Yesterday I uploaded some samples from the completely remastered version of a CD that was issued in 1993 under the somewhat juvenile title Three harpsichords Seven composers (see here for the uploads). The idea of the original production, initiated by a friend who also provided the contacts, was to combine several harpsichordy instruments (a 2-manual French, a 5-octave 1-manual Italian and a pentagonal virginal) and a selection of suitable repertoire in a sampler fashion which he had seen and liked in a CD production with historical organs.
This disk has been sold out for years. Last year I bought the recording tapes, the master CD and the rights. My friend Erik Sikkema has now made a complete new edition from the selected takes.
Why all this effort, one could ask. Many musicians are actually not very interested in their old recordings – I would characterize my own interest in my early efforts as “mild” at best. But this production is different – it is my first solo CD. It is also different in that it came out of the editing process quite battered and bent. Here’s the story.
The recording was made in late 1992 in the rather large Caroli church in Borås. I had practiced like a maniac and played a long test recital in the same church. The label owner (a person with experience in choir recordings) and my friend and another friend all came per car from Holland. Microphones were set up, test recordings compared, the recording was made and after three days everyone left with a smile and a handshake. After that, it took a while to select the good takes, and I finally received a cassette copy with all the selected bits unedited in a row. Everything was in order, the sound was great. There were, however, two versions of the ‘a’ part of a Byrd Pavane on the tape, and one surplus bar in a Scarlatti sonata. But that’s what, in the age before e-mail, letters were for. I wrote a detailed one and sent it back to the producer on the same day (I found it back in the box with materials. It’s a very beautiful letter).
After that things went bad really fast. The producer called one day and told me with a hint of complaint in his voice that the person who did the editing had made a row about that he couldn’t get the takes together because of the acoustics of the church, and that they had to apply a filter of some sorts to the recording in order to make ends meet – but that the task was nevertheless almost undoable. I had been present at recording sessions; I knew that the amount of takes for my CD was normal and that harpsichord recordings in churches are not uncommon at all. What could I say? I told him to send me a sample so I could get an idea about what he meant.
Then I received a copy of the final master, completely edited and with the mentioned sound filter applied. The editing was good (even if some chord-release-articulations between a few of the Frescobaldi variations were magically missing), but the accidental bonus bit of the Pavan and the extra bar in the Scarlatti were still there. And the sound filter, whatever it really was, had done two really bad things. First of all, it subdued about half of the instrument’s attacks, making the total amount of attacks alternately too soft or out of proportion harsh. The overall impression is as if the plectra were made with soft tips and very little string overlap: sometimes they catch the string a little bit, sometimes more. Second, it generally steepened the decline of the after-sound, making all three instruments sound as if they have rather poor soundboards, loose bridge pins and/or corroded strings.
These were not my instruments any more. About an hour after I had opened the envelope I called the guy, but yes (or no), the CD was already in production, there was nothing to be changed now. This is the version that was sold in small batches in Holland until it was gone. I never listened much to it, couldn’t bear it.
Erik now used the unfiltered original tapes and, in a few hours of work, re-edited the entire disk. I was present to fix some final issues: there is no problem with the acoustic at all, and certainly not with the amount of takes. The real problem, as it turns out, is a good dose of background hiss from the original tapes. This was what the noise filter (because that’s what it was) was supposed to subdue. The story about the editing difficulties must have been an invention. In the new version, we simply accepted the hiss, because the overall improvement is otherwise quite dramatic: the new disk resembles a good analogue recording, and the instruments sound not at all unlike the real thing any more. Although this had to wait until 16 years after the deed, the final product makes me very happy.
Of course, I would be interested to issue the CD again in its resurrected form and with a good distribution this time. But what we’ve got now is good as it is: the order is restored at last!