New Recordings Without the Hum(ming)

by on May 16, 2007

I subscribe to Stereophile magazine. Every month I take great pleasure in reading the latest product reviews, particularly those involving either of the following:

  1. Unobtainium plated interconnects sheathed in endangered panda skin for optimum voodoo-shielding
  2. Any devices employing any form of magnetic levitation technology

While thumbing through the June issue which arrived yesterday, I came across an ad for a new classical recording. It’s a Zenph Re-Performance™ of Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

From the ad:

Zenph takes audio recordings and turns them back into live performances, precisely replicating what was originally recorded. The software-based process extracts and encodes the details of how each note was played. The encoding is played back on an acoustic grand piano allowing listeners to experience the performance as if they were in the room when the original recording was made. This re-performance is then recorded afresh using the latest recording techniques. This release features new recordings of that experience specifically designed for surround-sound, stereo or headphone listening.

What are the copyright implications of doing this? A few things to consider:

  1. The Goldberg Variations are obviously in the public domain. Gould’s 1955 recording, as a derivative work, is not.
  2. Nothing you hear on this recording is in any way sampled. No audio from the 1955 recording persists.
  3. The original recording was essentially traced, so the exact timing and velocity of each note matches Gould’s performance perfectly.
  4. It’s being marketed as Gould’s 1955 performance.

Please post any thoughts you might have to the comments.

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