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ARSCLIST  November 2013

ARSCLIST November 2013

Subject:

Re: The new "Kind of Blue" remasters explained

From:

Carl Pultz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 21 Nov 2013 10:46:03 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (329 lines)

Thanks Mr. Howarth. There is much insight offered in that message and thank
you for sharing it. I do sound engineering, but am not engaged in this work,
so I'm more a consumer who has some technical insight than a practitioner
who has opinions earned by experience. The most interesting bit of Mr.
Wilder's info for me was this:

>>> An upside to working from the archive files was the ability to chase 
>>> the original fader moves done during the mix in 1959. We constantly 
>>> compared to an early pressing - mono and stereo - and worked bar by 
>>> bar to duplicate the level moves on the three tracks to match as well as
possible.

I assume he means he drew volume curves in his DAW to replicate the fader
adjustments audible in the finished product. How cool is that?! With the
three tracks isolated, he could figure out what they originally did. This is
essential, and an aspect of some reissues that I've found dissatisfying.
I'll pick one track to illustrate, which also happens to be from Columbia:
I. Berlin's Russian Lullaby, Jimmy Rushing and band. I first heard it from
the CD collection Jazz: The Singers 1950s, part of a Columbia Jazz
Masterpieces series.

Although the CJM issues are mostly frowned upon, when the sources were
decent, the discs sound okay, and this tune comes up great. It cooks, it
steams, it almost boils over with energy. After the vocal intro, there's a
long organ solo by Sir Charles Thomson, a bit understated but sharp, that
builds tension. Then Buddy Tate enters like an after-burner and draws that
groove even tighter up to Rushing's final chorus. It's about the most
exhausting and joyous 5+ minutes I know of in recorded music.

Enter a later reissue of the whole Jimmy Rushing session. Where the earlier
version was clearly from a mix master, the new project apparently went to
the multitracks. Clearer, more room sound, less fuzziness, more dynamic
nuance. Trouble is, Russian Lullaby just sits there, politely. In
comparison, there is less density, less of the sense of interaction between
solos and rhythm section. The big clue was the organ, which is clearly at a
lower volume than before, which was confirmed when Tate entered at a higher
level. I imagine they were careful with the organ, in case Thomson threw in
some 'stings'. They knew that Tate would have a smooth delivery.

Going back to the CJM version, it was clear that much of the magic, though
the product of the players, was conveyed in the mixdown. It was an active
mix. You can hear them ride gain. IIRC, there's a short guitar solo from
Skeeter Best, which is made to sit with the other sounds. There seems to be
some gentle variance in the rhythm section balance that helps underline the
forward momentum. Having brought the organ up, they backed off on Tate and
gave him room to work his accents. It's probably a gentle push against a
limiter that helps to create that density and a feeling that you are sitting
right there with the band.

If you were sitting right there with the band, that's how you would have
experienced it, with the mixer in your head. The active mix helped to
recreate that sensation. The producer knew the effect. He'd been to the
clubs, sat a few feet from the stage, and knew what the experience was like.
And he knew the task of recording was to recreate that experience. The later
reissue, impressive as a technical exercise, leaves you on the sideline
because it is only half done. The record was only begun at that stage.

You could say that the value of the neutral remaster is the insight we can
gain into the process. You might also say that it is more true to a Tuesday
afternoon at 3 o'clock on a brightly lit industrial factory floor, where the
men may have had to close their eyes and imagine themselves to be where this
music was supposed to be made. The original mix might have been done in one
pass. They probably smiled, muttered 'damn!', lit smokes, and moved on to
the next tune.

Recreating it could take hours. There was a budget, there was a time,
neither as lavish as Miles would get. The market clamored for a supposed
master-tape realism. It's better to have the music than not have it.
Granted. I'll take all those insights and add appreciation for how
challenging a thorough recreation is to accomplish. But, when I want to
experience Russian Lullaby, I know which disc I'll put on.

