Dark Side SACD Engineer Speaks on Remix of Album 
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Written by AVRev.com   
Friday, 28 March 2003

The much anticipated SACD surround sound release of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon hit store shelves this Tuesday with great anticipation from Floyd fans and audio enthusiasts alike. The audiorevolution.com SACD review is already underway but in order to understand more about how the record was made into an SACD here is a transcript of James Guthrie’s speech from the press event for the launch of the SACD.


(The following is a transcript of a talk given by James Guthrie at the press launch for The Dark Side Of The Moon 5.1 SACD. Hayden Planetarium, New York, March 24th, 2003.)

Good evening. Thank you all for taking the time to come and listen to our project. We almost had one or two band members here, but unfortunately, their schedules would not allow.

My thanks to Tripp and to Capitol Records. And my thanks, particularly to David Kawakami. He's far too modest to take credit, but David is the person who has driven this project from the beginning. He got us through the obstacles with great finesse.

A few excerpts from the story of a 5.1 mix.

We were approaching the 30th anniversary of the release of an archetype, and I had written a proposal to EMI.

We couldn’t just re-master the album yet again, I suggested. The fans might, quite understandably, beat us to death with sticks. Or at the very least, not bother to make an appearance at their local record shops. Doug Sax and I had, after all, already re-mastered the album three or four times for previous re-releases. It was time to do something a bit special. I suggested the release of a hybrid SACD.

With the SACD we could provide a disc that would contain a standard “red-book” layer, allowing it to play in all conventional CD players, and a high-resolution layer with room for both the original stereo mix, and a multichannel 'surround' version. Pricing the disc competitively with normal CDs meant that the record company could really give something back to the fans.

Jody Klein had just done the same thing with his Rolling Stones catalogue, and I felt that the idea was inspired. EMI approved the plan and the process of locating the tapes began.

As librarian for Abbey Road’s extensive tape vaults, Ian Pickavance’s archeological skills were about to be tested. The brief from EMI had been clear. Find all of the original component parts of ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’, make safety copies, and send the originals to me in northern California.

By the time Ian arrived with the tapes at my studio in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the November skies were already quietly discussing how many winter storms they could fit in between now and the end of the mix.

Deadlines

Storm Thorgerson had come up with a cunning plan to release the disc on 03/03/03.

3 times 30 backwards. The 30th anniversary, and a whole page full of numerology relating to the album, the band, and the number 3.

This meant a work schedule for Joel (my assistant engineer) and I that was probably reminiscent of the actual building of those 3-sided Pyramids that Storm had photographed 30 years ago for the original album cover.

Incidentally, 3 times 3 is 9 which, Storm reliably informs me, is the number of letters in Pink Floyd. Coincidently, 9 was also looking like the number of lifetimes it may take to complete the mix, with what we had in mind.

Technical rambling

David Gilmour had told me that earlier generation multitrack tapes existed for each song. That was all I needed to hear. Whatever it took, I wanted to use those tapes.

When recording the album, the band had used a similar technique to that used by The Beatles during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. Apparently The Beatles would fill a 4-track tape and then combine, or pre-mix those elements to one or two tracks of a second 4-track machine, giving themselves more free tracks to work on.

The technique was applied to Dark Side but with two 16-track tapes. The original, non-Dolby, recordings were made and then the drums were pre-mixed to a stereo pair, keyboards were combined, and vocals were bounced together to a new Dolby “A” tape.

The original stereo mix of the album came from this “dub” reel, which contained a combination of first, second and third-generation elements.

The drawback was that the album was recorded before the days of time code and multiple tape machine lock-ups. Additionally, the multitrack machines used in those days were notorious for running a different speed from one end of the reel to the other.

Consequently, the original tapes were never intended to be used for the mix because they wouldn’t sync up. The combined speed error after copying a song was pretty dramatic.

I know many people who’s answer to this dilemma would have been to transfer the elements of both tapes into a digital workstation, line those elements up visually, and start mixing. I just felt that a 5.1 mix of this album had to come from the analogue tapes, and thankfully, those tapes were still in good condition.

