from Keith Elshaw Published Since 1997|
Contribution Articles welcome keith "at" totango "dot" net
Keith Restoration Q & A
Q: The assumption is that there will be a ToTANGO Version 6 in the future?
A:Yes. As I go along I'll be writing more about my new discoveries.
The current ToTANGO 5 is comprehensive and not only very well received by aficionados but it all still pleases me very much when I dj. I've heard it in so many situations and it works in all - outdoors, indoors, big room or small; big sound system or small. No reaching for the volume or equalization controls all the time. No worrying about timing between songs. Everything consistent - which makes for good floorcraft (the mark of an excellent dj). And finding lovely additions unknown to people keeps me really excited about the future.
Q: So you are open to evaluating old record collections?
Oh, ya; but it is common for folks to think they have a treasure trove they want to monetize, and then when I investigate I find a collection not nearly as good as what I have. Too often you get lp's that have had reverb added or faux stereo effects, etc. Awful stuff that should be destroyed, really. I know the musicians who played it would never want you to hear it in that state. And it's never about quantity for me; I get excited if I find even one song that improves what we have today. Since the record companies gave up on quality so long ago, I feel like the lone hunter who is the only one that cares.
Q: You've said the sound of your restorations is the best available. Why so confident?
Well, if you listen to mine and compare with everything else you can find ...
Even after all these years there is no one who has sought to do what I do, to start with. It's much more intricate than just processing with software - I first work by hand on the waveforms. All anyone else has done is repackage the mistakes of the old days and hope everyone thinks that's "all there is." Of course, what I do can't be done in a traditional business model; it takes too much time.
Add to that the very important matters of organizing the tracks with all the information to see what's what at-a-glance and levelling and making all the tracks consistent with each other for smooth playing. You can easily find Di Sarli cds, to take just one example, where the level of a song will be 12 dB lower than the one before. This is a HUGE difference and if you just rip the cd you're going to have all kinds of disturbance when you're playing back. The only reason for this is lack of care by the issuer. So apparently I am the only one who has shown the respect the original musicians deserve - and that today's dancers deserve, I must add.
My restorations are heard every night in milongas around the world, so that's a lot of where my confidence comes from. All those dj's already had a tango library - why did they buy the ToTANGO collection after they already had lots of cds? Because they love how it sounds and they love how smooth it makes their nights go. I've done so many kinds of custom work on each song that no one else has even thought of. It's like cooking well - you have to respect your ingredients and make them shine so a whole appetizing menu unfolds in beautiful, tasty, revelatory combinations. You do it so everyone will enjoy and be nourished.
To be successful for everyone in attendance, a milonga must have a certain predictability about it - wherein lies the magic of tandas. And cortinas communicating signals of what's going on. And sound levels being smooth and even. The ToTANGO system, if you will, gives every dj the tools to make dancers comfortable all night.
Q: Does the music of tango receive the attention it deserves?
Yes and - of course - no. Everyone knows and everyone says that music is the most important thing. The most famous musicians are revered. But when it gets down to it, I still marvel that the music is treated far too casually as regards how good it can sound when you press play.
This isn't surprisng in that we're all consumers and whatever is available we think must be the best there is. Unfortunately, there is a a decades-long tradition in the music industry of not caring at all about how tango recordings sound. "Oh, it's old so it has to sound terrible sonically." This drives me as mad today as it always has. NO, IT DOES NOT HAVE TO SOUND BAD just because it is old. My work has shown that it was surprisingly well recorded in the first place - even when just by one microphone as it all was. The original recording engineers really knew what they were doing - which is why I can restore it.
To be completely fair to tango people, when you get classic Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington or any old recordings before tape you may also hear lots of scratches and clicks and very thin sound. I admit this kind of boggles my mind too. But do you think they are going to pay me to sit and fix it all? It just doesn't make economic sense. So the world goes 'round and we all accept what we can't personally do anything about.
But the tango record companies took this to absurd levels of nonchalance.
That I could do something about.
The Ultimate Tango Collection
ToTango 5 delivers high definition Tango for DJ's,
collectors and audiophiles.
- Why does the speed of recordings vary and which versions are correct?
- How do you eliminate the "silence" at the end of tracks so the flow is better?
- How do you get the levels of all the songs equal?
- Is there a better way to organize files than how record companies do it?
- What would the music sound like WITHOUT noise and WITH warmth?
I fixed all this years ago so these issues never come up when you are playing music.
ToTANGO RESTORATION PROJECT - Order Page
Shellac Masters Explained
With an example
A reader posed the question: What are shellac records and are they special as I have seen claimed?
