Jim Alfredson

Rudy Van Gelder interview from 1995

249 posts in this topic

Best quote:

 

What are your feelings on digital versus analog?

 
The linear storage of digital information is idealized. It can be perfect. It can never be perfect in analog because you cannot repro­duce the varying voltages through the dif­ferent translations from one medium to an­other. You go from sound to a microphone to a stylus cutting a groove. Then you have to play that back from another stylus wig­gling in a groove, and then translate it back to voltage.

 
The biggest distorter is the LP it­self. I've made thousands of LP masters. I used to make 17 a day, with two lathes go­ing simultaneously, and I'm glad to see the LP go. As far as I'm concerned, good rid­dance. It was a constant battle to try to make that music sound the way it should. It was never any good. And if people don't like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engi­neer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium.

 
A lot of people argue that digital is a cold­er, sterile sound. Where do you think that comes from?

 
Where does it come from? The engineers. You've noticed they've attributed the sound to the medium. They say digital is cold, so they've given it an attribute, but linear digi­tal has no attributes. It's just a medium for storage. It's what you do with it. A lot of this has to do with the writing in consumer magazines. They've got to talk about some­thing.

 

http://jazzprofiles.blogspot.com/2011/05/rudy-van-gelder-signature-sound.html

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Did they ask him what he thought about reverb?

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Nice to hear a master that worked in the analog realm his entire career completely destroy the analog vs digital myth. 

Oh, but I guess "he didn't really understand how digital worked". 

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Yup I agree; great quote.  I have CDs that sound incredible and LPs that sound incredible; it's all in the engineering/mastering.

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Can't entirely discount the personal preference element - a substantial minority of listeners genuinely prefer technically "inferior" sound.

Guy

Edited by Guy Berger

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There's nothing wrong with that, Guy. The problem stems from them claiming analog/LPs are superior to digital/CDs. 

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1 hour ago, Scott Dolan said:

There's nothing wrong with that, Guy. The problem stems from them claiming analog/LPs are superior to digital/CDs. 

That's an opinion. Most everyone has one. Nothing wrong with that. Rudy had his, you have yours, I have mine. Nothing wrong with that, even if we may disagree.

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No, Paul. It is not an "opinion" when somebody says analog is superior to digital. It's not an "opinion" when someone says digital is cold and brittle and doesn't contain the richness of the analog sound. It is not an "opinion" when, as one poster once said here, that they could here the difference between an analog source and a digital source where the sound was broken up into 44,100 samples per second. It's not an "opinion" when they deny that the "warmth" they hear on their LPs is actually harmonic distortion not present in the digital domain. 

I've fought those battles and more here, and know the difference between a personal statement of fact and an opinion. 

Go back and read Kevin's post. He's not making that stuff up sans historical context. 

Edited by Scott Dolan

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1 hour ago, Scott Dolan said:

No, Paul. It is not an "opinion" when somebody says analog is superior to digital. It's not an "opinion" when someone says digital is cold and brittle and doesn't contain the richness of the analog sound. It is not an "opinion" when, as one poster once said here, that they could here the difference between an analog source and a digital source where the sound was broken up into 44,100 samples per second. It's not an "opinion" when they deny that the "warmth" they hear on their LPs is actually harmonic distortion not present in the digital domain. 

 

You+Keep+Using+That+Word.jpg

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1 hour ago, Scott Dolan said:

No, Paul. It is not an "opinion" when somebody says analog is superior to digital. It's not an "opinion" when someone says digital is cold and brittle and doesn't contain the richness of the analog sound. It is not an "opinion" when, as one poster once said here, that they could here the difference between an analog source and a digital source where the sound was broken up into 44,100 samples per second. It's not an "opinion" when they deny that the "warmth" they hear on their LPs is actually harmonic distortion not present in the digital domain. 

I've fought those battles and more here, and know the difference between a personal statement of fact and an opinion. 

Go back and read Kevin's post. He's not making that stuff up sans historical context. 

Okay. I guess my opinion is merely an opinion and your opinion is fact. I'm cool with that.

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Did they ask him what he thought about reverb?

 

 

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2 hours ago, paul secor said:

Okay. I guess my opinion is merely an opinion and your opinion is fact. I'm cool with that.

Please stop with the straw man arguments. You're better than that. 

I laid out several examples of things that many state as fact. 

And I prefer digital. That doesn'r mean that I'm saying digital is superior to analog. If you're going to continue to trot out terms like "opinion" and "fact", then please familiarize yourself with the difference between the two. 

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I just reread the entire OP and all he's talking about is the potential superiority of digital as a data storage medium. He also says that you can get fucked up results from this potentially superiorly stored data. He talks about the problems with getting analog to sound "perfect", seemingly placing more blame on the transfer to LP than on the original recording process.(note the use of how the music "should" sound, which is not necessarily the same as how it "did" sound)

That's all scientific enough, especially if the quest is to have perfectly stored data from which to begin to craft a finished product. And Rudy definitely crafted a finished product, with or without assisted direction.

