the role of musician's perception

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by johncarm, May 1, 2018.
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  1. johncarm
    I want to respectfully discuss the role of "the musician's perception" in evaluating the accuracy of audio.

    There are many musicians, there are many types of music, and there are many types of recordings.

    The scope I want to discuss here is the following:

    • We have some kind of live acoustic music that the musicians and the audience enjoys.
    • We presume that the musicians have spent time practicing their craft to maximize the quality of what they produce.
    • We also presume the existence of an audience, who have also invested time in coming to appreciate this music. (They could be musicians themselves.)
    • The acoustic space in which it is performed is part of what is enjoyable.
    • We presume that an engineer makes a recording for the purpose of reproducing the enjoyable and/or quality aspects of this original acoustic event. That is, the recording exists not for scientific research, but in order to create enjoyable/quality experiences in more listeners in different situations.

    If this is the situation, (and it is not alway the situation), I claim that an accurate recording is one judged by the listener to have the same elements of quality/enjoyment that were present in the original.

    I mention "the musician's perception" because (1) musicians are very experienced, (2) sometimes their perceptions diverge from what sound science would claim, such as the possibility that experienced listeners/musicians judge average vinyl to be more accurate than average digital.

    In the past, people here have told me that musicians are not reliable for any number of reasons, and that when their opinions can't be reconciled with the science, they must be deluded about what they are hearing.

    I claim this general idea is nonsense, and that I've never heard any sensible reason why musicians would be deluded about what they are hearing.
  2. bigshot
    I've only produced a limited amount of music, but I've worked with directors to create soundtracks. My experience with creative people is that they are most concerned with balances in the mix... how one thing stands out over the rest, or the bed that a featured element rides over. They aren't concerned with nuances of sound quality unless it's obvious. They are very good at spotting when one note or a line of dialogue gets buried. Their focus is on overall clarity, not details. Details they leave to the engineer to clean up.

    That said, the intent of producing music or soundtracks is to create something that is *better* than the live performance. The people supervising the mix manipulate levels, eq and reverb to create a sound that is more dynamic and clearer than it was when it was being performed before the microphone. For some reason, people who have never worked in a studio have trouble accepting that. It's creating, not capture.
    Last edited: May 2, 2018
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  3. ev13wt
    Musicians (actual instruments) ususally don't care much for reproduction. It always sounds better "live".
  4. gregorio
    1. That claim is incorrect because an audio recording cannot possibly have the "same elements" that were present in the original live performance. All an audio recording could possibly contain is the same audio elements as the original but attending a live performance has numerous other non-audio elements, such as sight and various biases, which significantly alter our perception of what we're hearing/experiencing. Typically then, we try to record/mix/produce audio recordings of acoustic music genres which (hopefully) emulates what we would experience rather than just capture the actual sound waves which would enter a listener's ears. In other words, we sacrifice some audio accuracy in exchange for a more accurate experience. bigshot calls this "making the recording "better" than the live performance", I see his point and don't entirely disagree, in fact I entirely agree for non-acoustic music genres (and even acoustic genres intended as film/TV soundtracks) but I don't entirely agree for audio recordings of acoustic genres.

    2.1. I disagree that musicians are very experienced, in fact, they're relatively inexperienced, especially most acoustic instrument musicians. Now obviously they're extremely experienced in the nuances of musicality; musical style/interpretation, performance characteristics and the physical techniques/abilities required to achieve them, but typically they have little knowledge and relatively little experience of the nuances of audio itself, of those factors in audio beyond musicality. ...

    2.2. I wouldn't characterise it as "their perceptions diverging from what sound science would claim". I would characterise it as "their perceptions diverging in line with what sound science claims, from something else that sound science claims". For example, sound science claims that the sound produced and heard from just a few inches away from an acoustic instrument is substantially different from the sound which exists and will be heard a significant distance away from that instrument (from an audience position/perspective for example). All experienced musicians know this, they learn that what they are producing and hearing of their own playing is significantly different from what an audience will hear and part of their training requires them to learn to compensate for this difference. This is achieved through guesswork and feedback from trusted sources (a teacher for example), because a musician cannot have any experience of what they sound like from an audience position, they obviously cannot play their instrument and at the same time go and listen to it from an audience perspective many meters away. The french horn is probably the most obvious illustration of this point: The musician feels the vibrations of the instrument because they are attached to it and they hear what is coming out of the bell of their instrument but an audience doesn't hear any of this at all. The french horn bell is pointed towards the back wall of the concert venue, so the ONLY thing the audiences hears is the sound reflections of the french horn, not the french horn itself. Much of the fine detail is lost, the notes are lengthened, the note production/attacks are softened and the high frequencies (many of the harmonics/overtones) are absorbed by the air and the wall itself. This of course is all as it should be, it's what gives the french horn it's characteristic rich/warm/smooth sound in the first place!

