093: Cum Guzzlers

Noun: cum guzzlers – Plural form of cum guzzler

This is a good time to note that my post titles are generated at random from the English Wiktionary (random entry by language). Otherwise, I run a quiet, family-friendly blog.

A Scandal in Poland

I’ve written a lot about Rafał Blechacz, but very little about a the little kink in one of his recordings – one that I’ve actually alluded to several times.

A little background: I work here with disks six and fifteen of the competition chronicle for The 15th international Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competiton. You can find it from Barnes and Noble, Amazon dot com, and (I think) the DUX website, dux.pl. Disk six contains Blechacz’s “best” selections from rounds one and two of the competition; disk fifteen covers his winner’s recital. Much of the program from disk six carries over into disk fifteen, of course; you can easily tell the difference from the applause that follows every piece on the latter whereas applause only erupts at the very end of disk six, with the final movement of the third piano sonata.

See for yourself, the juxtaposition of the waveforms of the Polonaise in A-flat major, op. 53:

You can see from the labels at the left that these are the performances of the polonaise taken from disks six and fifteen, respectively. I have done nothing to them in this picture: I imported them into Audacity, zoomed out a bit to show them a bit more fully, and took the screenshot. Notice the big blob of sound at the lower right, the end of the disk fifteen recording – that’s the applause. Remember that disk fifteen covers the winner’s recital, where people are allowed to be a lot more excited than they were in rounds one / two.

My point is that these are two distinct recordings. They were supposed to have been taken from different times; they should be different performances. The applause at the end of the disk fifteen recording is proof of that, as is the slight phase-shift between the two: the disk six recording starts in a little later than the disk fifteen one.

I noticed some time ago that there was an oddity in this premise: seeing that these were two different recordings, it wouldn’t make sense for Blechacz to make the same mistake (in the exact same place, in the exact same way) twice. That would be just flat-out weird. You can hear the audible slip for yourself in the final reprise of the “heroic” theme that repeats itself across both disks six and fifteen.

A dreadful thought occurred to me: what if the recordings – from disks six and fifteen – were in fact one and the same, the latter merely with applause appended at the end?

In my quest to uncover the truth, I first aligned the tracks (still working with the polonaise here):

Before and after: lining up the tracks. In each image, from the top, the four players are disk six left track, disk six right track, disk fifteen left track, and disk fifteen right track. Notice how it’s easy to see the lefts and rights line up when the tracks are aligned properly! 

Again, the blob of sound at the right of the disk fifteen recording is applause. Notice how disk six ends with just silence.

At this point in the analysis I was getting a little suspicious. Things were lining up really, really well. As if Blechacz was some living metronome who had managed to play the same piece the exact same way twice in a row. Nobody that I know can do that – not even Blechacz.

The images below illustrate the uncanny similarity between the lefts and rights. (I imported a screenshot into GIMP and cut it up a bit.)

Above is the base image. Already you see that the timing of each recording is strangely close – almost no variation in tempo from one to another. The left and right tracks will now be examined in detail.

The rights (six and fifteen, respectively) are shown above. Notice the alignment and the blob of sound at the lower right (applause). I know that I didn’t line up the tracks perfectly.

The lefts are shown above. Again, notice the alignment and the blob of applause at the lower right.

I think the above are proof enough that something is probably wrong. Goodness knows how I stop just short of worshiping Rafał Blechacz; notwithstanding, I’m almost certain this kind of absolutely perfect adherence to a set tempo is essentially impossible.

The final proof, though, comes with a simple fact of physics – when two waves of equal but opposite amplitude (we take for granted that their frequencies / wavelengths are the same, too), they will cancel out. This is actually how the Bose active noise canceling technology works on some of their (currently) high-end headphones; go check it out.

I will now show that the recordings are one and the same by lining them up (perfectly, this time – I know that I was off in the provided images) and demonstrating that they cancel out. I will not provide screenshots for every step of this way, though (I’m getting tired of this – mad props to tutorial people who provide screenshots for EVERY step in their work); I hope it will suffice for me to describe my method in detail.

Because this is really freaking ridiculously difficult to do while keeping the tracks in stereo, I will mix them down to mono (select the track and go to Tracks > Stereo Track to Mono). Before I settled down to write this sentence, I’d spent maybe half an hour struggling to get things to work out in stereo form; it is NOT worth the difficulty. This experiment is still perfectly reproducible in mono, so you can still verify my results anyway.

The difficult part is actually achieving the perfect alignment to prove that the tracks will cancel each other. Having mixed the tracks down to mono, zoom in really really closely until you can see the individual dots on the waveform as shown below.

Now you can line things up even more accurately than before.

Once you’re sure the alignment is exact, invert one of the tracks of your choice, and hit “play.” If the alignment is right, you will be greeted with the sound of perfect silence – that is, of canceled sound waves. Identical but opposite twins that annihilate each other. This silence continues until the very end of the disk fifteen recording, whereupon shouts of “bravo!” ring out amid a torrent of applause.

Ergo, we have now proved that the separate recordings of the Polonaise in A-flat, marketed as different takes, are in fact one and the same.

I now accuse DUX Records of foul play and demand to know what possessed them to do this to us. I want the REAL winner’s recital.

And so, to that end, I think I’ll keep bombarding them with e-mails until I get some sort of meaningful response. I’m curious as to how this will play out.


EDIT: Quote of the day.

(02:16:24 AM) SUSAltd: I hunger.
(02:16:30 AM) jeffmeng: for dick
(02:16:36 AM) tetranoir1: and semen
(02:16:50 AM) SUSAltd: I hunger.
(02:17:52 AM) nguyen: hi hunger



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