Re: [Harp-L] raising a reed's pitch

Hello Jonathan,

I presume you're right about the bends. I didn't come up with the A=460 reference pitch, it was somebody with a far better ear than I (I got a laugh myself at the pitch I typed as "not a typo"
 actually been something typed by mistake).  I wish he would say publicly more about what he hears, because he can hear things that I cannot. It would be wonderful to have perspectives of 
his genius. He reads this list and he knows who he is. I can understand why he doesn't, though, there's always a heckler in the audience who says you're crazy or a phony or whatever. In 
my case, it's usually been you filling that role. I've not posted much in past three years, but before that, I posted quite a bit and you were usually in there quite argumentatively no matter how 
trivial in an attempt to troll me into some silly back-and-forth argument and I usually took your bait. You're probably right about Leo's bending - as I typically do not, unfortunately, research a
harp-l post as well as I would if I were preparing opening statements for a trial. I can be wrong about some things sometimes, but certainly not all things at all times. 
So, for all these years, you've read my posts - maybe others, too, I don't know because I don't read your posts and wouldn't have read this one if it hadn't been forwarded to me by someone, 
you've laid in wait, waiting for something to be said so that you may pounce on it for a dramatic presentation. This might seem a little forward as a response to this one e-mail, but it is a
response to an aggressive pattern of years and I will return to not reading your posts. And if anyone on the list wants to forward me a harp-l post from John Ross please include "Harp-L post from Jonathan Ross" in the subject line, so I will know not to read it and not find myself, as I did today, reading it by accident. Feel free to include whatever slams you wish in your response, it's OK. I won't be reading that, either. 
 On the other stuff. 
Just because you personally cannot hear things, does not mean they do not exist. You said:
"Minute differences in tone and timbre are not going to be discernible from such evidence due to the distortions inherent in the recording process."

Now, I'm hoping somebody who has played the game "let's see if Dave can identify harmonica sounds" while I'm on a cell phone might pipe in, cause I can say for sure, the audio on vinyl is a
heck of lot better than the sound on my crappy cell phone. 

David Payne

 From: Jonathan Ross <jross38@xxxxxxxxxxx>
To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx 
Sent: Saturday, December 22, 2012 7:44 PM
Subject: [Harp-L] raising a reed's pitch
It's been busy before Christmas, but I just came across this:

"Here is an example of Leo Diamond, back in the 1950s, doing exactly what you're talking about - bending notes UP on a chromatic.";

Um, where?  I don't hear any bending up from the song pitch, just bends down from it and up to it.  The vibrato he has is quite wide, but it's also all downwards from the standard pitch, not up to it.  A very nice song and excellent playing--though I wish the bongo part at the end was elaborated on and the whole thing had a bit more drive.

"Now Leo was a master player. He was also a master customizer. Recordings of Leo are very helpful in kind of getting some vague idea about the history of customizing. One of these interesting facts I learned from audio evidence of Leo is that embossing was done in the 1930s"

Obviously we have a very different concept of the word "fact".  Embossing is generally considered to make the reed have a brighter tone (emphasizing the higher harmonics over the fundamental), but that effect is very minor: whatever change from a non-embossed harp there is will be masked by the effect of the player attaching their resonant body to the harp.  It's a matter of degree: embossing has a very minor impact on timbre, the specific resonance of the player has a very major impact.  

Two examples of the far greater impact of the player on timbre than the type of harp or reed-plates in question.  The first is Charlie Mussellwhite (sp).  Over the years he has played nearly every model of harp out there: Hohner, Hering, Seydel.  Despite this, he is recognizable in terms of his tone on all of these different brands.  No matter the model or reed-plates being used, he sounds like Charlie Mussellwhite.  A second example is Stevie Wonder.  Playing as diversely different harmonicas as chromatic, standard diatonic and XB-40, he is still recognizably Stevie Wonder.  In both cases I would argue that the timbrel cues are there even before the various other stylistic clues give it away.  

So, let's assume embossing makes things brighter, but the player's tone greatly overwhelmes that.

Now, to the other point: that embossing could be heard through this recording.  Let's consider all the various distortions which an old vinyl like this has between the initial playing and listening.  First, the microphones used in recording will impact certain characteristics to the tone as it is recorded.  Then whatever master was used (I'm assuming tape in this case, but whatever the material doesn't matter) will effectively act as both filter, highlighting certain frequencies by curtailing others.  Then the translation to vinyl imports a specific set of timbrel changes, followed by the attenuations and amplifications of tone by the various parts of the playback mechanism (the reason why people spend a lot of money on specific types of turntables, cartridges, speakers and even cables).

So, I am very skeptical that any sense of what might or might not have been done to the harmonica besides the broadly obvious (ie, removing a valve for a double reed bend, etc..) can be judged by listening to such a recording.  Certainly not for something with as minimal an effect as embossing.

"This harp is probably tuned at A=480 (that was not a typo). It's tuned so sharply that he has to bend every single note down to pitch. If every note must be bent down, then releasing that bend gives you the ability to bend up. "

I don't hear this at all.  None of his playing suggests he is bending down every note to that degree--the instability of the notes would show up at some point as an intonation issue--basically if everything is being bent down nearly a quarter tone (as you later adjusted it to A=460) then he will miss be off on some pitches.  This is not a dismissal of his abilities, just a realistic assessment after having listened to so many harmonica players trying to hit easily controlled half-step bends in pitch on a consistent basis.  But, in any event, it gets back to the first--I don't hear any pitch bends going up from pitch--up to pitch, yes, but not up from pitch.

Again, recorded evidence can be useful, but only if the limits of recording and recording playback are acknowledged.  Minute differences in tone and timbre are not going to be discernible from such evidence due to the distortions inherent in the recording process.  Enough artifacts are introduced into the equation that trying to claim these things as "facts" is something I would highly discourage.

JR Ross

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