Analogue vs Digital music: which is best?

posted May 11, 2013, 3:21 PM by Keith Johnson   [ updated May 30, 2013, 6:10 PM ]

I’ve vaguely heard of this discussed in the past, but another recent article I read brought up the topic of quality of sounds of records (LPs) vs CDs -- or rather analog to digital music.

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune of Monday, Oct. 9, 2006 in the “Source” section (e8) in the ‘Sound Advice’ column there was a question posed: “is the frequency response of a CD recording better than that of an LP?” This is a question I’ve wondered about before, especially as my hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of record albums lie deteriorating and nearly forgotten in my basement. Are they worth resurrecting and transferring to digital?
The answer? (verbatim, from Don Lindich,electronics commentator for the Strib) is thus:
“From a technical standpoint, CD is superior in terms of even frequency response as well as wow and flutter. When the music hits your ears, though, it often does not sound as good. Some audiophiles believe the small amount of distortion sounds good to our ears. Some think the act of converting music to digital leaves the music sounding cold and brittle. Remember geometry class? There are an infinite number of points on a number line. That is analog. A digital system, however, has a finite number of points. The trick is getting analog to play back well. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to make a digital system. A good analog system, however, is much more demanding and will not be as repeatable. Whether using a master tape recorded in a studio or a vinyl LP, if you play it thousands of times, it will probably degrade. Most people haven’t experienced how good vinyl can sound because they never had a proper setup. The circuitry in the receiver (called a phone preamp)is very important, as are the cartridge, arm and turntable. Mass-market goods are generally poor in all respects, and when the CD came along, it did sound better than these cheap setups.
    However, I just bought the “Fiddler on the Roof” DVD, all digitally remastered. My home theater is more expensive than my home office system, which is LP based. The 30-year-old LP of the movie’s soundtrack sounds better and more natural than the DVD on the pricey home theater system. All of my music purchases are now vinyl. Virtually without exception, they sound great after I run them through my record cleaner.”
I’ve also heard it said that the audio difference between digital (new) and analog (old) is the difference between painting by dots (digital) and painting with the smooth swoosh (infinite dots on a line...) of painting by brush. I’ll soon be getting my LPs out of the dust bin and see how they’ve survive their 20+ year hibernation. I know at the very least I have to resurrect some songs and get them accessible on digital again, so I can listen to them. They’re so old I’ve never been able to find them online.

Whatever happened to Knut Riersrud?

posted May 11, 2013, 3:16 PM by Keith Johnson   [ updated May 30, 2013, 6:11 PM ]

Yes, whatever happened to Knut Riersrud . . . and why should you care? Well, for starters, Knut Riersrud is a Norwegian version of Ry Cooder. If you’re not familiar with Ry Cooder (who is somewhat obscure, and now getting older) this rambling discourse may not interest you in the least). I heard a song of his early one morning on the way into work. The song was "Fjording." I'd never heard the song or heard of the guy, but I made note of these details because the song was so incredible, almost religious (I don't dispense with superlatives often, so trust me on this one...). "Fjording" features a slide guitar and a church organ -- that’s it.  After months of searching for and finding the CD (titled "Footwork") I found that he'd recorded this song in one of Norway's oldest churches: the Rauland Church in Telemark, Norway.
The organist on the song is Iver Kleive. So to recap, a slide guitar song with church organ accompaniment by two musicians named Knut and Iver. If you can get beyond those descriptors and find the song and listen to it, well . . . you are indeed a friend of mine. Congratulations on your curiosity. I hope you'll find it as beautiful of a song as I truly think it is. Of course, the image conjured up in the song is obvious ("Fjording") so keeping in mind the majestic fjords of Norway, it's easy to connect what he's aspiring to.
Finally, the note on the song says: "This instrumental came to me after my cooperation with the Indian sarangi player Sultan Khan on a recording the in the summer of '92. This incredibly nuanced Indian string instrument is no joke as a model for slide guitar playing, but hey - you need something to reach for. The music eventually evolves into a kind of psalm, landing safely on Norwegian ground."
So, I guess I've analyzed the damn song to death. Just go find it an listen to it. It's one of those songs that's worth the price of the CD, with the added bonus that the other songs on the CD are also very good, although eclectic with world music influences throughout. In short, one of the more interesting CDs that I own, and I'm very glad to have had the song and the artist discover me. One last thing, Knut's visage. What does he look like? He doesn't look as cool as a Ry Cooder or a Stevie Ray Vaughan. He looks like a fresh-faced, chubby-cheeked cousin of mine from Benson, Minnesota. He doesn't look like coolest slide guitarist . . . but he sounds awfully close to it.

Real instruments or real noise...

posted May 11, 2013, 3:13 PM by Keith Johnson   [ updated May 30, 2013, 6:11 PM ]

"It's difficult to appreciate the artistry and beauty of real instrumental music -- or the talent of those who create it -- when you're constantly inundated with music from electronic devices." (American Teacher, Feb. 2006).
I'd never quite thought of this, but after reading this, I have to agree that students I know are saturated with electronic noise (music). Given the chance, they'll open up iTunes or Garage Band and easily play or create original electronic sounds. It's fun and it's nice in a virtual sandbox sort of way, and yet it is electronic (mechanical) sound, not created by an instrument, but from a computer. It's not the warm sound of an acoustic guitar. There is a website devoted to trying to help this current generation of students who are stuck on electronic sounds, and don't know the sound of a cello, clarinet, autoharp, or flute. The project and website are called "The Plight of the American Music Initiative" (at and its aim is to make up some lost ground in the fight to orient students to the authentic sound of genuine instruments, versus the manufactured, digital sounds of a computer. One of the modest goals of this movement is to connect with hip hop and rap artists and encourage them to use real instruments in their recordings. Without their effort, these people believe that traditional instruments are in danger of obsolescence.

Buddha and the Brain: fretting and fingerpicking

posted May 11, 2013, 3:05 PM by Keith Johnson   [ updated May 30, 2013, 6:10 PM ]

"In the past 20 years scientists have discovered that intensive training can make a difference [in brain growth]. For instance, the portion of the brain that corresponds to a string musician's fingering hand grows larger than the part that governs the bow hand -- even in musicians who start playing as adults." (from "Buddha on the Brain" pg. 97 in Wired magazine, Feb. 2006).
So, this is looking at violin playing, but what about the impact of guitar playing on the non-fretting hand, particularly when you are not simply bowing (not that bowing is simple) but are picking, fingerpicking, and/or strumming. Learning to play guitar (and mandolin and similar stringed instruments) with the fretting and picking hands must be good for the brain and brain growth, and good for those little tendrils snaking around your brain. If the tactile, precise, and particular finger movements of the fretting hand leads to brain growth, it would make sense that similar particular fingerpicking actions on the non-fretting but picking hand, would stimulate brain growth as well. I would think that the tactile, kinesthetic benefits for the fretting hand would correspond equally with the fingerpicking hand, wouldn't you? Meaning that Fingerpicking AND fingering the strings would equally enhance the brain.

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