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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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  • This may help (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 3.5 stripes ( 578410 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:38AM (#8903163)
    with the digital image restoration in the previous article, image is only half the equasion, having the sound properly restored would make a world of difference.
  • Re:quality loss (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jchawk ( 127686 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:42AM (#8903182) Homepage Journal
    "The cracks and the spikes in a song can give it a certain charm"

    I would agree with this comment however the point of this project isn't to just improve music quality, but to enable the Library of Congress to save many 1000's of recordings that are so delicate that even putting a record needle on them could cause unrepairable damage to the record!
  • Good thing(TM) (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jdreed1024 ( 443938 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:48AM (#8903227)
    It's great that they have come up with a non-destructive way of digitizing these recordings. This will make the recordings easier to distribute, and I hope that many people who could not otherwise hear these recordings will get to do so via their local library or something other method.

    On a related note, why does the "after" filename contain the word RIAA? What the hell do they have to do with this? The Library of Congress recordings were made by Alan Lomax (another great american folk singer), somewhere around 1940. If the RIAA gets to make money off this, I think I'm going to be sick. Though actually, now that I think about it, I believe the RIAA has some "standards" for music formats. Hopefully that's all this is.

  • I still hear static (Score:3, Interesting)

    by donbrock ( 705779 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:48AM (#8903230)
    The after version does have a much fuller and richer sound but I still heard a lot of background static. Can't this be filtered out?
  • Re:quality loss (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mister Coffee ( 771513 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:54AM (#8903272)
    Nowadays one can buy grammophone players with lasers instead of needles.
  • Re:quality loss (Score:5, Interesting)

    by image ( 13487 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @08:55AM (#8903279) Homepage
    Also, listen to the examples if you can. The first one is so covered in hiss and scratches from the old record that it is very hard to make out much detail to the music. The new technique seems to render a fantastic amount of fidelity. But don't worry, there is plenty of character left -- the original analog recording techniques were more than warm enough. The difference is that you can now hear the cylinder going around (when it was being recorded), rather than it being obscured by playback artifacts.
  • interestingly (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eclectro ( 227083 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:05AM (#8903326)

    There is the laser record player [elpj.com].

    The cost is only $10k, plus $500 for a record cleaner.

    Anybody in slashdot land know of a cheaper version that us mere mortals might buy?
  • Scanning records (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:08AM (#8903347) Homepage
    This reminds me of a project posted quite a while back. Somebody used a plain old scanner to scan old LP's and try to convert the picture to sound. Can't remember how successful he was, I know he got some sound, but I don't reallt think it was that close to the original.

    It's way too long ago to even thing of finding a link, but if anyone has it feel free to post it.
  • Re:big news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NixterAg ( 198468 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:17AM (#8903427)
    Here's a link with more information about the uniqueness of the recording:
    Woody Guthrie - This Land Is Your Land [edu-cyberpg.com]
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:22AM (#8903458)
    And Ledbelly is, of course, the moniker of Huddie Ledbetter. That's why it's spelled that way. He got the knickname during his tenure in Sugerland Prison, for manslaughter. That would be his first tenure for manslaughter. Part of the Ledbelly legend is the way he got out of prison by singing.

    Huddie died in poverty in December of 1949. One month later Goodnight Irene hit number one on the charts (as recorded by The Weavers) and stayed there for longer than any song has since.

    Since that time other Ledbelly songs that have had great sucess on the charts include Black Betty, Midnight Special (written while in Sugerland, the Midnight Special was an actual train running out of Houston and prison legend had it that if it's headlight shone on you in your cell you would be released the next day. This was rather like saying that if you stuck your elbow in your ear you would be released the next day) and The Rock Island Line. Ledbelly was also a friend of Woody Guthrie. Woody's Roll on Columbia was written to the tune of Goodnight Irene (although Woody didn't realize this until Pete Seeger pointed it out to him).

    I really pissed off a barmaid one night when I ended my first set with that song. Her name was Irene. She hates that song. I found out why.

    Nice girl otherwise.

    Good night.

  • mod parent up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcbevin ( 450303 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:23AM (#8903470) Homepage
    While the news release makes what they're doing sound impressive, theres little to be proud of inventing a complicated expensive method to create something worse than a simple computer program can achieve.

    The 'lame pulsing background noise' or whatever you call it is really quite bad. I haven't tried putting the original through Cool Edit but it wouldn't surprise me it all if it does produce better results as the parent claims.

    Perhaps the technique will be improved, but the article should have been a bit more honest about the current state of the technology - its claimed results really don't match what you hear when you listen to the wavs. Reminds me of some wavs Microsoft supplied demonstrating the superiority of wma to some other format. Despite being samples picked by Microsoft to suite wma, the wma's sounded much _worse_ than the other format's. But their marketing obviously realised the simple fact that 99% of the readers wouldn't bother listening to the samples, but just assume that since the samples were there, the corresponding write-up must be credible.
  • Re:quality loss (Score:2, Interesting)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:26AM (#8903493) Journal
    Ironically moving them from a medium that (however fragile now) has lasted scores of years to some format that will probably be outdated in 3 years, and stored digitally on optical storage media which, if it's not eaten by that South American fungus, will have a lifespan of a decade tops?