More than that, though, I don't read him saying, which is why I wonder about what he had to say about reverb, because it seems that at some point he allowed himself to do all kinds of anti-"perfect" things with reverb. Did he do that just for the money, or what?

Also, consider that anybody who made a piano sound like that does not use "perfect" and "accurate" synonymously...or shouldn't. 

I've probably yet to hear a truly perfectly accurate recording of anything, and, really, some records, if they were truly perfectly accurate of how they sound while being made, you would not want to hear that, cats in booths and behind baffles and shit, showing up one year to add to something from last year. Thank god for the assembly of an inaccurate finished product there, analog or digital! 

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This is not a painting.

 

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You might want to re-read the second question and answer that Jim posted. That had nothing to do with data storage, but with the sound. 

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No, it still has (everything) to do with data and data storage:

They say digital is cold, so they've given it an attribute, but linear digi­tal has no attributes. It's just a medium for storage. It's what you do with it.

He's saying that it's data, it's value-neutral data stored in the same manner, you can fly with it or fuck it up based on what you bring to the data, not what the data brings.to you. You got no ears, your product will suck. You got great skills, you can do anything you want to because it's not magic, it's just data.

He's not talking about music, he's talking about recording, engineering, mastering, all that, That's what he did, these were not his indulgences, these were his tools. He was a master craftsman and he appreciated the ability to have value-neutral data with which to work with. Which is why I wonder what he had to say about reverb. some of his shit was definitely not value-neutral when it came to reverb. Again, was he paid to do that, or did he just think that was the way that music "should" sound? You get into some of those later Muse albums and....YIKES!

But he's totally right about digital - it is value neutral and it can sound great or it can suck. The days of really horrendous suckage seem to be over, thank god. The downsides are pretty much over, thanks to improved technologies and improved users. The upsides that were there all along, the ridiculously expanded dynamic & frequency ranges and total lack of "noise", can be stunning, especially in, say, classical music with incredibly quiet bigass concert bass drums that are at something like -50 hz (jk) that don't really "sound" as much as they do "appear", really, a wonderful experience. But again, it only does that because A) the data was collected in that way and B) the data was not fucked up after it was collected.

Sound, otoh, not raw data to turn back into sound, but sound itself, is nowhere near that objective. Hell, I like the sound of a scratchy LP or a tinny transistor-radio-y cell phone, but do I think that's in any way "better" than a fully clean digital equivalent? No, it just means that I enjoy those particular sounds as what they are - sounds, sensory stimuli that create a feeling of enjoyment for god knows what reason. You know, you see all the old video footage now is showing its age, it's got that fuzziness to it, well, that's something people can use deliberately now, that's part of the collective subconscious now. So, like on Mr. Robot, people can create that shit intentionally, not because they "like" it "better", but just because it's another tool, another item on the palate. That may have an element of "nostalgia" to it, but hell, people recognize it even if they didn't live it, so that's something else, that's...part of the lingua franca, for better or for worse, you make the call for yourself, I don't get paid that much.

Now, some people will say, hey Jim, why would you enjoy an inferior product at all? And my answer is, hey you, I don't know what that means, at least not when I'm receiving sound. When I'm creating it or managing it, yes, there is a standard in mind for each situation, and that is the standard to strive for. But hell, if that was all I did with sound....well, it's not. You might as well ask me how I can eat greasy diner food as well as Dean Fearing and never get tired of either. Because they please me, that's why, each in its own way. Beyond that...hell if I know, and hell if I care.

Or maybe, kind of like Ornette said, it was when he discovered that he could make a mistake that he realized that he was truly on to something. If I like an Aretha Atlantic 45 better than the same song on an Aretha Atlantic LP or CD, it's not because I "like 45s better", it's because I like the noise that particular 45 makes better. And if I like the 45 less, it's because I like it less. But if I want to hear "1967 jukebox Aretha", yeah, I will turn to a 45, because that IS what that was, scratches and all. Especially the scratches, because if a jukebox 45 ain't got no scratches, there's only one explanation - nobody was playing it. But if I want to hear the intricacies of the performance, if I want to do an objective evaluation of all the data that got collected and processed to create that final presentation of that performance(s) (plural because among other reasons, guide vocals were not necessarily the final vocals), I will waste no time in getting me a good digital rendition (and by the way, the first generation of Aretha Atlantic CDs were just godfucking awful abominations, not "cold", just empty).

None of that has anything remotely to do with data storage, and data storage is what RVG was talking about, what would allow him to make the objects that would make me the listener like a record better than somebody else's record of the same data. It's really "shop talk", and enlightened shop talk at that. But it's not a manifesto on Throw Away All Your Old LPs or anything like that, because he's not the guy to talk about how you should play your records, he's the guy to talk about how he will make the records of the music you want to listen to in a way that will make you listen to them that much more better. Or...he was the guy, RIP.

