copy and send that to a different site. And in 10 years there'll be a new generational standard that's backwards compatible, so you'll do another transfer then. Hell, you should be making multigenerational copies every few years and checking checksums between generations of media to make sure you're not propogating errors.

    And why will this be possible? Because companies NEED THIS. They need to keep records for ages for various purposes. So the situation you detail will never happen if the custodians of the digital archive are just SLIGHTLY aware of the marketplace. Better than just leaving them to rot, eh?
  • by Fratz ( 630746 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:11PM (#8905285)
    I suspect those cyclic noises are actually worn into the physical media at this point. It's an old record and may have been played alot, or perhaps that was an artifact of its creation.

    If you do a noise filter in Audacity 2.0, using some of the quiet parts toward the end to get the noise characteristics, you can get a very clear-sounding result. You may want to try different levels of filtering. I only filtered a little, since the defaults were too much.

  • by ph43thon ( 619990 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @01:02PM (#8906131) Journal

    How come it seems that no one is mentioning that they are mapping the surfaces of these records? That's the interesting part. That's why they are able to extract the audio from these records. They are essentially "taking photographs" of records and using a software program to simulate a needle traveling through the grooves. Removing pops and hisses is just run of the mill filtering (be it old high-pass, low-pass or newer wavelet techniques). This could be a neat new thing for record junkies to keep from futzing up their old records. Make a 3d model of the record then simulate it playing in a virtual record player.

    Isn't that the amazingly cool part??

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