    Progress, anyone?
  • by Ndr_Amigo ( 533266 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:36AM (#8903565)
    I ran the resampled version through a quick noise removal and bass boost in Audacity to come up with this:


    Obviously this was a quick job, as the sample was too short to come up with a decent noise profile.

    And to answer a quick question about the presence of RIAA in the filename.. Whilst conspiracy theories are fun here at /., and we all know Cowboy Neal did it anyway..

    I believe that 'RIAA' was a type of amplification method in old vaccum tube kits. I assume the RIAA in the filename is implying it was normalised based on the RIAA response curve.

    Disclaimer: I'm not old enough to know what I'm talking about. I'm sure there are some old-timer audiophiles around here that know the details tho :)
  • Re:Good thing(TM) (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hater's Leaving, The ( 322238 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:46AM (#8903667)
    "come up with", eh?

    Why do I remember seeing exactly this technology (as in non-contact vinyl
    reading) demonstrated on BBC's /Tomorrow's World/ back in the 1980s?
    We saw it actually demonstrated live, it wasn't just a theoretical idea.
    IIRC they played a Cliff Richard album, and IIRC they also, with great
    humour, scratched the fuck out of it for a second test, which the reader
    passed admirably.

    That was nigh on 20 years ago. It appears that the wheel has been

  • by tentimestwenty ( 693290 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:52AM (#8903724)
    The "clean" version they've made is really a disgrace to any historian or music lover. The original was actually recorded very well and has a near perfect equalization. It sounds very natural and it's rare to hear the treble so extended on early recordings. The new version has no highs and the mid range is filled with gaussian noise and is far too prominent. Even a half-deaf recording engineer would notice that right away. Sure, the clicks and pops are reduced, but the music is completely ruined as well. I just hope they're keeping high resolution originals as well as these hacked versions.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 19, 2004 @09:59AM (#8903778)
    Yes I believe you used to use an expander coupled with a equalizer to get a better SNR. It was called a RIAA amplifier, and thats why you need a special phono input on an amplifier.
  • Re:RIAA Equalization (Score:2, Interesting)

    by arjay-tea ( 471877 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @10:44AM (#8904198) Homepage
    Not quite.
    Bass frequencies were attenuated before cutting the disk in order to put the grooves closer together on the disk. Treble frequencies were boosted, so that noise could be correspondingly attenuated by the playback reverse equalization.
    Some of the first CDs were made with the vinyl RIAA eq. by mistake. Boy were the artists pissed!
  • by farrellj ( 563 ) * on Monday April 19, 2004 @10:57AM (#8904349) Homepage Journal
    CBC has been restoring their archives using a program/workstation called NoNoise. It has given us some wonderful resurections of Glen Gould's early works at the CBC, and allowed the band FM (inc. Nash the Slash) to "master" the CD release of their seminal Jazz/Rock Fusion album "Black Noise" from virgin vinyl...since someone stole the master tapes from the Canadian National Archives.

    Farrell McGovern
  • Evolution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by poptones ( 653660 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @11:03AM (#8904426) Journal
    The thing is, they still have the high resolution scans of the recordings. Playing music from digitized pictures of recordings is not new at all [wired.com], this being only one more step in the evolution. But now that the project has more mainstream attention and funding, the LOC will be creating an archive of many digitized recordings that might otherwise have been lost due to their having been written off as "unplayable."

    Like all technology, this will surely improve. And, as it does, those digital pictures can be "replayed" again and again - even after the original source has decayed to a puddle of jelly.

  • by karmajudgment ( 762211 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @11:26AM (#8904669)
    Very interesting results! Obvious musical features masked by pops and crackles in the original "Goodbye Irene" are revealed in this result.

    But I am curious -- there is a 4-5Hz broadband undulation in the result signal which does not, but I could be mistaken, sound like motor noise from the original disc recording. The undulating noise sounds like a digital artfact. Perhaps this noise relates to the digital filters used to process the images?

  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @11:32AM (#8904753)
    Yeah, that's the one I've been singing in my head since about halfway through writing the above post.

    Huddie's manslaughter charges were basically semi-bogus. There was something of a tradition in Texas ( and much of the south at the time) that if there was a general melee in a bar, and someone never got up again, when the police got there they arrested, tried and convicted the biggest, toughest looking black man who hadn't run away yet. Huddie was almost always the biggest and toughest looking black man in any crowd, and not prone to run from anyone or anything (Sugarland Prison is still probably the nastiest prison in America, and Huddie earned his knickname by being the thoughest man there). That's also what made it so easy for him to sing his way out of prison. Everyone knew he was just the stand up fall guy who took the rap for a killing that couldn't actually be attributed to any one person.

    It was racist, and hardly legal, but in an odd sort of way it kept the peace, because the public (both black and white) could pretend that justice had been done, if only in spirit, and I can't recall ever hearing that Huddie ever made any real complaints about it. And he might have actually had some hand in the killings, although in a modern court with a decent lawyer it's unlikely he would ever even have gone to trial. There was simply no evidence against him.

