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 Forum index » Discussion » Composition » lofi
Fidelity and Desire
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Kassen
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 17, 2006 7:55 pm    Post subject: Fidelity and Desire Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

When I was in my early teens a aunt had this magical machine in a upstairs bedroom. It was a huge seemingly wooden block with impressive looking knobs, displays mentioning cities all over the world and a mysterious glass hole.

It was of course a old Philips tube radio and I didn't dare turning it on because the knobs looked so serious and back then I had a different relationships to knobs I didn't yet understand (in retrospect tube radios are amongst the few things in electronic music that can easily kill you, albeit not by pushing buttons). Instead of listening to it I sat on my knees in front of it, marveling at this thing. When that was discovered it was mine.

Once home I hooked it up, figuring out how to connect a long strand of wire (I think I had about ten meters) as a antenna.

Indeed, it could be connected to a casette player and yes, it could receive FM broadcasts of popmusic but that wasn't the main attraction. It had three bands in addition to the normal FM and AM and it was there that the interesting stuff could be found. I tried tuning in to many mysterious signals. Radio stations from around the world, weird unidentified pulses and so on, all hidden in a huge ocean of noise. Often it was hard to determine what was the music and what was the noise: these were the early days of house music and to me at the time it wasn't always clear what pulses belonged to the music and which ones didn't. With vocal programs it was often hard to make out what was being said or even what langauge it was in. I was hypnotized by this stuff for a while and would sit there, carefully tweaking the dial and listening in deep concentration.

Years later I started listening to recordings of old Jazz on vinyl. The very early recordings (that avoided the worst sides of the bigband style) held a particular appeal to me. There was something to the way the highhats smudged into the tape (or worse, some of these were remastered for fidelity in the 60 from 30's recordings) hiss, the way it became hard to separate the lower range of the piano from the standup bass. Something in these blurs of recording technology drew me. I came to realise I was using the same way of listening to decipher the musical gestures as I was using to find the pattern in the noise albums I had started collecting as well as the same way of attentive listening I had used with the tube radio experiments.

This gave me a sort of shock; a simple theme, played sensitively might come across as too naked and simple in itself but once the sound quality was brought down this would lead to a attentive sort of listening that created -at least in me- a sense of intimacy, a context that allowed the simple theme to get across much better.

I have, since then, been paying close attention to this phenomenon. Most certainly a low sound quality isn't a guarantee for a expressive piece by itself to me as a listener. It is indeed great that we are now able to capture all nuances of a trumpet solo instead of leaving half of them up to the listener and it's marvelous that current audio equipment has become so good at such low prices that a tube radio is a thing most people would rather see go then come but as a carefully applied compositional device I find this very powerful.

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mosc
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2006 3:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

My first efforts at music composition were based on tube shortwave radios. I was making electronic music before I ever heard any. I first read about tape music in a magazine, before I ever heard a record. I got a tape recorder and started recording sounds made by tuning a shortwave radio between the stations and adjusting the BFO in an old Heathkit Mohawk amateur receiver. I still think these sounds are magnificent. This is organic electronic music.

Ever since, I try to recreate the sense of mystery and magic those ionospheric sounds generated in me. The Moog analog modular synthesizer was a wonderful instrument and I was very fortunate to get to use one in 1967, but my musical soul was already captured by those noises between the radio stations. The best thing the Moog could do was create similar sounds.

I've never considered these sounds to be lofi. If the radio couldn't generate low frequencies - no problem - slow down the tape. If there weren't highs - speed it up.

I like the lofi music that a lot of people are making, but I don't see how it's correlated to the radio noises. Lofi seems to be tied very much to digital music. Not digitized analog music, but something unique and new. Maybe the love of noise comes from the same place, but the noises and the methods of making them are quite different. At least, that's the way it looks to me.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2006 5:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
I got a tape recorder and started recording sounds made by tuning a shortwave radio between the stations and adjusting the BFO in an old Heathkit Mohawk amateur receiver. I still think these sounds are magnificent. This is organic electronic music.



Mosc, I'm presuming that you know Tod Dockstader? He is the DADDY of tape music!

http://dockstader.info/forums.html

-click on the 'music' tap and let the organic tape sounds anialate your brain chemistry Very Happy

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Blue Hell
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2006 6:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

thx for that link Tom, didn't know this !