    2.3. There are many musicians who judge digital to be better than vinyl but I have certainly met experienced musicians who prefer vinyl. This is entirely understandable and does NOT diverge from the claims of sound science! Vinyl and analogue tape introduce distortions/artefacts which can be euphonic. One example, the reduction of high frequency content which can result in the perception of more warmth/richness, which in turn might better align with a musician's expectation of what they would like to sound like to an audience. In this sense then, analogue might be more accurate in terms of a musician's preference/desire but in terms of the actual sound waves the musician created, it would be less accurate/lower fidelity.

    3. In a sense musicians are deluded, very occasionally they can be quite shockingly deluded, because the sound they're actually producing and the sound they think they're producing can be two very different things. In most cases though, those two things are only subtly different (due to training and experience) and I wouldn't say the musicians are deluded because most good, experienced musicians are perfectly well aware that they are two somewhat different things (and therefore not deluded).
    3a. Hopefully I've explained clearly enough for you to now see "a sensible reason" for why the "general idea" is NOT nonsense. Essentially, the "general idea" as you've characterised it, is rather superficial and over-simplified, and omits some information/facts vital to understanding the nuances and context of this "general idea".

  5. johncarm
    bigshot is implying that musicians are not concerned with nuances of sound. That's news to me. The greatness of great music lies in the perfection of nuances and details.

    The Sheffield Lab single point microphone recordings of the LA Philharmonic from the 70's have far more life and dynamics than most recordings of orchestras, and they involved no mixing whatsoever.

    gregorio, you seem to think that the topic was musicians evaluating themselves; the more important topic is musicians bringing their expert ears to the evaluation of any recording. You say they are expert in "nuances of musicality; musical style/interpretation, performance characteristics and the physical techniques/abilities required to achieve them"-- great, so if they attend a live event and note these factors, then they in a good position to listen to a recording of that event and judge whether these factors were accurately reproduced in the recording.

    I didn't write that some musicians prefer vinyl; I said that some find it to be more accurate. That is, it simply sounds more like real acoustic music, with instrumental timbres more accurately represented, the shapes of phrases more clear, and so forth.
  6. gregorio
    1. And in a sense he is correct. They are concerned with the nuances of music performance rather than the nuances of sound, of which they're usually moderately ignorant.
    1a. Great, then maybe you've leant something you didn't know before?

    2. Firstly, I can't comment on your personal preferences. "Life" is a subjective term and is a function of the performance rather than the recording, although it can be affected by the recording, certainly I've heard equally and even better "life" in some recordings. Secondly, the dynamics are pretty good for analogue but digital is capable of far greater dynamics, now whether a producer cares to employ that greater potential dynamic range is up to the producer, not a limitation of digital media. And lastly, although I haven't listened to those particular recordings at length or know much about the history of them, your assertion that they're recorded with a single point source (stereo pair) would certainly explain some of the problems/weaknesses. Most of the world had moved away from such a basic stereo mic scheme, starting even as early as the 1950's, which solved those problems/weaknesses. It's a shame, I can imagine those performances and tonal qualities without those weaknesses but no recording is perfect. Even with those weaknesses, they're still good recordings for their time though.

    3. No I didn't.
    3a. I don't think you understood what I wrote, I'm not sure if that's deliberate or not at this point?! Musicians generally have "expert ears" in regard to music performance NOT in regard to sound recording.

    4. No, they're in a good position to judge if the recording accurately reproduced what they experienced, not how accurately the recording captured the sound which entered their ears. ...
    4a. I'm saying some musicians find vinyl to be more accurate BECAUSE they prefer it. They confuse preference with accuracy, exactly the same as audiophiles often do. In this regard some musicians are no more knowledgeable or experienced than many audiophiles and goes back to point 4, what I stated in my previous post and what bigshot has stated.

    You seem far more interested in misrepresenting the facts to justify an agenda (that digital is somehow inferior to vinyl) than in actually discussing, learning or understanding the topic of this thread's title. I sincerely hope that is not the case but if it is, a quick search on this forum will provide various other threads which deal specifically with your apparent agenda and for which there is no need for another thread on exactly the same topic!

  7. Glmoneydawg
    i have seen a lot of interviews with musicians and it seems about half of them have horrifyingly bad stereos....i would guess exposure to live music takes the guild off the lily when it comes to recorded music for them.
  8. johncarm
    Gregorio: "they are concerned with nuances of music performance rather than the nuances of sound."

    Nonsense. Perhaps you could explain what about performance is NOT a nuance of sound?