I replied in part: "From my perspective, shellac recordings are not useable beyond
historical interest. In an auditory sense, there is no "there" there. 1923 was the year shellac stopped being used as the major medium of recording music by the industry, replaced by a wax compound. I've seen an enterprise promote the fact that they make transfers from shellac of old tangos - and sell them as if they are something special. People (non-musicologists) buy a pig in a poke just because they are unaware of what it actually is." I also attached this Firpo sample to make my point.
My reader wrote back, "Hahahahaha, yes, I bought a pig in a poke last week. Turns out neither
the pig NOR the poke were real." Rueful smiles all around.
Here is the sublime Roberto Firpo Cumparsita from 1916 on shellac (the first-ever recording of La Cumparsita) which I carry around with me to show people what a shellac master sounds like.
This is after I did everything I could to make it listenable. I actually took away noise, bumped certain low frequencies for warmth and modulated the dynamic range to bring out more of the sound, if you can believe it. I think the arrangement is exciting and shows how inspirational to other arrangers Firpo was for so many years. But you obviously can't play it in a milonga.
Juan Carlos Caceres
September 4, 1936 - April 5, 2015
With a background in Buenos Aires in jazz and of course other forms of music, Juan Carlos found his audience from Paris with energetic, exhuberant Maquinal Tango music (Tango Negro, etc.). His many fans will love his music forever.
We loved having you in Pittsburgh, Keith. Keith, BTW, was scheduled to DJ two milongas, but wound up doing three. No music was repeated and everyone I talked to loved his dj'ing and the quality of music. He gave some interesting ideas at the dj'ing workshop. The locals who attended have improved their own skills. The ones who didn't, well....
Trini de Pittsburgh
(about ToTANGO GOLD TANDAS - Dec 3/14)
Thank you so much Keith!
I was just preparing my playlist for my own milonga to-morrow. It's
here in The Hague where I live. On the 16th I will have my monthly
milonga in the city of Utrecht, in the middle of this small country.
What I wanted to say is that when I work with the music you have put
together I cannot stop being astonished. Almost every combination I
make is a hit. I can merge with your feeling of musical honesty and
people keep dancing. They never get bored.
Hey Keith THANKS!!!
Got it today. Very cool. That is a big collection of tangos, milongas and valses. Wow. With this I will have more than enough... I cannot fathom that so many tangos were made in that era... I would imagine that with this you have it all.
Anyway, I am sooo impressed! I will have lots of fun with this... How in the world did you find them all and had the time to restore them all multiple times? That is really a tribute to tango.
All the best,
Thank you ver much
The more I'm learning about Argentine tango music and the different recordings from all over the world with different speeds and quality the more that I am certain that I have found the right expert with the best quality....
Thank you again...
My Tango DJ career has really blossomed since I purchased your
collection of restored music! It is a big hit and most people don't
really know why my music sounds so much better than others.
Firstly, I wanted to thank you for the music.
I have been using your selection with great success at a number of Milongas to date...
I have already began to be a sought after DJ in my area... all thanks to your lovely restored music!
I DJ'd on Friday night, a St Valentines Day Milonga complete with mushy love song cortinas. It was a success, however, a couple of danceers had come over and said that I shouldn't play songs with vocals in it. They said that they had come from BA recently, and people sit down and listen to vocals and dance only to only instrumental songs.
I would really like to get you opinion on this...
Again, thanks for the music... I plan to buy the rest of our collection (once I save up the money!)
Any person new to tango is quite likely to much prefer instrumentals to vocals for some time, until they become acclimatized and learn more. So I recommend helping them acclimatize by doing things the right way (via good choices) and pretty much ignoring their stated request. But there are a lot of fabulous instrumentals which work nicely in tandas (D'Arienzo/Biagi, for instance) so make sure you aren't overloaded on continuous vocals. Often one instrumental in a tanda is enough to release some tension for people who haven't "got it" yet. It's good to constantly check to make sure you've haven't gone too long without hot instrumentals.
I'm ordering more music because I've been using what I have from you for years and get nothing but great comments when I dj. I go to B.A. a couple of times every year, so I know that nothing compares to your restorations. Nothing!
I'm working on correcting a couple of my transcriptions of songs and the restorations of yours that I've worked with were much easier to transcribe than the source material I have from CDs. Can I now get this list of songs ...
Ben Bogart.com / Cuarteto Tanguero
Remembering Sergio Suppa
It is with great sadness we learn of the passing of Dr. Sergio Suppa of Argentina and the U.S. Sergio was the first guest contributor to the pages of ToTANGO.
