After my mum passed away in September I found some old cassettes in cupboards in her attic room and over the last few weeks have been converting them to digital files which I have more lately been restoring.
One of the tapes contains music mum recorded with her two sisters (as M3) around 1975/6. Among the recordings is a version of John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home (Country Roads)’ with my mum singing the lead. It was obviously very emotional to hear her and, thinking of the date it was recorded, I couldn’t help thinking of myself as I was back then – a small boy of 4 or 5 years old.
With the audio file converted and restored I then set about isolating the vocals so I could create my own backing track. Having done that I discovered that although the backing had been removed, there remained elements of the banjo bound up in with the voice. The software I was using has been called Photoshop for audio in that it shows the audio file as a spectrograph as per the image below.
The file runs from left to right with the lower frequencies at the bottom and volume indicated through the brightness (the louder, the brighter). Zooming in, one can see different sounds, for example in the image below you can see my mum’s voice (bright at the bottom of the image) with the harmonics in layers above.
Zooming in between the harmonics (for example, between the brighter bottom two layers) I could see the bits of banjo, and, using the software’s brush, could paint these sounds into the background. As a result, mum’s voice (and that of her sisters) was even better isolated enabling me to create a new backing track for the vocal.
Creating a new backing track was great – a collaboration of sorts – but one of the things which struck me was how the act of removing the unwanted bts of audio, like an archaeologist removing dirt from a dug up artefact, was like those moments when grief is suddenly focussed by an object, a sound or a memory and the loved one is remembered against the inexplicable backdrop of their absence. These pointed moments of grief are not simply remembrances of a lost loved one, but sudden realisations, each time as if for the first time, that they have gone.
Looking at the image above, one can see the yellow lines of my mum’s voice against the noise and silence, bright like those flashes of realisation.