Di Sarli – El ciruja: a bit too slow, or much too fast?

cents-distance-explanation
Background
Earlier, I have posted a six page article “Lost in History – the Keys of Tango Music“. A short introduction and discussion can be found on facebook. To fully understand why and how I retune my tango music, you will need this background information. To sum up: Analysing the tuning of tangos I found that most tango’s published on CD’s are off-key, not in tune with a tuned instrument. The tones are somewhere between two keys. This is a result of transferring the old 78 rpm (rotations per minute) discs at the wrong speed. The correct speed is hard to find, since many discs have not been made at exactly 78 rpm, but perhaps 76 rpm or 80 rpm.
To find the correct speed, I check the freqencies and calculated the off-set, from which the speed correction can be derived. How much offset (out of tune) a tone is can be expressed in cents. The distance between two notes (e.g. A and B) can be divided in 100 cents. The off-key tone A with a deviation of +50 cents is exactly between A and B. An A +70 cents is the same tone as B -30 cents.
Now, after all the theory, I want to apply my findings to my music and check the results. It is a laborious process and I hope to present some more results here later.

El_cirujaDi Sarli – El ciruja
El Ciruja is short for Chirugien, here referring to a man using a knife for fighting. I my collection are copies from three different sources (one “restored”). They all have a small gap on 1:40 and are off-tune.

Mind the gap
First, I need to repair the gap at 1:40 that makes you stumble: I refill it by slowing down half a second by 33% which adds 0.22 seconds.

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Finding and restoring the original speed and pitch – take your time
I found that the key of the three versions is A but with an offset of -30 cents. That suggest that it is too low and hence too slow. Speeding it up with +1.7% brought it back to the original and very common key A. I thought. Till I found the original score, written in 1926 by Ernesto de la Cruz “for my friend and maestro the eminent Minotto Di Cicco” (Di Cicco made some wonderful recordings with his orchestra).
The original score of El ciruja starts in A major. A major has 4 flats (on the piano 4 white keys are lowered to the next black key) and is rarely used in tango. And then, in the second part of the tango a change to 7 flats! I often wondered why one would use that since you could write the same notes as 5 sharps. But it makes sense because it is a change from A major to A minor, adding 3 extra flats.
This implies that my finding that the recording is in A but 30 cents too low turns into: the recording is in A but 70 cents too high (the distance between A and A is 100 cents, 30 cents below A is the same pitch as 70 cents above A).
From a pitch that is 70 cents too high, it can be calculated that it should be played 4% slower. Four percent! For me that changed a song I didn’t like into one that I like.
Listen to a short fragment and just press play on the other version to compare. Enjoy!

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Update
Koos Volkers and Alberto kindly informed me about a gap-less version, published on the Euro Records album “Tangueando te quiero”.
It has a better sound quality, although it is even more off-tune: A -10 cent, almost an A instead of an A flat. It is 5.1% too fast and too high.

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el ciruja 2pages

17 thoughts on “Di Sarli – El ciruja: a bit too slow, or much too fast?

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  2. Leonardo Jorge Beker Gómez

    Great job! Wish you could do that gap filling to a lot of other recordings, namely the gap at 4secs on “Sombras nada mas” by Troilo-Marino. And I suspect there’s some pitch problem too with other Troilo-Marino recordings.
    Your pitch correction on “El ciruja” is amazing !

    Reply
    1. Chris

      Leonardo wrote “Wish you could do that gap filling to a lot of other recordings, namely the gap at 4secs on “Sombras nada mas” by Troilo-Marino.

      I find there is a version without that gap on the album Sin palabras [00743214137123]. But whether even this recording is faithful to the performance, we’ll never know :)

      Reply
  3. Njaal Bendixen

    Thank you Age!

    This is brilliant work indeed. I have long suspected that tango recordings are generally transfered too fast. This confirms my suspicions.

    Njaal Bendixen

    Reply
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  5. Chris

    Age wrote: “Analysing the tuning of tangos I found that most tango’s published on CD’s are off-key, not in tune with a tuned instrument. The tones are somewhere between two keys. This is a result of transferring the old 78 rpm (rotations per minute) discs at the wrong speed.

    Age, I have read your article carefully, and can see in it no evidence to support your conclusion that the tuning between two keys at standard pitch is necessarily a result of transferring the discs at the wrong speed. If you have any such evidence, I think it would be good to add it to the article. Because if in fact the cause of the tuning heard on the CD is actually simply that instrument is tuned to a different pitch that the one you expected, then your ‘restoration’ is actually distorting rather than correcting the speed of the recording.

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Thanks Chris, for reading it and your comment.
      Indeed it is crucial to know the tuning of the instruments in the time of the recording. Tuning of instruments changed a bit in the previous century and was different in various countries (see wikipedia History of pitch standards ). But these differences are quite small: a C was only a fraction lower than now, and not halfway between a B and a C.
      As I describe in my article we have some information about the historical tuning of bandoneons. The first ELA bandoneons produced in German used A4=435Hz (NA Normal Abstimmen) with was standard in Germany at that time. However, they could also be ordered in OS, orchestra tuning, at A4=440Hz, which seems to applied at least party to bandoneons for export to Argentina. Around 1939, the international standard was set to 440Hz.
      Bandoneons are quit hard to retune completely, it would take a lot of time (days) and is very expensive. And we may assume that they played with the same bandoneons at different venues and recording studio’s, everywhere with another piano, and with other bandoneonists. So there must have been a standard tuning in order to play tuned together. We know the tuning of the bandoneon and we know the tunings of pianos and orchestras that were common in different countries.
      There is a margin of uncertainty ranging from -20 cent (435Hz) to +12 cent (443Hz) about the tuning.
      However, this is a small margin. We find much bigger pitch differences on most CD’s . The tunings of tango records varies wildly, is often just between two notes (50 cent) or even closer to the next note (>50 cent).
      It is clear that orchestra’s didn’t change, couldn’t change, the tuning of their instruments all the time, so apparently something has gone wrong in the transfer of the recordings.
      We know from other research that 78 rpm discs were often not made at exactly 78 rotations per minute, but perhaps 76 or 80 rpm (see Manual of analogue audio restoration techniques by Peter Copeland , Chapter 5.4. This gives a clear indication that the source of the detuning is probably transferring the discs at the wrong speed. It is known that for some years the US Victor company recorded its discs on purpose at 76 rpm, so they would sound “more brilliant” when played at 78 rpm.

      Reply
      1. Chris

        Admin wrote: “And we may assume that they played with the same bandoneons at different venues and recording studio’s, everywhere with another piano, and with other bandoneonists. So there must have been a standard tuning in order to play tuned together.

        I think that assumption is safe.

        We know the tuning of the bandoneon

        I think that assumption is unsafe… unless you have measured the tuning of such a bandoneón.

        We know from other research that 78 rpm discs were often not made at exactly 78 rotations per minute, but perhaps 76 or 80 rpm. It is known that for some years the US Victor company recorded its discs on purpose at 76 rpm, so they would sound “more brilliant” when played at 78 rpm.

        The detuning thus caused is substantially less than the 50cent (half semitone) or more that you report finding on many CDs.

        Thanks for your explanation. I look forward to reading the results of your continuing research.

        Reply
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  7. Nick

    i think a similar slow down must be done for la racha (1947) from De FM Tango Para Usted – Instrumental – Vol.1 (about 6% in oder to switch the startig note from D to C#)

    Reply

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