Years ago I purchased this Switched-on-Bach boxset. It wasn’t cheap but it is a great part of my CD collection.The box contains two books and 4 discs.
I am planning to scan the booklets and share them with you on this website, but it’s quite a job to do so, because of the small page format and condensed text parts. But if you like to read the text, I am happy to do so.
On the internet you can find quite some background info about this box, such as this interview by Carol Wright. But the full text of the booklet is not available as far as I know. Below the box-images I included the interview and some explanations by Wendy Carlos herself, both of which I found on Wendy Carlos website.
Wendy Carlos: something old, something new: The Definitive Switched-On
Interview by Carol Wright, From the November 1999 — New Age Voice. Please note that all (c) are with New Age Voice and the author.
Electronic composer and technological pioneer Wendy Carlos is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of her revolutionary Switched-On Bach (the best selling classical album of all time!) with the release of the Switched-On Boxed Set, a deluxe restoration of her four analog Bach albums: Switched-On Bach, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, Switched-On Bach II, and Switched-On Brandenburgs.
The albums, she explains, “have been remastered with 20-bit ‘Hi-D’ technology from the original session tapes, with no re-mixing of any kind. If you notice a few EQ differences, that’s because the distortion needed to squash the recording onto the limitations of an LP have been removed.” The set also includes intriguing enhanced CD sections and Carlos’ meticulously written 200+ page illustrated booklets that share stories about her Moog synthesizers and how she and producer Rachel Elkind recorded the music.
After the first album, and as synth technology improved, Carlos tackled the synthesis of more complex orchestral instruments and vocal sounds. Coincidentally, she created a Moog plus vocoder version of the choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony right as director Stanley Kubrick began work on Clockwork Orange (1971, East Side Digital). Carlos also contributed the chilling electronic score for Kubrick’s The Shining (1980); the futuristic music for Disney’s Tron; and the score for Woundings, a 1998 British anti-war movie.
Her solo albums include Sonic Seasonings/Land of the Midnight Sun, an electronic tone poem that is often cited on “essential New Age recordings” lists (newly mastered from East Side Digital); a spoof of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (1988, CBS); Switched-On Bach 2000 (1992, Telarc) using MIDI; Digital Moonscapes (1983, CBS), which used her digital recreation of a symphony; Beauty in the Beast (1987, Audion), which casts off the limits of the equal tempered scale; and the dark and brooding Tales of Heaven in Hell (1998, ESD).
Carlos continues to push the envelope of every technological advance, and she constantly investigates the compositional possibilities of alternate tunings. An important, albeit tedious, part of Carlos’ life was securing the rights to all her works back from CBS, Audion, and other labels, and restoring the master tapes. Eventually, these out-of-print albums will be available through East Side Digital.
Her website, www.wendycarlos.com is one of the most fascinating on the internet. A complete cyber tour of her album descriptions, technical notes, anecdotes (including remembrances of director Stanley Kubrick), eclipse photos, sketches, innovative globe projections, and kritter corner can take hours. So many interests. How does she do it all, and find brainspace for her legendary pun-a-thons?
“Before I die, I want to find out what lies beyond all these horizons,” she says. “And I’m doing it for the best reason in the world: I’m curious.”
NAV: Congratulations on putting the set to bed.
WENDY: It’s done! This was such a big project for one that is not wholly new material. I’m pleased it came out so well.
NAV: I’m old enough to remember Pre-Switched. Electronic music was like some obnoxious mating of a catfight and a garbage compactor. Or electronic music meant the eerie Theremin, the wooo-oooo-woo sound they used on cheesy invader-from-Mars movies. Do you have a sense that you took electronic music to where it could be accepted?
WENDY: That’s what people tell me. I was lucky enough to be at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, where Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening were teaching. I thought what ought to be done was obvious, to use the new technology for appealing music you could really listen to. Why wasn’t it being used for anything but the academy approved “ugly” music? You know, the more avant-garde than thou-ers, atonal, or formally tedious serial, twelve-tone straitjacket. My beloved field was decimated, turned into something quite hateful. It’s like we had to start all over again. C-major, C-major, C-major! Let’s move on to D-major, already.
Anyway, it’s nice to have demonstrated — which was all it was — that the medium was far more flexible and capable than one might have been aware. That’s all Switched-On Bach was meant to be.
NAV: I was there with the rest in saying, “this electronic music gives me a headache.” But the mainstream was also numb to the classics, so you brought them an appreciation of Bach as well.
