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CEDAR Single-Ended Noise Reduction System (part 3)

The restoration and enhancement of audio is as tricky an ethical problem as the colourisation of old black and white films...

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Ethics

The restoration and enhancement of audio is as tricky an ethical problem as the colourisation of old black and white films. In the case of film, the choice is between seeing it as the director did, who may well have been forced to shoot black and white for reasons of cost, or see it in a way which is more similar to our natural view of the world. Since I am going to comment on CEDAR’s performance later, it will put my statements on that in better perspective if I say that I, speaking purely as a cinema goer, regard film as a highly UNnatural medium anyway. A film in full colour with Dolby Stereo is very much an interpretation of real life, and when the director has, for one reason or another, chosen to shoot in black and white then he is bound to incorporate that decision into his interpretation. But there is a world of difference between restoration, which means making something as good as it once was, and enhancement, which means making it ‘better’. CEDAR can do both, and it is very important to make a distinction between the two processes.

If one is going to put the ethical position under a microscope however, then it would be possible to say that it’s not right to transcribe an original 78 rpm recording onto another medium such as CD anyway. Maybe it should be played on the type of equipment it was made for. I had the opportunity of listening to several types of wind-up gramophone recently, and although by no stretch of the imagination could you say that the sound was high quality, it was a very exciting sound and in some ways preferable to how it would be hearing the same recordings played over speakers.

Another point to be considered is whether or not there was ever any ‘approved’ version of a recording. Gradually in the history of recording •techniques there has been a shift of emphasis from, ‘Let’ s get the best recording we can’, to a position where a producer, in conjunction with his engineer, put together a sound which is thought to be artistically good. In the former case, there is no ‘correct’ sound which a restoration should aim to copy and a full effort can be applied to making the recording sound as good as possible to modern ears. In the second case the recording passed through a stage where it’s creator said ‘It’s right’, and subsequent copies and restorations must aim to imitate that.

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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