Transcribing with Elevation: Don’t Overlook Balance Control

Listen to any mid ‘60s, stereo Beatles recording on headphones and you’re likely to hear some interesting stereo positioning. It may not have seemed odd at the time – mass-produced stereo recordings were still relatively new – but now that certain recording conventions have been established, hearing John Lennon sing a lead vocal from the right channel (Norwegian Wood) or Ringo’s entire drum kit panned to the left channel (In My Life) strikes many listeners as well, a little unconventional.

When using transcription software like Elevation by Superscope, it’s tempting to begin slowing down a recording before first identifying the location of the instrument you’re transcribing in the stereo field. A simple adjustment of the Balance control may do wonders in terms of lowering the relative level of accompanying instruments and isolating the instrument you’re trying to transcribe.

If one were to transcribe the lyrics to Norwegian Wood, the task would quickly become much easier by simply turning the Balance control all the way to the right channel where John Lennon’s voice is positioned in the mix. Unfortunately, with most balance circuits, this would also remove all sound from the left headphone or monitor speaker. This is why Elevation includes a second Balance mode (Channel) that allows the user to place the selected output channel in both headphones or monitor speakers. In the example of Norwegian Wood, using this type of Balance control would remove some of the accompaniment and essentially “center” John’s voice in both output channels.

To hear this effect in action, let’s take a listen to another classic recording from the early days of stereo, Giant Steps by John Coltrane. Using Elevation, we begin by isolating a phrase with the loop markers.

Example 1 - Tenor Phrase


In the audio example above, notice how Coltrane’s tenor sax is placed solidly in the left channel. To bring the saxophone to the center, right-click ([Control] + Click on MAC) the Balance slider and select ‘Channel.’

Click and drag the Balance slider all the way to the left side. This will center the saxophone and remove much of the rhythm section from the mix.

Compare this audio example with the original phrase in Example 1 and notice how Coltrane’s tenor is now centered and the drums virtually disappear.

Example 2 - Tenor Phrase with Balance Control

To slow the phrase down without affecting playback pitch, click and drag the Tempo dial.


Example 3 - Tenor Phrase with Tempo & Balance Control

Elevation adds a graphic EQ to further isolate the frequency range of the tenor sax, but even without EQ, it should be easy to recognize that Coltrane’s brisk phrasing has now become easier to transcribe.

If we were lucky enough to have access to the original multi-track recordings of Giant Steps, we wouldn’t hesitate to press the solo button on the tenor channel. Unfortunately, most transcribers don’t have this luxury; we’re dealing with stereo masters. This is why a combination of Balance, EQ, and Tempo control is required to get the best possible isolation of the instrument(s) we’re trying to transcribe.