From Trini de Pittsburgh on Tango-L:
At the end of February, a dear friend to this list and the tango world, Sergio Suppa of Erie, unexpectedly passed away in Argentina at his sister's home. Sergio started the Erie tango community and would often come to Pittsburgh to support our events in our early years. Tall, handsome, and elegant, he was the epitome of the Argentine tango dancer, standing out wherever he went. A doctor by trade, he also taught both ballroom and tango dancing to spread the love of dance. Under his guidance, the Erie community blossomed. And boy could they party! Tangueros from Pittsburgh and Cleveland would often head to Erie for fun milongas where wine flowed freely and tango ruled the dancefloor (with occasion breaks for ballroom). It was one such trip that Donald Hsu convinced Sean & I to take that sparked our interest in traveling elsewhere just for milongas.
His influence, though, stretched well beyond the tri-state area to all around the world through his meaningful essays on tango shared on several listservs, which pre-Facebook was the main way tango dancers communicated worldwide. As an older Argentine who had lived in the States for many years, he provided great insight into Argentine culture and traditions. Of particular interest was his explanation of male/female dynamics in Argentina and its influence in tango, such as the concept of machismo. His essays on Argentine history and music, also educated many, as well. These listservs were mostly populated by teachers and organizers, such as myself and Sean, who found his essays useful in guiding and educating our own communities. His words have helped guide the foundation for tango communities around the globe.
While we will miss him on Earth, it is comforting to know that he will be joining his other tango friends from Erie in a big milonga in Heaven. Sergio, may you dance in peace.
ToTANGO article Sergio wrote on tango history
His following piece on machismo
The Woman Who Unlocked Genius
Over and Over Again
Astor Piazzolla, Daniel Barenboim, Quincy Jones, Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, Egberto Gismonti, Michel Legrand. Scores more.
Yes, because it was in Paris perhaps their study time with her had extra meaning to each of them; but I believe Mme. Boulanger WAS a part of the soul of the city. Her "arrondissement" in the world: unlocking and eliciting clear, passionate, inspirational music expression from where it had previously been only potential.
Each of these greats has had a cascading influence. All of them attribute it in large part to her.
I'm quite sure that without (after Troilo's belief) first her mind and Copes' support afterwards, we never would have had the flowering genius of Astor Piazzolla to savour forever.
"Boulanger was the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras. She conducted several world premieres, including works by Copland and Stravinsky."
I keep hoping someone in France has been preparing a beautiful documentary about Mme. Boulanger. Surely we all have much we could learn from her.
Inspiration for Animation
I grew up in small-town Ontario(Canada) with eyes and ears glued to the one
snowy TV station we could reliably get. I came to realize as an adult
that my earliest classical music education came from the old cartoons.
Of course the reason there was so much classical music in them (aside
from the great theatrical possibilities) was that all that music was in
the Public Domain and therefore no royalties had to be paid by the
That didn't stop some amount of "borrowing" by Hollywood and I am quite
sure that I heard some milonga first in cartoons when I was very, very
And then when you consider that Walt Disney's biggest inspiration was
the Italian/Argentine animation artist Quirino Cristiani, strands of the
thread come together in unexpected insight.
Walt Disney is usually associated with early animated films, but Disney is said to have been inspired by the Argentine filmmaker Quirino Cristiani. An Argentine born in Italy, Cristiani was a young and enthusiastic animator who pioneered the animation technique of cardboard cutouts. Cutout animation is a faster and easier way to create animation by using cutouts of figures rather than individual drawings for each frame.
Collaborating with producer Frederico Valle, the two of them ambitiously took on the task of creating the very first feature-length animated film. Called El Apóstol, the film was a political satire and premiered to rave reviews on November 9, 1917. Just nine years later, all known copies of the first feature-length animated film were destroyed when Vallés film studio burnt to the ground in 1926. However, Cristaini continued to pioneer work in animation. In 1931, he created the very first animated film with sound. Peludópolis was another political satire made with Cristianis' trademark cardboard cutout technique.
Quirino Cristiani on YouTube
Revering Juan "Pacho" Maglio
As an old sea-dog of a dancer/teacher/dj, I'm constantly on the outlook for folks who haven't yet experienced the swoon Juan Maglio (1880-1934) puts his dancers in.
And like everything else tango, the more you surrender, the more fantastic the trance.
It is a rare night indeed if Keith the dj doesn't play Maglio. He's too beautiful, too important - because there was no one better. As-good-as, depending on one's point of view - but not "better-than." He made so many unbelievably great recordings. In them today, you can still feel the waves of excitement rolling out from his imagination and fingers to all the other musicians and band leaders and then to the dancers.