The musical arrangements of these songs have such a beautiful simplicity; Uni-vibe guitars combine with Wurlitzer electric pianos played through Leslie speakers and droning Hammond Organs, all very often playing in the same register, and all held together by strong melodies and great lyrics.

The way the band voiced the instruments, coupled with Chris Thomas’ propensity to douse everything in lots of echo, creates a gluey, homogenous, three-dimensional sound that really gets under your skin. This is very much an analogue record.

Trial and error

We just had to go through a painstaking process of synchronizing the tapes.

This process involved learning the combined speed error, and compensating for it whilst striping new time code. You only have to get the correction right once, but that procedure can take a day or more for each song. Another incompatibility with our proposed release date.

Offsets were then required to make sure the tapes were absolutely synchronized. No margin for error is tolerable, as the musical feel would change.

Alignment

To further keep us on our toes. The master tapes contained no alignment tones. In the early 70s, Abbey Road felt that tapes would never leave their studio. Why print tones? Future concerns of hitting the Dolbys at the right level, or correct azimuth adjustment were just not considered.
I managed to make contact with Brian Gibson who had been the chief technician at Abbey Road in 1973. Brian was able to shed a good deal of light on the alignment issues. Further conversations with Doug Sax and Jay McKnight at MRL revealed that there was a discrepancy between European and American test tapes. We compensated, and eventually got to the bottom of the alignment procedure.

Mix

With most of the technical issues out of the way, we could concentrate on the creative aspects of mixing for 5.1.

For me, the approach to a 5.1 mix should be the same as a stereo mix. That is, to try and create a dynamic, musical mix that best serves the song.

The biggest issue is; have you retained the emotional impact of the music? If that objective is achieved, then dynamic differences making use of a larger soundstage are perfectly acceptable.

The original stereo mix contains the detail and the emotion of the songs, so I used that as my reference.
As with any project, the multitrack tapes contain elements that were not used on the final mix. I felt that the musical content of the 5.1 mix should be consistent with the original, so we took a lot of care to use the same elements. The exception is a very small guitar bit in On The Run, which I liked and put in. The band agreed.

Power struggle

We were underway but the deadline was already looming. The mixing was going smoothly, but the preparation time for each song seemed to be growing. The storm outside had also grown and was rapidly becoming a blizzard.

The house shuddered under violent gusts of wind. Horizontal snow flashed past the windows and the previous day’s snowfall was busy forming into large drifts.

Finally, late afternoon and mid mix, the power flashed once and went off. Joel and I speculated that a half-hour or so should see us back up and running. No worries, really. The power company had always been very efficient at dealing with situations like this.
Just an enforced, early dinner break.

Saved by the woodstove

That night was cold and dark. The cats and I were camped out in the living room. As any remaining heat in other parts of the house had long since been sucked out. I slept lightly on the couch, getting up every couple of hours to put logs in the woodstove. The house continued to shake throughout the night.

Day two: and the winds were even more serious. One tree was already down in the driveway. I was heating water on the woodstove to make a cup of tea and noticed a slight break in the storm. Digging my way to the shed to retrieve a small generator took a couple of hours but afforded me 3 lights, a small space heater, and my laptop computer.

A little distraction from my growing concern that forward progress on the project had stopped.
I was now on line and searching for a big turbo-diesel generator that could power the entire studio. Available, but delivery and installation would be a problem as no one could get into the area. Most of the roads for about a 30-mile radius were now closed due to the storm. Joel was also without power and unable to travel the six miles to the studio. Not much point either, as we couldn’t work.

Day three: I awoke to a loud bang that rocked the house. Staggering from the couch I set off to investigate. The top 25 feet of a beautiful Pine tree had snapped off in a recorded wind gust of 140mph and, probably traveling in a perfect arc, had plunged straight through the roof of my entrance walkway.
My sense of humour was being tested. The internet informed me that now over a million customers in California and Oregon were without power.

There was little comfort in this statistic. All I could think about was the deadline.

Day four: As a can of tomato soup slowly warmed on the woodstove, I considered my options for breaking the news to EMI that perhaps things were not progressing at quite the intended rate for an 03/03/03 release. I decided to wait another day.