    Let's give an analogy. Say someone is an expert at evaluating acting, because they have spent a lot of time in the playhouse both on stage and in the audience and perhaps have taught actors. That is, they perceive the sight and sound of an actor in a live setting.

    Your position is like saying that such a person is hopeless at evaluating movies. Simply because the visuals and sound of acting on the silver screen are delivered in a different way, there's no longer any relevance of their perceptual abilities.

    Actually the expertise of musicians with sound is perfectly applicable to evaluating recordings.

    Regarding accuracy versus preference, I think it is you who are confused.

    Suppose we give the following task to any human being over the age of 10. Present three colored squares A, B, and C. We then ask, "Between B and C which is most SIMILAR to A?" We also ask "Between B & C, which is your FAVORITE?" Any human being over the age of 10 understands the difference between those questions. Yet you are claiming musicians get confused on this point.

    Some musicians just don't care about recorded audio, it's true. But the ones who have clear perception about recorded audio do have a very good basis for those perceptions.
  9. bigshot
    Maybe I didn't state it clearly. They are VERY interested in nuances of sound and details, it's just they are focused on mix balances. For instance, they'll finesse the way a guitar solo weaves around a vocal line to make both of them clear and separate. Equalization to separate instruments, compression to make lyrics clear, tracking background vocals and doubling, overdubbing harmony bits and fills... all those things are very important to musicians, because they want the music to be clear and coherent and organized, while still maintaining energy. They just don't worry about resolution or sharpness- those are technical details. That's the engineer's job, and he's expected to keep all that stuff organized so the musician can craft the overall sound creatively.

    By the way, if you think the Sheffield Lab Leinsdorf LPs are as good as it gets, you should listen to more classical music. They're spiritless performances, even though Leinsdorf is a very good conductor and the L A Philharmonic is a great band. The problem with those recordings is that the engineers put so many constraints on the recording that they only got one or two takes of each side. Having the orchestra make concessions because of the requirements of the engineers in the booth is the wrong way to run a recording session. Simple miking can work, and it did very well on the Living Stereo series. But modern recording techniques combined with multichannel sound can blow those Sheffield Lab LPs out of the water.

    Also... Recording music is not about capturing a performance accurately. It's about *creating* a performance in the recording. In the studio you're building a performance bit by bit and adjusting parts to make them work together. You're not setting a mike in front of a band and recording what they sound like. That philosophy seems to be a very hard concept for audiophiles who have never recorded to understand. I've also noticed that audiophiles aren't able to separate sound quality from the mix quality. I've discussed the way particular records have been mixed and an audiophile will attribute the reason it "sounds good" to the fact that it's an SACD or the bitrate it was recorded in. None of that is relevant to the mix. The mix is all about creative decisions crafting spaces for details to exist in. You work the overall balances, then you go back through and start adjusting things so everything is clear. That is a creative process of organizing sound, not one that involves sound quality.

    The musicians I know would rather spend their money on a new guitar or recording equipment because they enjoy making music more than playing it back. I can understand that because I work in television and I don't have a TV in my living room. The only time I watch TV is when I put on my shoes in the morning.
    Last edited: May 2, 2018
  10. gregorio
    1. I've already explained that in point 1 of my first response to you, did you not read or understand it? Your point is nonsense. Perhaps you could explain what nuances of sound there are which are not about performance? If not, then your nonsense response is based on ignorance.

    2. OK, let's run with that analogy shall we. That person would likely be excellent at evaluating the actors' performances in a film. However, a good (or bad) film is only partly dependant on the quality of acting. For example, it doesn't matter how good the acting is if the script is crap. If the pacing and structure of the film is poor no one in an audience will even notice the quality of acting because they'll be looking at Facebook on their mobiles or will have left the cinema. Also, there's the sound design, incidental music, picture editing, production design and stunts/VFX/CGI, which if any one of these is poor will completely negate good acting. And, if the lighting or cinematography is crap you're not even going to be able to see the nuances of the actors' performances in the first place and if the production sound is crap you won't be able to hear the nuances of the actors' dialogue delivery. Your expert at evaluating acting probably has no more understanding or appreciation of all these other vital components of film than the average person in the street. In fact, they could easily be worse than the average person because they're probably focused on the acting performance, to the exclusion of everything else. So would they be hopeless at evaluating film? Very possibly but more likely they're marginally/somewhat better than the average person in the street. However, they'd be a lot more hopeless than someone in charge of actually making films, say an experienced commercial film director for example.

    Thanks for that analogy, I think it covers just about everything!