-----Original Message-----
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Jamie Howarth
Sent: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 9:51 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] The new "Kind of Blue" remasters explained

Tape is in good shape, just some riffling on the edges that any decent
machine will take in stride. 
Wilder knows the tape and the catalog and he's really good. Enough said. 

Matching the sound that people are used to only makes sense if the sound
they are used to is correct. Otherwise they should have remastered it 1/4
tone off-pitch. Accurate playback never undermines the validity of an
archive or a remaster, it's the remastering choices that can screw it up.
Which in this case clearly didn't happen. 

I guarantee Mark would never just "antique" a tape playback for marketing
purposes. He's too good. Running something through tubes is not why Mark may
(or may not) have used a Pultec, it's simply because that's what was used on
the original, and Laico knew what he was doing, and to get it to sound right
you gotta use the same filter curves. If those curves were readily and
exactly available in top-notch DSP (they're not) then that would have been
fine. That's not  "thinking too much as a scientist or engineer" that's
thinking as somebody who has never yet seen a case where a faulty or
diminished playback yields more aesthetically valid results compared to a
more accurate rendition of the recording's original intent. And Wilder
didn't play it on an Ampex 300. QED. He knows that the ATR is more neutral,
and more of the music will come through. 

We tried to get in with Battery on this one and missed, not sure why - and
pitched hard for it, on the premise that we might be able to pull slightly
more from the tape with our electronics than the 1975/Spitz ATR, as we have
done elsewhere.  And that the tape speed issues would automatically correct
themselves, that part is a no-brainer.  Mark expressed the reasonable
disinclination to play the tape again...  the producer OTOH actually states
that often he favors the lower-fi vibe of his recollection than going for
precision audio. I think he suspects that if it's too pristine it will be
less emotional. I don't see how that's the case, seems to me that whatever
takes the intervening noise and distortion out of the way of the performance
is to the good. Above my pay grade. He gets good results, and is
well-regarded and on this point we simply disagree a bit. 

But there's no way a slightly clearer tape reproduction would have thrown
anybody out of the record. And again, 90% is the mastering skill - obviously
having the best raw source is important. And a top-notch playback with speed
correction is not going to circumvent the art and tech burned into the tape,
it will simply convey it more exactly. And then Mark does his thing, and the
result is beauty. 

Another thing I think is commonly romanticized about the older equipment and
which is misguided is the notion that their guts are mystical, and that you
gotta have these because they sound "better" than anything contemporary,
which is nuts. The reason the vintage gear is popular (maybe too popular)
is because it's the stuff that has survived because it was good. API 550s
would not have worked on this record because the Q is sharper and the
frequency points are different, not because of the transistors. It's a
compatibility issue, in a sense. You simply could twist the API's knobs
until doomsday and not match the Pultecs. Neither is better than the other.
They're different, not so much because of how they achieve gain, or the
circuit topology - but because the knobs sound different when you twist
them. And unfortunately most of the recent digital stuff doesn't really
operate like the old stuff - because the old stuff was designed with a slide
rule based on what sounded good to the engineer, not the other way around. A
lot of the effects devices of that era were designed by ear, and the curves
were purpose-built for the studios and styles of the day - they worked. They
call it "work" for a reason. These were working guys, listening and twisting
knobs until it "worked". The Rupert Neve 80xx equalizers were broad as hell,
and had really useful carefully chosen frequency points (by real mixers) and
that's why they sounded good and have survived as classics, not because they
were using slow 3055's driving a transformer. 

