Making Facsimiles Readable

To make these facsimiles more user-friendly, I have had to do a great deal of cleaning up on them. Facsimiles usually contain a great deal of noise, in the form of dark areas,and ugly dots and blotches. The purpose of the clean-up is to make the facsimiles more readable by improving the signal-to-noise ratio.

I start with a microfilm copy, which I then scan in greyscale, resulting in tiff or jpg images.  The result looked like this for the last page of Vallet's Psalms of David:

original page

Often, the microfilm is a little skewed at the edges, as the original was bent away from the camera.  Also, sometimes a bit of the edge detail and, very rarely, a note on the edge is lost.  Also, the page is usually not perfectly aligned on the microfilm, so the staff lines go at an angle.

The first step of the cleanup process is to read the file into a user-friendly editor.  I use PaperPort, but any good editor should do.  I first straighten the image and crop it, so as to have a single page per file, with acceptable margins.   It then looks like this:

cropped page

The next step is to adjust the brightness and contrast for maximum readability.  Many scans have different degrees of brightness and contrast in different parts of the page.  The settings are a compromise between being too washed out and having dropouts at too low contrast and too high brightness, and having areas that have too much dark "noise" at low brightness and high contrast.  The latter are very time-consuming to clean up, requiring you to "excavate" the meaningful stuff from the grungy noise, but in order to have readable copy in other areas of the page, sometimes one has to bite the bullet.  I suppose a more sophisticated editor might be able to adjust brightness and contrast differently in different parts of the page, or even compensate for any skew that is present, but these are beyond my means and ability at the moment.  The result of this step looks like this:

contrast adjusted page

Next, I clean up the margins so what remains looks like a regular page:

page with cleaned-up margins

The above is fairly easy, and if I were to stop here, the page would be much more readable than it was at first.  But it would be hard going, because of the blotches that obscure some of the notes, the drop-outs, and especially the random dots that compete with the meaningful dots in a confusing way: right-hand fingering dots, dots on note values, and other dots that are tenuto marks.  Also, Vallet makes ample use of slurs.  All these can be perfectly mimicked by noise dots.  It is therefore necessary to make some judgment calls.  If a rhythm flag has a dots next to it, the next note almost always is flagged 1/2 or 1/4 the value of the dotted note, if it's a real dot.  The only exception would be if there is a continuing triple meter.  This is fairly rare, and it's pretty obvious when it happens.  If it's a right-hand fingering dot, it almost always is on a non-accented note.  There are exceptions, but very rare, and none that I could find in Vallet.  Also, these dots are less common on the lower courses (below the 4th course).  Slurs that aren't really slurs usually have a grayed-out look, but not always.

For notes that are obscured or dropped out, one has to make a choice whether to make an educated guess about what should be there or to leave the blotch or drop-out in place and let the reader choose.

For this kind of thing, I always keep a lute handy and play all of the possibilities.  Almost always all but one result in a hideous sound.  So then I know what it has to be.

In all of these editing decisions, there is a tension between being musicologically safe (leaving the defects in place) and providing readable copy for the player (correcting the defects). The result is a page that looks like this:

final page

All the steps through cleaning up the margins is fairly easy.  The other steps are enormously time-consuming, and I don't think my life is long enough to do all of this for all my source  materials, so for the future, I will probably just clean up the margins and leave it at that.