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Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, since 2007. All written content © 2014 by Paul Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Great Download Experiment

Some of the CD collection.
I'm a CD collector. I have a room in my Brooklyn apartment with four bookcases of music, all of it on compact disc. I started with Parsifal, which was a Christmas present from my Mom, the one that James Levine recorded at Bayreuth in 1985.

As a writer, reviewer and trader of music, I've probably kept Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Decca, and the rest of the music industry in business over the years, even through the lean times when conductors got fired right and left and Titanic was considered "classical."

I have rarities.

 I have some out-of-print stuff.

I obsess over the DG and London 'Collectors Editions.'

I shop at Academy Records. And I know the catalogue pretty well. That's one of the reasons that my blog posts on here are always accompanied by that little Amazon.com box, so if you want to get something relevant to the music I'm writing about, all you have to do is click.

Those box links almost always go to CD hard copies. But in the interests of experimentation (and because I wanted to hear an out-of-print Karl Böhm recording of Capriccio, I downloaded a few operas in the last several days. I got the Amazon encoder on my Mac, and the tracks got transferred into ITunes. Once I edited and tweaked the track names to match my own particular IPod filing system, they were ready to join the "to go" music library in my 80 gig IPod.

Or were they?

Of the three operas sampled, two of them had audible clicks or silence at the end of several MP3 files. While this is almost unnoticeable in rock and roll or jazz, it makes a huge difference in the seamless world of opera. No actual notes were lost. But the pause or transition was less than smooth, jarring, and to an opera lover like me, very noticeable.

Secondly digital recordings (or modern digital remastering) is all about preserving the freshness and bloom of analogue. At least it has been since DG introduced 4D Audio and a 24-bit mastering process.

Both Capriccio and La Navarraise (downloaded to warm my ears up for last night's Opera Orchestra of New York concert) sounded compressed and somewhat pressurized, as if the full warmth of the digital sound had not translated onto MP3. I upload a lot of my CDs into my IPod (for home and subway listening) and I haven't had that problem, for the most part.

The damning evidence against "going download" came when I tried to put a 1991 Cavalleria Rusticana (the one with Domingo, Agnes Baltsa and Juan Pons) into my computer, and then into my IPod. (And yes, I know that's not the first choice Cav, but it's one I didn't own and I like Giuseppe Sinopoli.) It loaded quickly. Once I cleaned up the track names, composer name, name of the artist and conductor in an acceptable fashion (an important step if you want an IPod to play tracks in the correct order!) I sync'd my Pod.

All went well until I got to "Ah! Io vedi!" (track 15)  the six-minute duet between Santuzza and Turiddu that sets up the main action of the opera. And that's where the IPod stopped dead, and refused to sync the track. The most likely cause is some kind of weird file corruption.

I've had this problem with uploaded discs before. If you have a hard copy of that opera on CD, you can just re-rip the track and delete the bad copy. If you format everything correctly, it will play in order. However, without that physical copy (which I don't have) there's no way with Amazon downloading to re-download the MP3 from the Amazon server. Well there is, but it involves paying for the track twice. The download cost me $10. A second download of "Ah! Io vedi!" would be another 99 cents.

Looking at the prices on Amazon.com, I could get a new copy of that Cav for as low as four bucks. Plus shipping. But in our fast-food Internet culture, I did the modern thing.

I paid the $.99. I downloaded the track again. This time it worked.

But I still like CDs better.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.