In my professional life, I've always used this measuring device when considering relative contributions of artists: if you took this individual away from the history of the genre, what would you lose?
There is always your answer. Some artists are just more deserving of reverence than others in the long-run. My own personal list of who I consider to be a god of tango music is just that: a list. There is a top-tier. Where I see Pacho.
In the modern era of tango recordings (roughly 1923 onwards), most roads lead to Pacho in a very real sense. For me, a majestic god on the dias. Loving watching dancers in love with tango almost at his feet.
One imagines him to be the kind of person who would shush, shush any such talk. He was a simple musican who lead a very, very good band, I'm sure he would say. He came from a generation of impossibly gifted musicans and none of them would claim to be #1. There is no such thing, of course.
But perish the thought of ever taking away the music of Juan Maglio. He just made so much possible. And still does.
Regarding My Periodic "Crusades" Within a Crusade
NOT Me in the Picture! (But I do ice-skate)
Does it show an unforgiveable flaw in my character that I go on crusades from time to time?
The onset of one does tend to happen at this time of year. Dead of winter in Canada. Me locking-out the world and the weather and losing myself in tango restoration (where my heart finds it nice and warm).
It's a little mixed-up, looking back, whether my first crusade was about Di Sarli or Biagi or Donato. I was obsessed by them as I started my quest. Indeed - they were my main initial motivation.
In terms of profile, Di Sarli didn't "need" "my help"(!) as much as Eduardo or Rodolfo when I started more than 15 years ago. (In terms of audio quality of Carlos' recordings, I don't expect to ever be done with it to my satisfaction).
The quality of the recordings in tango sucked the big one. The moment I said to myself, "Well - can I do anything about that?" - all my next nights went sleepless.
I tackled Di Sarli and was very upset and discouraged. This was going to take a looong time.
Turning then to Biagi, I was rewarded way beyond expectations. Cleaning it my tedious way of re-drawing the waveforms by hand shocked me to my roots. I could now hear what THE ROOM sounded like when they recorded. Drove me crazy. Set me on a crusade to have people REALLY HEAR his music. And to do that with all the orquestas.
Those winter weeks of doing nothing but frying my brain by restoring Biagi's catalogue will always remain with me as seminal moments of my life. Here the possibilities of tango restoration made themselves known to me.
And I got too excited and tried too hard. It was only later when I had more experience and better tools that I could re-do Biagi's catalogue to my satisfaction.
Of course, that's the story of my journey. I had to start back then so I could grow and the technology could grow (did it ever) so my goals could be ever closer.
Then I did Donato. (While still pulling my hair out over Di Sarli).
But I'm not talking about my project here. The topic is my crusades.
The Donato campaign after restoration was simple and immediately gratifying. Make people listen to Ella Es Asi a few times. Success. Then, La Melodia del Corazon; Sinsabor; Con Tus Besos; Papas Calientes; El Lengue and the rest of the great catalogue.
It used to be rare that you would be played Donato in a milonga. Before 2003. I did my best to move the tiller.
The Biagi crusade was more frustrating.
Donato hadn't been heard outside of Argentina - so it was all new and exciting to people. Conversely, everybody had heard Biagi's scratchy, thin records hiding the subtlety and they had decided they didn't like him. They also didn't know that Biagi is the major reason anybody ever heard of D'Arienzo. All difficult to overcome in a hurry. But I would swear that my Biagi campaign had positive results in terms of how much he is played now.
So, what happened to my Di Sarli crusade(s)?
On the face of it, it's pretty challenging to expand people's awareness about one of the most (almost) over-exposed artists.
So I LOVE blowing people's minds with the Di Sarli they never hear; that is WAY under-appreciated. Just in Janurary of 2015 I had teachers in New York ask me what the heck was that tanda? when I played my Di Sarli tracks in their milongas. Yes! I admit I get a particular thrill from exposing people who REALLY KNOW their music to songs they've never heard by their favourite artists.
The unbelievably sublime Pedro Laurenz music was next. I still can't understand why he isn't played more, but as soon as people fall knowlegabely in love with tango tango, they can't live without Laurenz.
Oboy. Let's stop here because we're getting into a list and I know I become a bore really fast.
I've often wondered if there is anyone on Earth who has listened to the old recordings as much as I have. I was crazy for hearing it all the time BEFORE I started my restoration quest. I wanted to be a tango dancer, so that's why I listened to the music so much for the first 10 years. But my background was as a radio programmer - which meant my way was to have the biggest library and know all the music. Then dig to find more. And more.
