The recording below is a lo-fi demonstration record. It's the precise opposite of those hi-fi demo records electronics stores have to showcase their best audio equipment.
Sonni - Goodbye
I just bought a new cell phone, and this was the song that came bundled with it. Listening to it on a hi-fi or even out of my decent computer speakers it sounds ridiculous - overcompressed, with extremely loud, featureless, thundering bass and non-overlapping mid-range sample bursts. But out of the mobile phone's tiny mono speaker it strangely works. The bass is reduced to normal level. The lack of polyphony makes it sound clear and uncluttered. And the vocals are in the only range that the phone can handle with any fidelity. On the phone it sounds like, well, a normal R&B record. Which of course is the point.
I realise I'm way behind in this game, but this is the first mobile I've owned which has the ability to use MP3s as ringtones. So I've been testing out a few tunes to hear which type of music sounds best, and the results are (unsurprisingly) stuff that's rather ringtoney, all uncluttered, detail-defficient mid-range and no dynamics. There's plenty of music that you feel is probably inspired by cell phone ringtones in the first place that works really well. This is so clearly an alarm clock signal, for instance:
Benga - 26 Basslines
But there's a lot of music too that, like Sonni's track, is just fairly unsophisticated music that just happens to work well with the primitive speaker output. For instance, there's this tecnobrega track (from a huge brega/melody torrent) which is quite boring on my computer but really came to life on the cell phone:
Banda Np7 - Super Pop
Mid-range and tweeter synth sweeps, clarity over definition, the usual stuff. What's perhaps more interesting is how well a lot of older music works. Berry Gordy, at Motown, famously had all their singles played on a crap transistor radio before they were released, to make sure they worked under normal conditions, and indeed Motown tracks work fine as a ringtone.
But even more so the tracks of a yet more primitive recording era. Before decent-quality recording became widely available in the fifties a lot of the released material is precisely what works on the telephone: tracks with a constant volume level, no really deep bass, and not dependent on clarity for their impact. Which means a lot of, say, early 50s R&B can work perfectly fine as a ringtone!
The Dominoes - Sixty Minute Man
What I settled on eventually though was ska, in the form of this instrumental classic:
Don Drummond - Man in the Street
It actually has a line that obviously doesn't work, namely the bass riff in the intro, but then it's near-perfectly adapted to the task at hand. Maybe ringtones could push a primitive-recording revival, a hand reaching out from the cell phone to the ancient gramophone...
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