On Wednesday 18th October we had a most interesting talk in Richard Pate Independent School, Cheltenham. Richard Pate was born in Cheltenham in 1516 and he became an English landowner, a Lawyer in Gloucester, the Member of Parliament for Gloucester in the Parliament of 1559 and 1563-1567, the recorder and a Chantry Commissioner. He lived on an estate in Matson. He was a nephew of the Bishop of Worcester and an alumnus of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He endowed that institution with property on the condition that they used some of the money to found and maintain a Grammar school in Cheltenham. That school was founded in 1574 and still exists as Richard Pate’s Independent School. Pate died in 1588 and is buried in Gloucester Cathedral. On his tomb is inscribed Patebit tum quod latuit, meaning What is hidden will be revealed. This is also the motto of Pate’s Grammar, now Independent, School. Richard’s father was Walter Pate, a prosperous butcher, baker and inn-keeper, who was accused of charging too much for candles. The Portrait is dated 1550.

The illustrated talk was about audio recording and the remastering of old analogue audio material onto new compact discs (CDs), by our member Simon Gibson MA, FRCO, who works as an audio engineer at Abbey Road Studios in London, which was founded by Alan Blumlein in 1931. Going to Pate’s school was an excellent choice of venue as it has a superb audio reproduction system and a large drop-down screen on which the text, graphics and pictures of Simon’s PowerPoint presentation were displayed. Simon explained that the first audio recording that was made by EMI (Electronic Musical Instruments Ltd) in 1898 was on a clockwork driven wax cylinder. The clockwork was soon replaced by an electric motor. A large horn collected the sound and fed it to the wax cylinder to make the recording. The cylinder was later replaced by a flat metal disk, which in turn was superseded by a flat shellac disk, giving us the familiar 10-inch in diameter gramophone record that revolved at 78 rpm (revolutions per minute). The little 7-inch in diameter records that rotated at 45 rpm followed, and then came the LPs (Long Playing) records that were 12-inches in diameter and rotated at 331/3 rpm. Another development was to record on reel-to-reel tape that was initially 1-inch wide, but was later reduced to ¼ of an inch in 1949, which ran at 30 ips (inches per second). At first it was just two-track tapes, but in 1964 four-track tapes were used, and in 1966 eight-track tapes were used. CDs were introduced in 1980.

In 1925 the horn of the recording equipment was replaced by a single microphone, and later a bank of microphones was used to give a good balance to the recordings when an orchestra or a large choir was being recorded, and to provide the channels for surround sound. A common surround sound system uses the 5.1 (ITU 775) format, which has microphones placed to give L-C-R-Ls-Rs-Lfe channels [front Left, Centre, front Right, Left surround (rear left), Right surround (rear right) and Low frequency effects]. Another development was the introduction of stereo sound, in which sounds from the left come out of a speaker on the left hand side, and those from the right come out of a speaker on the right hand side. Abbey Road Studios first made stereo recordings in 1956, and stereo ribbon microphones were used for this. The general principle was to record everything in duplicate to give back-up security, first introduced in 1940.

Remastering nowadays consists of converting old analogue tapes and disks to digital, and then filtering the digital signal to remove unwanted background noise, spikes and extraneous sounds. The result is a new CD where the quality of the sound is much improved. The first (analogue) remaster was made in 1933, but by 1992 a 20-bit analogue to digital conversion was used. The quality was very good as they later recorded up to 96 kHz with a 24-bit digital signal. The upper limit of hearing for a healthy young person with good hearing is usually taken as up to 20 kHz, so by recording up to 96kHz caught the high harmonics of noise so that it could be completely removed. Another tool was the CEDAR Cambridge high resolution system, which records a 64-bit digital signal to remove surface noise and to improve the quality still further.

Simon demonstrated his talk with sound extracts, and then played longer extracts from Liverpool, York and Gloucester Cathedrals in the Great Cathedral Organ series, which were produced from 1963 to 1970. A very interesting item was to hear the Temple Church choir in London in Sir George Thalben-Ball’s time compared with the choir of King’s College Cambridge today, to hear the change in singing tone that is no longer taught.

We thank Simon for the immense amount of work that went into the preparation of the PowerPoint presentation. We thank Treasurer Mike Eddy for providing the refreshments and committee member Andrea Board, who teaches at the school, for helping him to serve the refreshments at the interval. We thank committee member Tim Ingold, who also teaches at the school, for booking the venue and for operating the equipment during the session. Finally, we thank our member Philip Wells, who took the photograph of Simon and also those of recent visits. It was a very good attendance with 20 of our own members and 16 guests present, and it was particularly good to see so many of our young Student members there. Our members Mike and Joy Irvine, who now live in  Newport Swansea  South Wales, were present, and no doubt they made the longest journey to be there.

(For information: a 20-bit binary number can be converted from 0 to 1,048,575 decimal numbers. A 24-bit binary number can be converted from 0 to 16,777,215 decimal numbers, and a 64-bit binary number can be converted from 0 to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 decimal numbers) [written by BB, who took notes during the talk].