Waiting For My Audio Man – The Velvet Underground Acetates

In September of 2002, a dude from Canada bought a record at an NYC yard for 75 cents. It was an acetate record with a handwritten label that read “Velvet Underground. 4-25-66. Att N. Dolph.”

On the acetate were nine cuts from the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico. (The N. Dolph in question was Norman Dolph, an engineer on the record.) That alone would have made the record quite the find, but it turned out that the nine tracks on the acetate were not the same versions that were on the final album. Some were different mixes of the album cuts, while others, like “Heroin” and “Waiting For My Main” were completely different takes. In 2006, he sold the record on eBay for over $25,000, which I think we can all agree is a pretty damn good R.O.I.

A month or so after the record was sold to an anonymous bidder, alleged MP3 rips of the acetate started to make their way online. Casual Velvet fans downloaded them en masse, eager to hear a version of the album that was previously unavailable.

Except that they weren’t previously unavailable and that the MP3s in question weren’t actually taken from the Dolph acetate.

While the Canadian dude bought the Dolph acetate in 2002, he didn’t actually sell it until December of 2006. During that time another acetate copy of the same recordings were found and released on a Japanese bootleg. Allegedly, this acetate was discovered in either Mo Tucker’s or Sterling Morrison’s basement (it’s commonly referred to as the Mo Tucker acetate). Regardless of the source, they appear to be taken from the same recording sessions found on the Dolph acetate.

Every download I’ve seen claiming to be a rip of the Dolph acetate have really been rips of Mo Tucker’s acetate. To the best of my knowledge, no copy of the Dolph acetate has made its way online, if anyone wants to prove me wrong please do.

Regardless of the source, these recordings are an amazing find for hardcore Velvet fans . Unfortunately, they sound like shit. They’re filled with pops, crackles and even a few skips. The poor quality of the recordings make them hard to tolerate, even for the most die-hard of Velvet Underground fans.

Ever since I downloaded them in 2007, I have been hoping that someone, anyone, would put a little effort into restoring them properly so they would at least be listenable. Four years later and I’m still waiting, so I guess sometimes if you want something done you just have to get up and do it yourself.

The Velvet Underground – Mo Tucker Acetate (April 25th, 1966)
European Son (Different Take)
Black Angel’s Death Song (Different Mix)
All Tomorrow’s Parties (Different Mix)
I’ll Be Your Mirror (Different Mix)
Heroin (Different Take)
Femme Fatale (Different Mix)
Venus In Furs (Different Take)
Waiting For My Man (Different Take)
Run Run Run (Different Mix)

This is what I did:

First I converted the tracks to WAV so I could run them through an audio editing program called ClickRepair. Like its name suggests, ClickRepair goes through a WAV file and removes anything it perceives to be a click, pop or crackle. I have yet to find an affordable program that can do this as good as ClickRepair. I used the default LP settings, and did not crank it up to it’s maximum settings in fear of giving the tracks noticeable digital distortion.

With most of the loud clicks gone, I moved on to the omnipresent hum that is present on all the tracks. Hum can be caused by both a poor source (like, let’s say a 40-year-old acetate record) or from poor recording equipment picking up DC interference. I think the Tucker rip has both. To remove as much of the hum as possible, I used Audacity’s “noise removal” feature. I think it did a pretty good job.

Finally, I opened up each song in Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio and manually removed as many of the remaining clicks, pops and other audio detects as I could. Sound Forge has a much more intuitive interface than Audacity, which is why I chose it for this task. After I was done editing the tracks to the best of my ability, I saved them as MP3s.

The results aren’t perfect. Although I was conservative with my use of ClickRepair, it was impossible to use the program in an effective way on a recording as damaged as this one without leaving some digital distortion behind. In my opinion, the digital quirks left behind by ClickRepair are preferable to the loud pops and crackles. Furthermore, there were some skips and many other audio problems that I could not fix. But I still think it sounds a hell of a lot better now, and can more easily be appreciated by both obsessive and casual Velvet Underground fans.

I hope you all enjoy them, and if you have any suggestions on how to improve them even more so, please let me know! I would love to make these sound even better, I consider this project a work in progress.

Sources for this post:
Portland Mercury
WFMU’s Beware of the Blog (Note: the tracks there are NOT taken from the Norman Dolph acetate)

2 Responses to “Waiting For My Audio Man – The Velvet Underground Acetates”

  1. James says:

    Very interesting, good stuff! Thanks for taking the time to edit and post these.

  2. Fictional Queen says:

    Great post!

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