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Patrick McLaurin 08-24-2019 03:32 PM

Drone Volume in Old Recordings
When you listen to old recordings (not recordings of pipers who are now old, I'm talking as old as they get), the drones are very audible, especially the tenors.

I don't imagine they did a whole lot of multi-track mixing back then. Is it wrong to assume that there was one microphone? Where was it placed? I don't know. However, taking those recordings as representative samples, it would seem to me that drone volume has decreased, in general across highland piping, since these recordings were made, especially the tenors.

The drones are to provide a chordal backdrop to the chanter, and yet they fail to do so at lower volumes. Each chanter note should have a different timbre when played against the drones due to the interplay between the chanter and the drones' harmonic structure, provided the drones produce sufficient volume in their higher harmonics to be audible. Low A, C#, and E often sound very clear, whereas B, D, and F# can have very complex, almost electric sounds when played against drones with audible harmonics. In my experience, not to discount the bass drone, but I find the tenor volume very important. I would also like to emphasize that the electric sound is NOT buzzy. There are a few drone reeds on the market which are buzzy without the chanter ever sounding; I do not refer to this innate buzz that some reeds have.

What do you think?

My own theory appeals to the competitive advantage of quieter drones being less noticeably out of tune due to the lack of louder harmonics. At least, it works in the solo realm. For bands, a booming drone sound seems to be most desirable and impressive.

CalumII 08-24-2019 03:41 PM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings
My understanding is that on the earliest acoustic recordings, the microphones could not pick up any drone sound above the chanter, so a second piper was employed to play drones only, pointing them directly into the mic, but that's before these.

On the field recorders, the microphones are very sensitive, as they had to pick up everything in the room, not just the person speaking into them.

There may well be something to your theory - but actually I think it is likely that chanters (and reeds) have gotten louder than vice versa.

MacTallanambeann 08-24-2019 06:01 PM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings
Would our modern set-up techniques with adjustments for 'air economy' have a part to play in volume?

MichiganGaidar 08-24-2019 08:04 PM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings

Originally Posted by MacTallanambeann (Post 1339792)
Would our modern set-up techniques with adjustments for 'air economy' have a part to play in volume?

My gaidi all say "no". I'd pin it on increasingly loud and strong chanter reeds, and chanter designs which emphasize volume and projection, without corresponding changes in drones or drone reeds.

bob864 08-26-2019 09:22 AM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings
I have a chanter that dates from the 1950s or 1960s and it's not as loud as a modern chanter, so that's at least one factor. As previously mentioned, chanter reeds are probably louder too, but I don't have any reeds that are that old :-)

The recordings in the link are all from the 1950s. They were probably made on a mono reel-to-reel deck. There's no telling what kind of microphone was used, but microphone placement has a dramatic impact on the recording.

The room sounds really nice, btw. It's a fairly large room. The fact that the room is clearly heard tells us something about microphone placement. Assuming it's a single microphone, it's a fair distance from the instrument. Bass travels better over distance than treble. Also, it sounds like the piper is stationary, which suggests Mr. Lorimer might have worked with him to optimize the sound.

We also don't know how the recordings were transferred to digital. The machine itself could have colored the sound, and the person who did the transfer might have used any number of digital restoration techniques, including EQ.

Patrick McLaurin 08-26-2019 09:50 AM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings
Here is my attempt at capturing the various timbres of the notes referenced in my initial post. The reel at the end was for fun, please ignore my sloppy birls, especially those that start on B straight to low G (not easy!).

bob864 08-26-2019 02:38 PM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings

Originally Posted by Patrick McLaurin (Post 1339812)
Here is my attempt at capturing the various timbres of the notes referenced in my initial post.

Your recording is brighter and crisper. Recordings made in the 1950s were never that bright or crisp. If you have Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software there are plugins that can emulate the hardware of days gone by. If not, you could EQ off some of the brightness and you'd be closer.

Patrick McLaurin 08-26-2019 03:04 PM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings
I am not trying to emulate the recordings, save for what I might deduce about relative drone volume to the chanter.

Regarding the timbre of the notes that my recording attempts to show, I ascribe that phenomenon to drones that are louder than what I feel is average today; today’s average volume being quieter than what these past recordings indicate, in my opinion.

I hope that is clearer.

DapperDan 08-26-2019 04:48 PM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings
I don't think the drones are too loud .. maybe there's echo because it's indoors? Probably would have sounded different in the open air. Maybe also the cane reeds are set a bit open, to reduce the chance of one locking up during a recording.
I like the vintage recordings. I certainly wasn't around back then, so I wonder if you could get a sound like Robert Brown, now. If you play a skin bag, cane reeds, and a low-pitch wooden chanter. I suspect some of the sound is the recording technology.
I like what Patrick is doing, maybe that's more like what the pipes actually sounded like (except the pitch) in person.

Dan Bell 08-27-2019 11:04 AM

Re: Drone Volume in Old Recordings
We don't have any recordings of Bob Brown's sound that are really accurate enough to let us try to reproduce it. Furthermore, for most of the history of recorded sound, recordings have been mastered to make the performers sound as good as possible, which isn't always the same thing as capturing them in the highest possible fidelity.

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