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Bootleg Compression - from Bill O'Neil

From: <email address not valid>
Subj: bootleg compression

 

Hello all --

 

While working today, I was listening to "Over the Garden," the new TDOLZ title from 6/13/77 at MSG. Whoever transferred this to CD added waaaay too much compression and really messed up an otherwise listenable tape. Maybe you're wondering "What is compression?" Compression is another audio tool used by recording and live sound engineers. I've talked about multi-tracks, I've talked about EQs, I've talked digital and analog, and now I'm talking compression. I should write a book, I swear to god.

 

Anyway...

 

Compression is achieved using (you guessed it) a compressor. In a nutshell, a compressor is used to limit dynamic range; that is, it is used to make loud parts quieter, thereby making quiet parts louder by comparison. Perhaps you've noticed that FM radio broadcasts are heavily compressed. The next time you hear "Over the Hills..." on the radio, listen particularly to Page's guitar work at the end of the song because this will give you a very clear idea of what a compressor does. As we all know, the ending passage of OTHAFA is very, very quiet. But on the radio, notice how loud it is relative to the rest of the song. Technically, this is an example of "limiting," but limiting is merely an extreme form of compression.

 

With a compressor, the recording or live sound engineer can help control volume fluctuations. Vocals are very well served by compression; the human voice has a tremendous dynamic range, and sometimes this range is too wide for the music being presented. Imagine that the PA is set up such that one of Robert's loud wails fits in nicely with the rest of the band. Now imagine what happens if he were to sing "I been workin' from seven..." This quiet bit would be lost. Enter the compressor. By compressing the vocal signal, Robert's loud scream is kept under control (volume-wise), which means that the overall volume can be adjusted louder, allowing the quieter passages to be heard more clearly.

 

Compression works well on every instrument: guitars sound thicker, drums sound fatter, and bass sounds bassier.

 

However, just like an EQ, a compressor must be used with care. Too much compression virtually removes dynamic range, which makes recordings sound extremely un-lifelike. "Over the Garden" suffers from too much compression. Most of you are familiar with 1977's segue from Black Mountainside into Kashmir. Obviously, in the actual arena during the performance, the arrival of Bonzo and JPJ would have brought quite a large increase in volume. This recording has been so compressed, however, that that enormous explosion of sound has been reduced to a whimpy little pop, no louder than the preceding quiet passage. Yuck.

 

If whoever is transfering these tapes to CD is a member of DG, please set that compression threshold a bit higher.

 

Any other studio toys anyone wants to know about? Or am I speaking into the void, here, and wasting your collective time?

 

Bye,

 

Bill O'Neil
Venice, CA, USA
Maker's Mark is mother's milk

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