WENDY: I was certainly not about any revival of Bach. It was just lovely music, eminently suited for this stage of the development of Bob Moog’s new synthesizer.
NAV: A perfect match then?
WENDY: Now, we’d say so. But then, people laughed at us, saying that interest would soon peter out. Then they came back and said, “Ah, we got it! We always knew you could do it!”
Oh, oh! The gray cat’s dry heaving a hairball. Just a minute. Subi’s okay, but he’s eighteen years old, so I have to watch him.
NAV: By the way, great job on your website. I’ve spent hours there and have just scratched the surface. It took an hour just to read about your fuzzy critters.
WENDY: I love animals — I have three Siamese cats and a terrier — and would love to have a horsey, but it wouldn’t be happy in Manhattan.
NAV: Many modern composers starting creating post-MIDI. They were given their sounds on a silver platter. I’m not sure they all really appreciate where…
WENDY: None of us really know what giants’ shoulders we stand on. Should we have a responsibility to know what and who came before us? It’s not necessary to play or compose music, but then, I look back to Bob Moog and the others who came before me, and I’m grateful. I was lucky enough to be there when electronic music was still an infant, and I was there to help it take some of the steps needed to mature into a real medium.
There were so many stages necessary for the creation of electronic music: the Ondes Martinot and the Theremin — many devices, actually, from over a hundred years ago. The original synthesizer was built by RCA, and the second of only two models was located at the Columbia lab. That’s where Bob Moog got the name for his device. He combined many different modules in one cabinet, and this collection of tools is what Bob called the synthesizer.
NAV: Could you give an idea of what it took back then to create just one measure of Bach’s music? No, to create a chord. No, a note. I guess you’d have to start with whether it was a violin sound or a harpsichord. Where did you start?
WENDY: With Bach. It’s easy if you’re doing someone else’s music, so I went and bought a score. What a concept! And Bach composed his great works during a period that had just begun to be aware of the orchestral instruments, so the music wasn’t tied closely to the orchestration. I wouldn’t have wanted to go tampering with Mozart or Haydn. But Bach was a two-edged sword. I didn’t have to work out any notes. BUT, for me as a composer, it was almost a disaster. I got identified with Bach like Nimoy was with Star-Trek’s Spock!
Hardware-wise, we had to use multi-tracking recorded on one eight-track machine, fairly racy hardware for its day. And since I didn’t have much money, I built my own unit.
Then I got the Moog and worked with Bob to make a prototype of a touch-sensitive keyboard. Can you believe, the standard keyboard was not touch-sensitive until the late 1970s!? So, now I had a keyboard that could make the notes come alive. So I worked with some friends trying jazz. We tried rock n’ roll. And I tried my own compositions, which were not the ugly forms you referred to earlier. However, the music that seemed most likely to turn into a record was Bach. So Rachel Elkind, my producer, and I started with the two-part “Invention in F.”
NAV: How did you make the individual sounds?
WENDY: There wasn’t much to making the sounds itself. I studied physics and music and knew a lot about the basics of timbre and acoustics. The Moog wasn’t all that elaborate. There were a couple of oscillators, and you adjusted them to track the octaves. You would pick a wave shape from the four available: sine, triangle, pulse wave, and sawtooth. There was a white noise source, and a filter to reduce the high end of the wave, to make it sound more mellow, to add resonance, or take out the bottom. Then there were envelopers that came from Ussachevsky’s ideas: attack time, decay, sustain, and release. Set the thing to ramp up at some rate: slow for an organ or fast for a plucked string. Make it decay immediately for a harpsichord, or sustain for a piano. Have the final release time based on the need, short and dry, or longer for the vibrating body of a cello or drum. Easy.
NAV: Right. Piece-a-cake.
WENDY: It’s not all schematic diagrams and such. You could hear the adjustments. You’d dial up something, listen to it, and keep hitting the note over and over, letting your inner ear guide you while adjusting with the dials. So we would work up a sound and then record it. You try this, try that.
NAV: So, you fiddled with dials until you got a violin. (Hey, I made a pun!) How different from today’s MIDI samples. You want a Strad? or a Guarnari?
WENDY: Well, canned sound to a musician is like clip art is to the artist. The only way you can do anything of any value in art is by knowing how to do it yourself. Of course that’s not the mentality right now. My opinion is very unpopular, and many people consider me an elitist. Is it so bad to keep standards up? We expect an Olympic athlete to be disciplined, to eat right, to work out daily, and to have a great coach so they can be as good as they can be. So why not have standards for artists?
