The new Sgt Pepper Remix is here (June, 17). Producer Giles Martin has demonstrated his direct line to his father's unerring rendering of The Beatles as they wanted it done; and Paul and the heirs approve or it wouldn't be released. Having said that, a remix is a daunting - even dangerous - thing to do. You are making a thousand decisions which will make things different . The sound of a cymbal; the sound of reverb; the sound of the blend of voices, every individual sound and the overall will be the result of new decisions. Many people will wish you had left well enough alone because it won't be the same. That's why I'm a fan of remastering as opposed to remixing. Remastering doesn't do anything to the original blends, it simply enhances what was already there and helps a very old record sound as brilliant as it's creators intended - sans noise introduced since the antiquity of the recording era. More about that down the page.
On another page I compare the band Biagi ran for D'Arienzo from 1935-38, a sensational crowd and other musicians exciter, to what Lennon-McCartney did in pop; each in their way wrenching and seducing music lovers in their worlds into a new and exciting future with blistering recordings and live performances. New Remasters of both teams' work are causing fresh appreciation of their original genius. (Biagi's moustache 30 years ahead of time - I know).
What's in a name?
The obvious name for what I embarked on was: restoration. As with art restoration, you carefully take away layers of artifacts and awful things introduced over time to reveal as much as you can more detail and nuance, hearing what the original music actually sounded like in the studio on the day it was recorded as opposed to scratchy old 78's transferred badly for decades as what we hear now. While using digital tools, much of the actual grunt work is also done by hand - repairing waveforms.
Handy dictionary: "A waveform is the shape and form of a signal such as a wave moving in a physical medium or an abstract representation." I repair damaged waveforms and then touch the spectrum gently here-and-there with today's sound tools to please our ears and playback systems. Everything has to sound like the creators intended.
You have to be gentle and very patient when you work on the waveform timeline to a thousandth of an inch. It's surgery. The Why bother in the first place? argument is kind of mind expanding for tango lovers. The work of Giles Martin and engineers at Abbey Road Studios on new Beatles remasters testifies to the value of restoring and remastering our beloved old tango recordings.
Of course as I started devoting my life to it I became very fond of that lovely word, restoration. I felt linked back to the original genius inventors of tango and could now hear them develop and progress through their whole recording careers sans noise and technical problems carelessly introduced by the record companies over decades. The entire Argentine Tango history unveiled itself in finer colour and detail, eliciting a never-ending WOW.
The years go by and I realize that restoration doesn't seem to be a very interesting word to folks in general. Nothing I can do about that, so I just kept banging the word while always saying or writing it "like the word itself tastes good" (a trick I taught my voice-over students for years). ToTANGO Restorations became who I am.
Leave it to me to choose an unsexy name, I guess. Leave it to a great pal to re-frame it for me.
In Florida, Victor Crichton was telling his friends and tango students about my "remasters." He would refer to my remasters in emails to me - just because that's the word that came to mind first. Now it was rolling around in my head; I understood why Victor was using that word and it made sense.
Mastering is another word dear to my heart - going back to my beginnings in music production in 1974. A record producer soon learns to make another new best friend after the studio work is done: the mastering engineer. You take your final mixes to the mastering lab to cut the lacquer that will start the duplication process. This is really where the art migrates over to science.
And was I blessed by timing and connections. Everything I learned about mastering happened just when long-abandoned direct-to-disc recording (how tango was recorded) was brought back in LA and to the world record business. I got pretty immersed in it because my friends were doing it on a big scale, revolutionizing the art and science. Guys I knew were mastering all the big hits. Papa of this renaissance, Doug Sax and his colleagues/disciples were the only people I knew in this world. (Check out Doug's amazing list of album credits at the bottom of his Wiki page).
Of course that is where I first learned to SEE what I was doing through a microscope and guide my mind to think on a molecular level about properties of sound and reproduction exigencies ... 20 years before we had computers in the studio to give us microscopic visual control of soundwaves. So the word mastering means a lot to me also. It is the final arbiter of what your music will sound like when reproduced.
Re-mastering came about as mastering technology blossomed. They started going back to the original master tapes of records and re-mastering them - to great success.
It was easy to simply open the vaults, put up the original master mix tape reels and master again making them sound quite a bit better.
This process is still going on, actually with fantastic results. Sir George Martin's son Giles and the brilliant engineers at Abbey Road Studio have been recently re-mixing and mastering from the original multi-track Beatle tapes with new devices and techniques. The results are spectacular. The first I heard it was on the recent film Eight Days a Week. The sound now of the Beatles playing live on the '64 American tour is SO exciting.
(Audio-only via UTube) This is his Hollywood Bowl remix from last year. Even better live remixes are used in the film, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - really where you hear why they were the best live rock 'n roll band ever. It is so much fun to hear the wonderful musicianship and singing. Extraordinary when they couldn't even hear themselves or each other for the crowd. Ringo said he knew timing by watching his band mates' bums move. All those Hamburg days made them invincible.
Follow just one instrument at a time. George has to invent new ways of arranging his parts because well, the songs live were shorter than on record and you have to stop the song instead of it fading out like on the record. He does really interesting chord lead-ins and things all the time. John's rhythm is of course a wondrous drive. Ringo is like from another planet with his signature and unique pocket that he wraps them in. Paul's bass is on fire with rocking sensuality. And even with that maelstrom of noise around them, the performances on the soft songs are delicate and evocative.
All the best tango dance music we love today was made in the era of the 78 rpm phonograph. Original masters were lost or destroyed in an orgy of insanity and music's biggest tragi-comedy of errors was foisted upon history (which is us, now).
All we can do is do what we can do to make it sound better. But better is ... better! You can bring out the strings, make the vocals come through clearer, warm and strengthen the bottom end, massage harmonics for richness - all kinds of good things after you remove the noise and scratches. The experience of listening now goes deeper.
The excellent news is: the original tango recordings were uniformly brilliantly played and recorded - couldn't have been better executed at the time in any way. Every track is worth the effort to restore it; to mine the gold.
When the work is done, with all levels equal to my other (4,200) tango restorations and the now clean silence - after the ending - edited for perfect timing on the dance floor, it has become a ReMaster. (The most scratches were at the beginning and end of a song, where people were always dropping and picking up the record needles. I take great care to clean the last seconds of a song so the MUSIC is the last thing you hear, not noise).
As ReMaster is a more popularly comprehended concept and in fact what I have just created, I made the switch and it became ToTANGO ReMasters. Keeping up with the times, heh, heh.
I see television shows starting to use "resurrection" instead of restoration. Leave it to tv to find a way to chase eyeballs whilst losing the plot.
Um - no. Not a word you can say as if it tastes good.
Restoration: intricate removal of aritifacts causing noise, clicks and other problems masking the original quality in preparation for remastering
Remaster: use new technology to enhance the sound of a previously released master recording
Remix: go back to original multi-track tapes or digital tracking sessions and enhance and re-combine in preparation for a new stereo master (only possible on recordings made since the early 1960's). Blends and characteristics will not be the same as the original release
Stereo: 2 channel master recording replaced mono masters. Introduced starting in 1958
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