BTW, why would he be the daddy of TM ? This sounds unique, but he wasn't the first one doing it.

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Kassen
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2006 7:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:

I like the lofi music that a lot of people are making, but I don't see how it's correlated to the radio noises. Lofi seems to be tied very much to digital music. Not digitized analog music, but something unique and new. Maybe the love of noise comes from the same place, but the noises and the methods of making them are quite different. At least, that's the way it looks to me.


I should clarify.

I intended this little piece not as a explanation of what lo-fi is or as a manifest for why it's good, I intended to explain the link between listening carefully and not being sure what is the signal and what is the noise. I found that in some cases I feel I'm getting more out of the signal if some noise is involved; the added focus offsets the lack of dependablity in the signal.

This is purely personal; I can't back it with any publications (though I didn't look either, some might exist?). I intended it as a invitation to a certain way of listening and a s a possibly interesting compositional angle.

I'm not sure I agree the lo-fi aesthetic is nesicarily linked to digital techniques. Both dub and to a lesser degree triphop use a lot of lo-fi techniques in the analogue realm but I do agree that so far lo-fi styles like micromusic are delightfully unashamed of their digital roots and thus able to exploid the interesting peculiarities of digital systems instead of trying to hide them, pretending to be something it's not

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2006 8:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Kassen wrote:
I found that in some cases I feel I'm getting more out of the signal if some noise is involved; the added focus offsets the lack of dependablity in the signal.


I have that same feeling. I think the lack of fidility makes me hear it different for each listen, adds an element of fantasy. Using low amplitude parts, can for me work in a similar way.

Ah well, a violin is pretty lofi as well I guess Very Happy

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 18, 2006 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

tod dockstader was unique (i think) because he was not working out of an academic institution (as most of the tape music/music concret folks were). he worked a day job in recording studios chiefly to have access to the equipment to make music, rather than making music because he was at an institution with a studio. my impression was lots of late nights (when the studio wasn't being used for billable work).

his music is absolutely beautiful...not "beautiful for music made only with tape and signal generators", but simply beautiful.

his name was not so well known because those that got press did so at universities.

...this is all from memory, from liner notes of a cd of his that we have. it is truely great stuff, highly recomended.

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 19, 2006 9:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I never heard of Todd Dockstader before this. I'm enjoying the mp3 on the web site.

Back to lofi, maybe someone should define the term.

When I was first learning about hifi in the 60s, these figures were used:

THD < 0.50
Frequency response 20 Hz - 20 KHz
SNR > 50 dB (

(I'm not sure about the SNR spec, but good Dobly tape decks of the 70s got SNRs in the 50s).

Nowadays, the 50 dB SNR would be considered horrible. (a CD has 90 dB).

I have heard a lot of noise music and digital stuff that would be considered lofi that has a very wide frequency repsonse, so I would assume that the term lofi wouldn't be referring to frequency response.

One characteristic I have noticed about this stuff is that there is usually almost no dynamic range. Rarely are there loud and soft parts. There seems to be a love of distortion too. I'm considering 4 and 8 bit quantization as having a lot of distortion.

BTW, as I listen to Dockstader, the term lofi doesn't seem to apply. The audio quality is excellent.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 21, 2006 12:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I had a similar experience as a kid with my grandfather's Grundig Majestic (which he later gave to me when I got married). I often record it for song samples.

Lofi is another one of those terms that gets overused and therefore, confusing. I consider chiptunes/Micromusic as lofi, but in the acoustic pop genre they use the term lofi as well. If you look into it, what they mean by lofi is "I used a 4-track and a cheap mic." I bet some kids today would consider anything older than a CD lofi.

I work with both Gameboy sounds and recordings of old analog machines, and I consider both areas lofi. The SNR as a LOT to do with it. I need hiss and self-noise to achieve the sound I want with analog equipment. With digital, I need things to be bitcrushed below 11. There were lots of 12-bit samplers in the 80s, and they didn't consider their music lofi. Once you go below 12 bits, you get very noticeable noise, I've noticed.