With the modern keyboards, there’s a democratization of music, just as in the past, every kid had to take piano lessons. This is wonderful in a way, but how many went on to play as a soloist? In the case of composers, have the technological advances increased the output of masterpieces? I don’t think so. I don’t claim to write masterpieces, but I don’t stop until it’s the best I can do.
The musicians working in the medium now have these advanced tools, but they should not be stuck using only MIDI and prerecorded sounds. If they want to learn how the medium ticks, they should open the hood, get inside, and get dirty. And they’ll be grateful for every learning, for every discovery. It’s wonderful, but damn, you have to have the motivation. And the curiosity!
NAV: So, you did create your own trumpet, organ, and violin . . . and then . . .
WENDY: Tempo. Rachel helped me nail the tempo by putting down a click track. If, when I put the notes down against it, it sounded too fast — too bad! — I did it over again. Then we’d want a ritardando. Who thinks of a ritard when you’re making a click track? So we would adjust for that. And that keyboard? Amazingly clunky with all those touch-sensing mechanical gadgets in it. I had to clatter away slower than actual speed; you could never play faster than moderato. Sixteenth notes at a good clip? Forget it!
In the end, it was a lot of bookkeeping, and not as intuitive as a modern keyboard. I wish I had Digital Performer back then. But, nope. Wonder if I could work with it again? Maybe it’s like a bicycle and you don’t forget.
NAV: But, using today’s technology, the Bach wouldn’t have been as special.
WENDY: I suppose you’re right. If you’re a pioneer, you get to have the arrows in the ass, I guess.
NAV: How much could you record in one take?
WENDY: If the tonal quality didn’t change much over the phrase, you could get down a measure or two. The Moog was very unstable and would go out of tune constantly. You would play a phrase, back up, and check. Retune and continue. To create a chord, you’d play the second line, then the third. With counter point, you’d play the melodies that wove together. Eventually, we got all the parts to make the piece.
NAV: Hearing Switched-On-Bach probably moved me as much as watching those very first television images of the moon landing. Hearing the didgeridoo for the first time also had a mindbending impact on me. Where are the new frontiers of sound?
WENDY: So, Carol, how many other moon landings, didgeridoos, or peak experiences does it take for you to be equally impressed? What about all the best life experiences in between? We always remember our first exposures, I guess that’s only human. And it’s easier to be impressed when we’re young.
The field of electronic music is still able to move, but with less noticeable refinements. But there is plenty of room for improvements: We still don’t have a general-purpose instrument. The closest I have is the Synergy and the GDS, on which I made Beauty in the Beast, and the Kurzweill K2000/2500, which is flexible and very clean sounding.
But I’m so impatient. As an insider, I feel like the developers have been smoking far too many joints. “Oh, wow, man. Look at that. There’s a universe of sounds in there!” No, there is not! Wake up! Let’s get going, already. At some point in your life, you fatigue out and realize it just may not happen. They aren’t moving, and I can’t make it happen all by myself. However, making music is not dependent on that, so I keep composing.
NAV: Do you think the re-release of this set will box you back to Bach? or will it give you fresh platform as a composer?
WENDY: I’m aware that the knife will be there with both edges. I am a composer, so I hope that the focus of this interview is not “Wendy Carlos, the performer of Bach on the synthesizer.” This was my payment of dues (which unfortunately never stopped) to show that I had an ability with the new media to make real music. I thought I then would be allowed to perform and record my own music, but I got locked in with Bach. People hate to see any of us, once stereotyped into one egg-compartment, overflow into several other compartments. I guess you get only one cell per customer.
You were asking about new sounds; you probably haven’t heard Tales of Heaven and Hell. (Note: Carol has since listened and written a thoughtful, enthusiastic review., and offered an example of a new art-form, with her jocular Poem-Review.) It’s the scariest recording that’s been created in a long time, and I’ll bet it’s quite different than anything you’ve ever heard. Are they “breakthrough sounds”? No. But they are different and they have refinements and they are very musically handled.
Why do we always search for something we’ve never heard before? If your pursuit is not to be as good as you can be, but an obsession to be new, then you’ve thrown away your art. Art has to be stable to some extent. The medium has matured and is capable of great depth and expression, more than the SOB technology could ever hope to be. Now that the technology has matured, people should try to make the great music, the meaty music, and not cave in to every commercial cliché.
