7.30 am: A communion. The morning walk:
In my head were many prior conversations (real and imagined) that’d taken place between friends (present and far-off) along the Promenade and beach between Constitution Hill and the harbour. Some of our exchanges had been either difficult but necessary or stern but supportive, or to which my contribution was that of an active listener only. During the past weeks, on these walks, I’ve been, mentally, packing away the past — the best and the worst of it — in order to clear the ground for what is to come. Such demarcations are, of course, permeable. The past informs both the present and the future; but it doesn’t have to either poison or dictate them too.
9.00 am: I posted a package at the Post Office. This was the first eBay sale I’ve made in several months. As soon as the shops opened, after full lockdown ended, interest in my ‘goodies’ plummeted. I guess a winning streak doesn’t last for ever, by definition. For the first part of the morning I was in discussion with, firstly, my ‘web-master’ about the necessity of Secure Certification for my websites and, secondly, my ‘CD-masterer’ about relative volumes of playback using different sound software and hardware devices. I was learning much on all fronts:
-3dB peak level is perfectly safe and sensible on a final file. The past few years has seen a shift from ‘peak-normalised’ mastering to ‘loudness-normalised’ – this is essentially a good thing as we no longer have to worry about crushing the music dynamics in order to get to a competitive level. Most streaming services (Spotify, Apple etc) adjust the playback level of the material so that no tracks are significantly louder than others (though thankfully, most of them preserve the relative levels within an album). This level is usually around -14LUFS [Loudness Unit Full Scale]. Your tracks are coming in around -16 to -23LUFS, which is a sensible and healthy level for this kind of material I think – it’s dynamic and engaging stuff that’s obviously not trying to compete with highly-compressed constantly loud pop/rock material (which would be closer to the -14LUFS or higher average loudness). For example, -23LUFS now is the target loudness for film and TV dramas, which is is more dynamic than most music releases. Your material is more in line with movie dynamics than pop/rock I’d say.
His commentary on peak levels and loudness was eye/ear opening. So, we decided to keep the present levels of the CD material as they are. The last thing I want is further compression which, to my ear, tends to not only compromise the dynamics but also flatten the sonic depth-of-field. I realise that moving down from the 32-bit quality of the source files to the 16-bit quality of the CD-transfer files noticeably changes the sonic character of the material – particularly when heard over the ‘cans’. Perhaps CDs have had their day.
1.45 pm: Final, final ‘proofs’ of the CD tracks arrived and needed to be reviewed at close quarters — but in the background. In the foreground, I needed to press-on with the conference paper. The application of a different ‘dithering’ algorithm had made a significant difference, removing all of the rather grating and spitting artefacts that can dog the very high frequencies, when the source material has been compressed. The final track (which had always been a problem) required a little further editing in order to rid itself of what, for me, was an annoyance when heard in its CD version. 3.30 pm: Done!:
6.30 pm: Practise session. 7.30 pm: I returned to the conference paper and PowerPoint. Over the past week, my mind has leaned towards painting in relation not in my students’ or colleagues’ work but, rather, to me, my sound-work, and future practices. As I contemplate the next project (which will address the soundscape of coalmining in Wales), images are beginning to form in my mind. They are very vague, dark, and fugitive — like dreams that fade at the moment of waking.