Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Hymns and That

I'm very pleased that David Dawson appreciates my reworking of the contents of the first CD using updated (and free) software. In the recent Cantemus (from the Unitarian Music Society) he explains how, with that first CD in 2000, the recording equipment did not turn up, so those 21 hymns were recorded with rough equipment. The result was a lot of hiss and mono.

When I first used noise reduction on it a metallic trail was left instead of the noise. It was still there with reduced noise reduction settings. I hid the 'trail' inside echo and stereo separation. You could sing along but the words of the choir were indisctinct. But the upgrade of Audacity had a change in noise reduction. Using the pre-set level, the noise reduction was good and clean. However, the effect of that and artificial stereo was a hollowing out of the sound, that was not righted by using a low pass filter (tempted) but rather by lowering the notes and the useful same time action of slowing the speed. These must be done together to keep the integrity of a sound. Occasionally I might add a reduced shot of bass as well. But I was surprised that a second shot of noise reduction was even better, killing all obvious traces of hiss and it seemed to me that, based on a space of hiss, ought to be done before the note was dropped.

So the action was:
Find a non-organ fade out section of background hiss and take that as the noise to remove.
Then do the noise reduction.
Amplify down to make space for stereo (I chose -5.4)
Make stereo at full width (this is a VST plug-in)
Then do the noise reduction again.
Reduce speed and pitch by -6.
Amplify back up to peak.

In all cases I had a second of silent lead in and up to two seconds silent lead out for each track. This helps with CD playing machines less sophisticated than the one at the Hull church. For the CD itself, with the 21 put back, there is an extra gap of two seconds between tracks.

In some cases a little echo was added at the end of tracks where a finish was too quick, or where interrupted by a click. In one case a hymn with repeat lines and verses was reconstructed.

It's good to read that the CD will find use. It is one used by many because it contains popular hymns and indeed hymns first available on a CD with the different words Unitarians sing.

David Dawson explained to me that with the 1985 book much thought was not given to the vocal range of a hymn and he plays by transposing, whereas with the 2010 book the range rarely goes above D. Technically it is all to do with the general pitch or tessitura - the comfortable range for a particular singer or group of singers.

I selected -6 to slow the hymn and lower it noticably enough and to reclaim some 'body' back into the sound (it does work - rarely did I add bass boost). David explains, however, that for someone of perfect pitch, it sounds in between the notes. Interesting. -4 might have been better, I wonder, but -8 is well noticable but can be too slow. As you slow it down, you push your luck with the integrity of the note - the stability of a note from an organ, for example.

I did wonder about this. We Westerners do not cover every note with our notes! Proportionately the music should work out the same, it's just that it doesn't hit the notes.

I cannot read music, but I can copy what I see. I have recently upgraded Musescore. I've only just discovered the proper click for a tie to join two notes, rather than just add a curly thing. I still put up notes and down notes on different scores - it also allows more instruments.

My list of hymns is continually updated. In next Sunday's service, Stephen Carlile has chosen some funeral type hymns to go with a service theme on colours. They are not on any CD, but I have sourced the music and added to the list. The 1985 book remains the standard - it made leaps and bounds then, and it covers the range from liberal Christian to religious humanist belief and some interfaith. The newer book, as a supplement, contains much more that attack the idea of verses, and has more challenging singing. I can add to these either when the music is standard, the music is already available somewhere, or by transcribing and hoping I get the rhythm. Sometimes I choose 'small band' versions of hymns as a means to modernise, and more often than not get criticised. But I have resisted all attempts to get me to tell preachers what hymns to sing - these are matters for the service takers and then I make sure I can cover what they need. We should be able to sing without an artificial congregation all the time.

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