 

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And about some of those bizarre (imo) later reverbs...was that actual board reverb or was he just miking people in such a way that it was all room? Because that ceiling looks like you'd not have to ask it more than once to go gonzo while you judt kinda look the other way...

 

 

WTURRS06_lg.jpg

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No, Jim. He speaks directly to the question of the "sound" of digital:

[[Q: A lot of people argue that digital is a cold­er, sterile sound. Where do you think that comes from?

 

A: Where does it come from? The engineers. You've noticed they've attributed the sound to the medium. They say digital is cold, so they've given it an attribute, but linear digi­tal has no attributes.]]

 

He then explains why it's nonsense: 

[[It's just a medium for storage.]]

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Exactly - He indeed speaks directly to the question of the "sound" of digital and states that "digital" has no "sound". "has no attributes"  - it's just data. Whatever "sound" it has is what the handlers of the data give it.

Rudy, again: if people don't like what they hear in digital, they should blame the engineer who did it. Blame the mastering house. Blame the mixing engi­neer. That's why some digital recordings sound terrible, and I'm not denying that they do, but don't blame the medium.

There is nothing he says that would imply that digital per se is a guaranteed superior "sounding" format . Engineers can still fuck up, Mixes can still fuck up. Masterings can still fuck up. But they get fucked up because the data was handled poorly. The data itself (assuming that it was recorded correctly) is fine, and will be available as fine for as long as it needs to be. 

Digital is data. Digital data is neutral, it had no quality of its own. Therefore, digital is the ideal storage medium from which to construct a record (every record you hear is in some form or other stored data) because it neither loses nor gains anything. Of course, this makes it neither a more or less perfect input medium, because your input still needs to be handled with care. But once input, there it is, stored exactly as entered. If you get great input, it's not because digital made it great, it's because you input it great, and digital did not color your efforts. How could data color itself?

It's three paragraphs of one wholly consistent thought, which is - I can make my records sound better now because of the superior data storage medium of digital. Analog came with a lot of links in the chain that compromised the data. Digital does not. Digital outputs exactly what it receives.

That's all he's saying. People can project whatever they want to onto that, but that's all he's saying,

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But to reference Rudy - blame the mastering then, or the engineers, blame the data-handlers, don't blame the medium, the medium itself is neutral,

 

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"The biggest distorter is the LP it­self." -RVG

So no, he's not saying he can make records sound better. 

And Kevin, digital facilitated the loudness wars which have created some really awful sounding music, but the digital realm itself is GREATLY improved over where it once was. 

Compressed digital has caught up to CD in quality. Do you remember how awful those old 96k MP3's sounded? 

Edited by Scott Dolan

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I've been listening to a lot of "Contemporary Classical Music" on both LP and CD, and the thing I'm getting is that the older  stuff sounds older on LP, the record is as much a part of the experience as the music, and for, say, 1965 music that's cool, That's what 1965 records sounded like, and by extension, that's a legitimate part of what 1965 sounded like, musically and otherwise. But a modern performance...it's great when 2014 sounds like 2014, ya' know?

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I don't. Are you saying it sounds older on an LP than it does on a CD? 

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I do agree that, at 24 bits, digital has finally found a way to match analog in basic sonic warmth and appeal.

my caveat, however, (and it is significant) is that analog has a depth of field which digital is incapable of replicating; you might make the argument that this no longer matters, but there is a depth to the analog sound stage that just does not exist in digital, except when digital is a remaster of an analog original. I get this not so much from Rudy (who was certainly a great engineer) but more from Roy DuNann, who produced what, to my ears, was a more natural sound stage. But I have also heard it from old Revox 77 machines and a number of good analog open reel recorders. Whether or not your ears demand this is another question.

but once again, and I think it is for technical reasons, analog has a depth that just does not exist in digital, for better or worse.

and by the way this is complete bullshit and technically incorrect:  "linear digi­tal has no attributes. It's just a medium for storage. It's what you do with it. A lot of this has to do with the writing in consumer magazines. They've got to talk about some­thing.

and a little shocking than any engineer would even think this. If it's all the same and has no attributes than 8 bit digital would equal 16 bit would equal 24 bit; and all converters would sound the same. They don't and they don't. So this completely demolishes that statement. It's not just the engineering because all digital recorders do not give equal sonic performance. They simply don't. Which makes that statement completely erroneous. And it is  generally (but not always) the CONVERSION stage (where a signal is changed from analog to digital) that makes digital cold/sterile if if is done poorly, and can also make it sound grainy or distant. I say this, btw, from a lot of experience, in my own studio and having recorded in a lot of studios.

the other weird thing about digital recording is the fussiness of it compared to analog; back in the old days when I had a very expensive cassette machine I was able to just place it neutrally in front of a live band and pretty much always get good and balanced sound. With little 2 track digital recorders, this is much more difficult and there is the greater likelihood of distortion and imbalance. I don't know exactly why but it has to be the nature of the medium. And, to add, digital is much fussier about microphones.

All in all, if money was no object, I would record on 1 inch analog tape without noise reduction.

 

Edited by AllenLowe

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