Tuesday, 9 May 2017

GILES MARTIN’s “SGT. PEPPER´S...” 50th ANNIVERSARY REMIX STRATEGY

As the 50th anniversary approached of the 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Apple Corps and its president Jeff Jones set about deciding how best to mark the occasion.
Giles Martin pointed out during his recent presentation at The McIntosh Townhouse, the four Beatles had not only been present for the mono mix, but were actively “hands on”. 
 

 
Even though stereo had been available on vinyl for almost a decade, The Beatles had grown up with mono and felt that most of their fans would be listening that way too, both at home and on the radio. Stereo was for older folks. Once the mono mix had been completed the four couldn’t care less about the stereo mix and left it for others to accomplish.
The differences between the mono and original stereo mixes go well beyond track levels. Both Lennon and McCartney wanted some of their vocals to sound different than what was on the tape and in at least one case there was a speed change.
So, much of what we hear on the stereo mix of the album resulted from decisions made by others and had nothing to do with the intent of the musicians or the producer.
But more significantly, much of the stereo presentation resulted from compromises created by technical limitations, including “off-center” vocal placement. So the original stereo version of the album was both technologically and artistically compromised. And since the mono mix was both “the document of record” and had been re-issued cut directly from the original mono master tape, a stereo AAA reissue would simply repeat the past mistakes.
 
 

Abbey Road had four track tape recorders when the album was produced. George Martin would fill up tracks on one four track recorder and then mix the results to a single track of a second recorder and work from there.
Fortunately EMI saved the unmixed multi-track tapes, which is how Giles Martin was able to create the mixes and mash-ups used for the Cirque du Soleil soundtrack and Love album. He knew the tapes well.
So, after careful analysis of the original mono mix, Martin set about creating what he imagined The Beatles might have wanted a stereo mix to sound like. The vocals would be centered, background vocals could be split left/right and all of the Beatles’ mono mix requests could could now be incorporated into the stereo mix.
 

 
Instead of losing sound quality in the mixdowns, the original elements could be used once, of course, all had been digitized at high resolution.
Martin made use of all of the vintage gear originally used for the signature sonic manipulations and where appropriate, used tube-based compression (which is not the same thing as “smashing” the final mix!).
There would be no need in 2017 for overall dynamic compression or bass attenuation, on either the digital or vinyl version and based upon hearing the album at The McIntosh Town House, the dynamics are full bore and the bass is muscular and not at all polite. Ringo’s drums sound explosively “right there”.
On one level Mr. Martin had to make decisions and choices that were his own and not those of The Beatles’ but all of this is infused in his DNA and based upon a single listening so far, it’s safe to say this stereo version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is closer to what The Beatles intended than was the original.

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