    But the peculiar racism of Washington really, really pissed him off. The city was completely (although entirely "unofficially") segregated, and there wasn't anyplace he and Alan could go to stay or eat together, either in a "black" place or a "white" place. Even in the deep south he'd never encountered anything like that. (Dr. King had much the same experience when he went to Chicago. The unofficial, but very real, segregation of the north was much more insidious than the official segregation of the south, and continues that way in many places. Yeah, it's still a "bushwa" town).

    Pete's still with us, but the last time I saw him (which was a few years ago) I was jolted into recognition of his mortality. Pete's always been the Dick Clark of folk music, and gave off a certain air of immortality. Other than a few more wrinkles he's always looked more or less like he did back in the 50's, and acted like it. All of a sudden he's started to look, and act, well, a bit old.

    Quoting Pete on Ledbelly:

    "One year he started having to use a cane to go on stage. His voice, always soft and husky when speaking, still rang out high on the melodies, but his hands grew stiffer and less certain on the guitar. Then one day he was gone, and we were left with regrets that we had not treasured him more."

    I'm afraid it's time to start treasuring Pete while we can.

    (I hope Pete doesn't read Slashdot)

    (Ok, really, good night. At least for me. Your diurnalage may vary. Lord knows mine does, all the hell over the place)

  • by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Monday April 19, 2004 @12:39PM (#8905775) Journal
    I'm afraid it's time to start treasuring Pete while we can.

    Yeah, I know. Recently I recall half listening to Folk Alley internet radio [folkalley.com], which features a lot of Seeger's songs, and I though I heard the announcer comment hat "Pete was" something or another. I spent several sort-of-panicked, sort-or-resigned, sort-of-apprehensive minutes on Google news until I'd convinced myself Pete was still around to rabble rouse.

    He's almost a movement by himself.

    I saw that, even though he has that typical Leftist problem. I have a Seeger compilation (Pioneer of Folk) on which Seeger sings "Round and Round Hitler's Grave" and
    "Dear Mr. President" ("I hate Hitler...Now, Mr. President , we haven't always agreed in the past I know, but that ain't at all important now...We gotta lick Mr. Hitler...."
    and on the same compilation ""Washington Breakdown" ("Franklin D, listen to me, you ain't gonna send me 'cross the sea"" and "C for Conscription". (I think I mentioned thsi once before on Slashdot.)

    Of course, Pete's opinion on the desirability of fighting Hitler "matured" after Hitler's "Operation Barbarossa" commenced on 22 June 1941, the Hitler-Stalin Pact went down the memory hole, and Stalin jerked Comintern's strings 180 degrees.

    (On a personal note, I've always been about equally disgusted by the Stalinists and the Red-baiting McCarthyites (Joe, not Gene, of course). Stalin killed millions, but "Tail gunner" Joe was pissing on my constitution. The America Communists I've always seen as rather willing dupes who would have sold us into Uncle Joe's Gulags, but I've also admired them for all the shit they put up with for bucking trends in America, and for their support (whatever their motivation) for civil rights and workers' protections. And I love the music.

    I lost my copy of Pete's Songs of Hope and Struggle but I found a copy of Paul Robeson singing the 1944 version of the Soviet anthem. The tune is awfully rousing, and the lyrics are so boot-licking toward Stalin ("And Stalin our Leader, with faith in the people, inspired us to build up the Land that we loved."), especially given that it's on a album named Songs for Free men.

    I can't help, from my 21st century perspective, enjoying the irony in a macabre way, Robeson being vilified in this country for his idealism about a Soviet Russia, where at about the same time, as Solzhenitsyn tells us in Gulag Archipelago there was that local Communist Party rally where the applause for Stalin's name went on for thirty minutes because everyone was afraid to be the first to stop. Not to mention the anthem principally celebrates victory in the Great Patriotic War, a victory that almost didn't happen thanks to Stalin's purges of the Army and State in '37, a victory which happened only after Hitler and Stalin split Poland down the middle and Stalin destroyed the Polish elite at Katyn Forest and then at Nuremberg blamed Germany for the massacre.

    I have some Soviet recording of the anthem too --- big "proletarian" choruses of "New Soviet Men" as frightening in their raw-boned way as Hitler's blond-haired, fanatic-eyed Aryan poster boys. Still, I can enjoy the Soviet recordings, despite Stalin's 60 million victims, in a way I can't enjoy my copy of the Horst Wessel Lied or my few copies of SS marching songs -- those I only listen to occasionally when reading histories of the Nazi era. Does my hypocrisy shows too?)

    Sorry for rambling. Back to Pete.

    So I don't quite agree with his politics, but I love the spirit they represent. Even though that spirit was brutally misused in Soviet Russia, here in the U.S. the left did help bring about great things, especially the Civil Rights movement. Even knowing he was, to some degree, a "useful idiot". Because he also roused people to organize the AFL-CIO, and to march in Selma and he wrote Last train to Nuremberg! ("Do I see Lieutenant Calley?... Do I see the voters, me

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!