Day five: The power was back! - - - The power was gone!
Then, finally, after a few more attempts, the power was on for good. At last, we were back to work.

We were still missing one or two components. Continued searches at Abbey Road and individual band storage facilities had turned up nothing.

The holiday period also meant that most sane individuals were off relaxing in remote parts of the globe. Not thinking about record company deadlines.

Eventually, with all the elements in place, the mix was in suitable condition for input from the band. I traveled to New York to meet with Roger and then on to London to see David, Rick and Nick.

We did, amazingly, finish in time to make an 03/03/03 release date, but things were ultimately moved closer to the original release of March 24th. Auspicious date for the press launch!

I hope we can look forward to more Floyd releases in this format. Their music is perfect for surround sound. They are, after all, pioneers in the 3-dimensional audio experience, and have been performing live with quad sound for years. In fact, one of the first quad pan pots, called the "Azimuth Coordinator", was developed especially for the band.

It's a natural progression to make 5.1 mixes of their work.

In speaking to numerous people about this project, one recurring question has been, why SACD rather than DVD-A? So I should probably say one or two words about that.

First of all, I support anyone who is trying to bring a high-resolution medium to the public. This has long been a point of contention for me. With the technology that we have available today, the record buying public should be able to experience the same audio quality in their homes that we work with in the studio.

My worry about DVD-A is in the confusion that surrounds it. I've had conversations with many consumers and record company executives about this, and clearly they don't fully understand what it is. The letters DVD should probably not have been used in the title of the audio format.

Many people see a DVD-Audio disc and think: "DVD-A, I have a DVD player, this disc will play in my machine". Of course it will, but they will not be hearing DVD-Audio. They will be listening to the compressed streams of either AC-3 or DTS. As a supposed high-resolution medium, this is self-defeating.

SACD and DVD-A are high-res formats that are about audio quality. Or at least they should be.

If the major labels decide to go with DVD-A based solely on the argument that there are millions of DVD video players already out there that will play the disc, then they are saying that they are quite happy for people to listen to AC-3 or DTS. They are effectively saying that they don't care about quality.

The second issue I had with DVD-A relates to the MLP encoding that apparently has not yet been optimized. Quick-fix high-frequency filters on the final product, also defeats the concept of a high-resolution format.

In favour of the SACD, is the smooth analogue-like sound that DSD produces, and the fact that the disc can't be ripped. That last issue alone seems like something that record companies would jump on.

My thanks go to Joel Plante, who so ably assisted me through this entire process. To Billy Woodman and all at ATC for designing and building such great speakers, which you will hear this evening. To Tim de Paravicini for all of his outstanding studio equipment. To Ed Meitner, who’s A to D converter was used in the transfer to DSD. And to Charlie Bolois, who not only wired and maintains my studio, but who also re-built the two EMT 140 echo plates, so that we would have great analogue echo for this mix.

If this format is going to succeed, it will do so by the labels and outlets pricing these hybrid discs competitively with normal CDs.

Major labels are viewed as being greedy giants by a large portion of the record buying public. This is a great opportunity for the record companies to change their perceived image, and give something back to the fans.

Additionally, if this format can help re-kindle our interest in listening to music, then it is indeed a very powerful medium.

I remember being so impressed when I first heard this album, and I'm still very impressed after 30 years of living with it. The delivery devise for a song is crucial. By that I mean the musical arrangements and the atmospheric production. These elements are a big part of this record and a big part of why a song touches you.

The usual sequence of events for a band making a record are; write the songs, rehearse and arrange the songs, record them, and then go on tour and perform the songs. Very often, the touring experience will cause a band to experiment and change the musical arrangements. In many cases, for the better.

Pink Floyd performed this work (as "Eclipse") many times before entering the studio. Consequently, many of the arrangement issues were worked out well in advance.

I think Dark Side will continue to appeal to people regardless of their generation or background. It endures because it is about something. We identify with the condition.

Thank you for your time. I hope you enjoy the mix, and I hope you feel that we have done justice to the work.







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