In the case of this recording, where Teo and Laico made a great effort to be
as realistic as possible, and where some correction had to have done on the
original LPs  - because nothing matched the control room without more "work"
done on it - you gotta assume that they were the best judges at how to get
the control room sound onto the vinyl. And using a Pultec or LA-2A or
whatever doesn't do that because its tubes, or its vintage, it does that
because that's the tools they used, those are the filter curves they were
hearing. Recently I've been trying to figure out how to un-hype the elevated
top of a Bones Howe recording, wherein the tones are perfectly spot-on.
Notwithstanding the fact that I don't have the exact mastering gear he and
the mastering guy did, it's possible to mock up a system that is similar to
what they might have had in their homes when listening to the check-lacquers
that this EQ master is a derivation of.  And listening on a pair of AR 4xs
lent great insight into what they thought sounded right, because on those
speakers it sounded like it should - "by the tones" on an Plangent/ATR -
only  if the tweeter level was backed off a quarter turn. Which they
probably did to make sure they didn't release something too dull for AM
radio.  So there you go, Reverse engineering that transfer-function with a
DSP equalizer came very close to their original intent on modern equipment,
and when it got to be exactly what it took to un-ring the bell of the AR
speaker (considered as a "filter") suddenly the tape sounded right, all on
modern gear. A lot of cross-EQ but it wasn't done by going back to ancient
equipment So there's where the use of vintage equipment can lend insight
into original intent without being strapped with the obvious downside of
lower-fidelity gear. . And probably if I could mime the exact equalizers in
the mastering chain i'd do even better. And probably the easiest way to do
that would be with a Pultec likely to have been in the mastering chain on
the day it was cut - but not because it's tubes, but because that's probably
what was in the room in 1965 as Bones and the mastering guy corrected it for
release. 






On Nov 20, 2013, at 9:57 AM, Tom Fine wrote:

> Hi John:
> 
> The rationale was three-fold:
> 
> 1. play the tape as little as possible because it's not in good shape
> 
> 2. try to match the sound to what people are used to. This album has a
huge "sonic memory" out there with the buying public and critics. If the
reissue team didn't reference the original LPs for the mix and the general
sonic ambience, they'd get slammed by critics and careful-listening fans.
Those who don't "get" or accept this rationale are thinking too much as a
scientist or engineer and not enough as a music business person. One has to
understand the market, plain and simple. Deviating too far from what I call
a "sonic memory" is toxic to sales. I can cite numerous examples.
> 
> 3. given that Mark Wilder has a long track record of excellent remasters
that sell well, I tend to trust his judgement to mix outside the box. In my
own experiments with using, for instance Izotope's "mastering EQ" plug-in in
Sony Soundforge vs. going back out to analog and using my Great River
mastering equalizer, I always prefer the Great River. I do not believe that
DSP has gotten as good-sounding as the best analog gear for "sweetening"
something to an individual's taste. I'd trust the Great River or my trusty
Pultec equalizers anyday over any DSP I've heard. I would also trust Mark's
analog mixer over, for instance, the ubiquitous Protools mixing interface.
Again, this is not worth arguing if someone is a hardcore believer in doing
these things in the box. Tomato, tomahto. Wilder and Sony have a proven
track record of sales to back up their work methods.
> 
> I also think they cut new LPs out of the mixdown process. Like the LP
niche-renaissance or not, cutting an LP that will retail for $30 with a $10
profit for the issuer is a good business move for a popular title like this.
> 
> Regarding why the mono -- purely a marketing choice. There are many fans
out there, myself included, who prefer the mono version of this album and
are thrilled to have it in a high-resolution new version (I'm probably not
alone having worn out my original mono Columbia LP). Like the mono Beatles
albums, at least up to Sgt. Pepper -- and we can debate whether this is true
all the way through their last mono offering, the White Album -- with the
Miles Davis small-group albums of the late 50s and early 60s, the music
hangs together better in the mono mixes. I immediately notice that I hear
complete ensemble songs instead of compositions of well-played sounds coming
from three different directions. I feel the same way about the Blue Note
small-group records up to the mid-60s. Small-group jazz does lend itself to
close-in mic'ing in order to get all the details of playing. But, then
taking those close-mic'd signals and building them into a non-distracting
stereo image took some learning and practice. It still wasn't right in the
70s, when you'd have close-in wide-spread stereo mic'ing of the piano
(inside the lid, invariably) and drums, but have single-mic'd horns then
spread across the soundstage (think of Pablo small-group records made at A&R
or Group IV studios). It was unrealistic, like one's head was simultaneously
inside the piano, drum set and yet out in the room to hear the horns spread
across a plain. One can get used to it, but an excellent mono mix keeps just
the music and the ensemble front and center.
> 
> Given how terrible the original CD reissues of Sony's jazz library sounded
(including "Kind of Blue"), I am thrilled that lessons were learned and
budgets are being used to get us modern remasters that are faithful to the
"sonic memory" but also crisp and clear and dynamic as is expected in a
modern setting. To my ears, the "Kind of Blue" remasters keep the balance
and vitality of the original issues but remove several layers of fuzz and
gauze, so you get the same instrument tonality and mix approved by the
original team, but it's now like you're hearing it out of the original
signal chain instead of behind a layer of cutting-master tape smear and LP
fuzz. Oh, and this stereo version is speed-corrected, unlike the original
LP.
> 
> -- Tom Fine
> 
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "John Haley" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 9:30 AM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] The new "Kind of Blue" remasters explained
> 
> 
>> Of course they should have used the session tapes, not later mixdowns.
>> That's a given.   The part I don't get here is doing DA and AD conversion
>> just to use the analog mixer, if I understood that right.  The 
>> resulting
>> 192/24 signal has thus been unnecessarily converted twice already and 
>> subjected to a bunch of old analog electronics.  Also, I don't get 
>> the need for a mono version derived from the same tapes, and 
>> personally, instead of that I would much rather have had a 
>> three-track SACD version, which they have precluded, but that's me.
>> 
>> Best,
>> John Haley
>> 
>> 
>> 
>> On Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 6:44 AM, Tom Fine
<[log in to unmask]>wrote:
>> 
>>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_p7Qbb_LAo
>>> 
>>> Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" archival transfer made by Mark Wilder on 
>>> an ATR-100.
>>> 
>>> This text (below) copied from the Kind of Blue description at 
>>> HDTracks.com (HIGHLY recommend the new 192/24 downloads of BOTH 
>>> stereo and mono, they sound fantastic): The new mono mix is also in 
>>> the new Miles Davis Mono CD box set. As I understand the description 
>>> below and in other interviews with Wilder and Berkowitz, the 192/24 
>>> transfer from the 3-track was a straight, high-quality NAB playback. 
>>> Then all remixing and remastering was done by bringing the 3-track 
>>> high-resolution digital back out to analog, mixing and processing 
>>> using analog equipment, and then back to a 192/24 stereo (and
>>> mono) master.
>>> 
>>> -----------------------------------------------
>>> Kind of Blue Becomes Digital, by Engineer Mark Wilder
>>> 
>>> "Since the Kind of Blue mixed masters are multiple generations from 
>>> the original (due to excessive play/wear), we decided to go directly 
>>> to the original session reels. Not only does this put us at the 
>>> original session as a starting point, but it also allows us to deal 
>>> with the pitch issue as well.
>>> 
>>> The three, 3-track half-inch tapes are in good condition, but age 
>>> has force them to "scallop" a little, meaning that the edges curl 
>>> away from the tape head. This changed the initial focus from mixing 
>>> from the originals to archiving them before mixing and working from 
>>> the archive files. This allowed us to gently guide the tape against 
>>> the playback head to get optimal contact and fidelity.
>>> 
>>> The archiving was done at 192kHz/24 bits, played from a modified 
>>> Ampex ATR 104, and hard-wired to HDCD Model 2's directly patched to 
>>> a Lynx 2 sound card.
>>> 
>>> An upside to working from the archive files was the ability to chase 
>>> the original fader moves done during the mix in 1959. We constantly 
>>> compared to an early pressing - mono and stereo - and worked bar by 
>>> bar to duplicate the level moves on the three tracks to match as well as
possible.
>>> 
>>> Each channel was converted to analog and passed through a GML mixer, 
>>> bussed to stereo or mono - depending on the release format - and 
>>> converted once again to 192Kc/24 bits. At the GML, we inserted 
>>> processing where needed."
>>> 
>>> - Mark Wilder, Battery Studios
>>> 
>>> ----------------------------------------------------------
>>> 
>>> -- Tom Fine
>>> 
>> 

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