I didn't start out thinking there was something I could contribute. If I have, it grew naturally out of just loving the music to death and eventually saying, Well, no one else seems to want to fix the problems, so what can I do about them?
A decade later, having worked and searched and collected and worked and bought continual upgrades of tools and source material and collected more and worked on every song more ... WHEW! I bow even lower in respect and supplication to the great musicians who gave us tango tango.
They unlocked and translated many secrets of Life and the Universe. So it's timeless. It grows more beloved and more profound every day until the Last Day - when it lets you smile as you breathe your last. How it seems to me.
When or if we aren't able to dance anymore, we'll still get the sweet blessings just by listening. And if our hearing leaves us, we'll still have it richly playing in our head. And be dancing in our heart.
My work in particular for the last four years has been to restore the recordings from 1926 onwards. I find the older recordings more compelling. Free, loose and inventive. Sexy. Certainly heavenly.
To quote William Blake: "The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest."
I'm always listening for good music coming out now. But there is no way to improve upon Canaro, Carabelli, Maglio, Aieta, Donato, OTV. Unless you are Biagi or Pugliese or Di Sarli or Laurenz, etc. (not to be construed as meant to be the whole lists).
The Gems just keep-on comin' when you restore the old recordings.
The better your ears (and the quality of your recordings), the more there is to hear.
Looking at Poema Being Danced
Neat contast in styles
'Came across this page - which shows a few dances to Canaro's Poema - by different couples.
Aside from the general interest, it ought to be inspiring to lovers of Nuevo who haven't yet found a way to dance social tango in a close way when there are many dancers on the floor. Some lovely dancing by professionals here.
(Disclosure: I didn't know I was being quoted. I saw this page when doing a "Poema" google).
If near to Montréal ...
My semi-private classes are about to resume after summer break.
I call them semi-private because I keep the group small - while giving the kind of attention and information one gets in a private class. For a lot less money, of course.
I show how to be and how to move and when (with the music) - as opposed to how to "do things."
I also say, I'm not calling myself a "teacher" and giving you a "class." I think of it as coaching - addressing personal needs. In as close-to a milonga situation as can be, given the purpose. It's more of an indoctrination into the tango world than a standard, "Learn these steps" class.
A new client asked me to put this on my webpage:
"Too many bad teachers out there. Without teaching me or telling me, you
prepared me for the lesson. I learnt it on my own. Which is why you are
the best teacher anyone can have. Except of course you're not a teacher. You
are Tango Tango!"
Montreal - Birthplace Of The Record
You can imagine that I love to tell this story ...
On Behalf of the Singers
Before Gardel, There Was Caruso
Who new to tango hasn't sought ought instrumentals first so they didn't have to listen to the "annoying" singers? Of all the aspects of tango requiring acquired taste, the singers take the most getting used to - to a non-Latin, non older-person ear.
For the first 30 or 40 years of tango, there were no singers. They kind of had to fight their way in. The one who really kicked the door down, of course, was Carlos Gardel. His was tango's biggest "before-and-after" moment.
Conscious / Unconscious
Different Approaches to Tango
If you're thinking, your partner has to be thinking, too.
If you're lost in the music, the feelings, the moment, you're partner can be, too.
In such a state, tango takes over.
When you "direct" it yourself, it plays hide-and-seek with you.
It's all tango; but when your brain is "off," the pleasure and satisfaction increases in proportion to your surrender.
This is why my way of teaching is to make the body memory work; to make things as automatic as possible in order that spontaneous expression comes out effortlessly.
I like to show how to hold the body; how it should move with your partner. How it signals to keep everything together. All so that the mind can be sort-of shut-off. Seeking unconscious competence.
The less "thinking" the better.
Tandas - So Cool
As a programmer and as a dancer, the Tanda custom in Argentine Tango seems to me to be such a cool invention.
What are it's origins? Sergio Vandekier explains from Mar Del Plata:
The Destruction of RCA's Masters
And now - the Details
When RCA destroyed it's Masters of tango recordings 40 years ago, a major reason for our Restoration Project took place.
Tango Styles and Attitudes
Peter Bengtson's Tango Style table is humourous - and/but full of insight ... a kind of mirror in many respects. Do you see yourself in it?
The Tango Trance
Seek it, and it will elude you;
Talk about it in too much detail
and it will haunt you evily.
Live for it, and you will die many deaths.
Treasure it, but don't hold onto it.
Dance with love and freedom
and it will embrace you.
Be vulnerable, and feel it's power.
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