    Last edited: May 2, 2018
  11. johncarm
    bigshot, yes the playing is uninspiring in that recording, but the sound (most familiar to me in the digital version, although I own the LPs) is the most immediate and dynamic I know, much better than almost every other orchestral recording I own, including many produced in the last ten years. Give me an example of a modern recording which betters it and I'll give a listen.

    Gregorio, what the analogy made clear is that you are missing a very simple point because you have all this intellectual baggage that goes along with making a recording. I will address that in a couple hours, but first, about "performance."

    You mentioned visuals and other extra-musical factors. I'm asking about what choices the musician makes in practicing for a performance that aren't about sound.
  12. johncarm
    Let's say the situation is this. We have a single instrument, a trumpet. The trumpeter, (we'll name him T) has practiced a solo piece. T has balanced many factors, such as dynamics of individual notes, dynamic changes (crescendo, diminuendo, perhaps a different rate in each such place). He has practiced the shape of notes... attacks and tails, and the many speeds and intensities they come in. He has practiced his tonal quality.

    T has balanced all of these factors. Dynamic contrasts are large enough for powerful effects, but not so large they overwhelm the other factors present in each moment. The shape of notes is appropriate for the tempo... slower-changing notes in slow tempos, faster-changing notes in fast tempo (or maybe the opposite -- whatever the piece needs).

    T has chosen a particular model of trumpet to be appropriate for this piece.

    So, the engineer choose a single point stereo mic, locates it in the room, picks a preamp, ADC, DAW, and so forth. He also puts together the monitor system.

    Let's suppose there is a listener, L, who is very familiar with the sound of this trumpet and this trumpeter, perhaps the teacher of the trumpeter. Perhaps L is a musician. The main point is that L is very familiar with T's playing and really understands what goes into it... what makes it "work".

    Let's say the engineer creates two recordings, varying something -- it could be anything, the mic model, the mic position, the cabling, the ADC, etc. So we have recordings R1 and R2.

    L can go into the monitor room and listen both to R1 and R2.

    L might be able to make a judgement then, about how each of them is alike the live sound, and how it differs. If appropriate in this circumstance, L might be able to judge which one is closer to the live sound in all the important ways... by which I mean he would probably evaluate the proper presentation, resolution, and balance of all the effects that go into T's playing.

    So... no mixing. No compression or processing. No editing. No cuts. Just an experiment that is made as simple as possible.
  13. Phronesis
    I read only the first post.

    My sense is that musicians and audiophiles are two different categories, though of course there will be some overlap. Musicians may have some interest in sound quality and how recordings simulate the live experience, but most musicians are perhaps most focused on higher-level musical content, i.e. the music (forest instead of trees). Just my opinions ...
    Last edited: May 2, 2018
  14. bigshot
    The sound of that trumpet is different if you are playing it than if you are standing directly in front of it. It sounds quite different if you are 15 rows back in the orchestra section, and different still if you are on the third balcony in the back. All the other instruments in the orchestra sound different from different perspectives too. A good classical mix will make compromises to balance all of the different perspectives to create an optimal perspective that might not even reflect any real perspective. But it sounds real if everything is balanced properly and playing towards strengths. An orchestra produces a very complex sound. The venue adds a whole different level of complexity to that. There may not be one single optimal location, especially with concertos featuring weaker instruments like flutes or violins. A little bit of a closer perspective on the soloist with a little more distant on the tympani and brass will sound better than recording everything from the same distance. I'm not sure if I'm stating it clearly, but there is physical real and your eyes help you sort out distances and allow your brain to compensate. When you take away the visual aspect, it's better to create an optimal sound that goes beyond physical reality. Something clearer than the live sound. When you're on a mixing stage and you're working with the elements, all of this is clearer than explaining it in words.
    Last edited: May 3, 2018
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  15. gregorio
    No, what the analogy made perfectly clear is that you are missing an even simpler point: You are thinking about recording only in terms of music performance AND about films only in terms of acting performance. The reality of course, is that there is more to it than that. You can bury your head in the sand and not want to know there's more than just music/acting performance but that doesn't change the fundamental fact that there is. Understanding this basic fact is not "intellectual baggage", it's just basic knowledge of how things work!

    I don't get it, either you want to bury your head in the sand OR you want to know how things work, you can't have both! If you want to bury your head in the sand, then why come up with analogies and an experiment or even start this thread in the first place? And, if you do want to know how things work then why argue with, dismiss or insult as "intellectual baggage" every explanation you're given about how things work? Do you want to know how things actually work or do you only want responses which allow you to keep your head buried in the sand? If it's the latter, then I'm not going to waste any more of my time. If it's the former, then I'm in uniquely qualified here on head-fi to provide some answers and I'm willing to do so. So, which is it going to be?

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