Lofi can be confused/mixed with "retro" music as well, but I think this has more to do with the "anything older than a CD" way of thinking. I remember putting on an Al Green album (on vinyl) and looking at the frequency spectrum. I don't think it got up to 16kHz, but it is so much warmer and enjoyable than a modern song of the same genre. So, the strongest areas of the frequency spectrum also have a lot to do with lofi, in my experience. We can also easily relate this to lofi mp3 streams (64kbps) as well, but I've listened to a lot of artists that consider themselves lofi and they still offer their mp3s in 128kbps or higher.

Just some of my thoughts....
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 07, 2006 12:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

hello all,

low-fi is a part of what i have always done in one way or another, whether it be my podcast, my recordings, or my homebuilt synths. low-fi and how it applies to me usually has to meet at least one of these standards:

1) it can be achieved for under 3% of the cost of the "real thing"
2) it can be done late at night, half asleep, or drunk
3) it requires only what's found in the house at that moment

plenty of stuff i do is considered low fi because of the sound quality as it relates to what people are used to hearing, and the craftsmanship quality of my synths (the latest being an lm386 based cracklebox placed in discarded take-out tupperware - i've only just started doing this). i choose to record a lot of my electronic music in an acoustic environment, i.e. in a room recorded through a speaker and onto consumer-grade microtape simply because i like the sound - the grittiness, and the acoustic qualities that you can't get through a line in. a few weeks ago i did a little spot of circuit bending some poor casio. between the cacophony created by this little tortured toy were kids playing and birds chirping out my backdoor. it was beautiful!

i agree that low-fi and retro are wrongly intermixed as terms. but then again when it comes to musical terms / genres i think they sometimes serve to limit the general publics listening scope rather than broaden it. you can't appreciate 'neo-classical' if you're b-lining to the 'musicals' section with money in fist.

oh, and thanks for having me on this forum - great place!
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PostPosted: Wed Jun 07, 2006 1:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

welcome Sounddoc, good to have you here.

I guess all of these terms are ambiguous.

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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2009 9:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Interesting discussion.

In terms of noise, the brain produces its own noise - neurons are firing randomly across the whole brain, creating a "noise floor" of activity. In neuro-psychology they have found this noise floor to be very useful in cognition. The noise floor masks any small stimuli, in other words, filters out weak signals that would otherwise distract us. This goes for all the senses, not just hearing, and it is inherent in the brain. It has nothing to do with the external world of chaos that we somehow manage to make sense of, most of the time, without even thinking about it.

I like to think that this is the reason I don't like clean, crisp recordings all done "in the box", but I have to admit that it is probably a preference learnt over the years rather than a fundamental human trait.
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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2009 11:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I love to see old topics resurrected.

Great comments about the brain. Since this topic was active, I came across some information somewhere, but I don't remember where. Maybe it was here on the forum or maybe in a conversation with Robin Miller.

Anyway, the case was made for mixing in a tiny bit of white noise into an otherwise pristine clean digital recording. Other people suggest not using white noise, but recordings of the ocean at the beach.

I think the advantages of this are related to the neuro-psychological effects that Muied Lumensh mentioned in the previous post.

I have taken many hearing tests in my life and I find careful listening to the very soft sounds to be exhausting and a bit unnerving. Maybe having a barely audible noise floor in a recording helps alleviate this effect. This may be also related to why some people prefer the sound of vinyl compared to CDs. I'm not thinking about the crackle and pop of old dirty vinyl, but the underlying sound of the needle gliding through a clean groove. Maybe that has a positive psychological effect on the listener.

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PostPosted: Sun May 03, 2009 2:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yes, I have heard something similar, I can't remember from where either but it makes a lot of sense to me.

I had the opportunity to experience an anechoic chamber once. At first I had an eerie, slightly claustrophobic feeling - but after a while I started hearing the sounds inside my head; my tinnitus of course, my pulse and a very slight hiss. I'm sure that if I had spent a long time in there I would have started hearing voices too!



Edit: As for the old topics issue, I have had a great time getting lost in topics here. It is a treasure chest of information, nay a labyrinth with gems hidden everywhere. Smile

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 28, 2009 6:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

mosc wrote:
Anyway, the case was made for mixing in a tiny bit of white noise into an otherwise pristine clean digital recording. Other people suggest not using white noise, but recordings of the ocean at the beach.


Uh... dithering?

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