But that’s just me talking. For those who just consider music as just a career, this is probably bad advice. Forget I said it. But if you’re doing it as an artist, then by all means, aim for the good.
NAV: Think you’ll ever run out of ideas?
WENDY: Hardly. The whole palette of life is wonderful. I used to worry about running out of ideas, and now I worry I can touch only a tiny fraction of what I want to do. In music, alternative tunings are an option. It’s like throwing away the straight jacket of the twelve-tone, equal tempered scale. But people can get stuck simply discovering the new scales, and then write no good music for it.
Now as I get older, I can look back. I realize that I was a young whippersnapper to think that I could be a performer when I hadn’t paid the dues. It’s embarrassing that my Bach records are placed alongside Glenn Gould and Horowitz. I don’t think that I’m a particularly great performer even of my own music, but with the Digital Performer, I am able to refine things in a sensitive way, keep the spirit that I first had and still make it polished. I am quite satisfied with “Tales of Heaven and Hell;” it’s probably the best performing I’ve done on an album. Every note and sound is “just so.”
When listening to all the Bach pieces again, I was aware of the fluffs, wrong tempos, and the passages the Moog just couldn’t quite negotiate. But I was surprised that most of them have such spirit. I marvel that I had such tenacity back then; the way we worked was so tedious, it should have removed all traces of spontaneity.
So, I’m perfectly happy to set my Bach beside my most recent works. Altogether, it’s part of the fulcrum of how an artist’s whole life should be seen. It’s a little surreal seeing your own life as having periods — early, middle, and late — but there was an innocence back then. It really was, as you mentioned, the stuff of the first moon landing, of leaving those first footprints in the dust.
Taming the beast – SOB boxed set – on editing and mastering the recordings.
This explanation is written by Wendy Carlos and can be found on her website. Please note that all (c) including those of the pictures are with Wendy Carlos.
Thanks to some of the sharper-eared among you, ESD and this website have gotten queries in regard to the many restorations and changes that were made to bring the original masters of this set up to date for 20-bit audio. We’re grateful for your interest. Below we cover every aspect of cleaning and polishing that went on, in more detail than the average music lover would care about. Of course many of you ARE more discerning than average, and we hope this new page will cover any questions you might have. It may even be an enjoyable challenge to try to pick out the changes and repairs before you read all about them here. Once you’ve learned the behind-the-scenes details, though, I hope you can then just sit back and enjoy the music!
Not many of you will be that interested in the litany that follows. Also, there will be some of you who probably will be happier not knowing about the touchups described below (the power of suggestion and expectation can work against you, hence the need for “double-blind testing”.) But those with very sharp ears may specifically pick up on several changes that were made during the remastering process for our boxed set (beyond noticing how good it sounds). These addressed both audio and musical problems that had existed on all earlier versions of the original albums. IMHO, these are all notable improvements and repairs I’ve hoped to make for years.
You will note that in no case were any but the original master mixes used, the very first generation tapes when the balances and positions and reverb/ambiance were “locked-down” for good. (Next we had to make compromise versions, copies adjusted carefully to facilitate cutting reasonable LP’s and prerecorded tapes. Those compromise tape copies, with limiting, compression, midrange-boosts and hi/low rolloffs, are what all other CBS/Sony CD releases have originated from up until this new deluxe edition.) For the Switched-On Boxed Set and the single album editions (S-OB, W-TS, S-OBII, S-OBrandys) no “sweetening” or substitute additional notes or parts were used anywhere (as Frank Zappa did some years ago, consternating many fans and collectors). Nothing was manipulated which could be considered as substitution of original materials. That was the ground-plan: improve, assist, clean & optimize, but don’t alter the critical essence.
Please allow a me a personal thought about all of what you’ll read below. Yes, I know that one can draw a line arbitrarily in many locations between leaving a master tape exactly as it is, every wart and zit more obvious with Hi-D sound than ever before, to doing extensive reconstruction, until very little of the original shape remains, so much cosmetic surgery has been performed. So there may be some of you who would have drawn the line slightly differently than I did here. For the most thoughtful of you, I can only offer my comments here, as honest and forthright as I know how. I hope you will be pleased at the effort made to produce as fine a version of the Switched-On Collection as has ever existed.
For those of you for whom music is an eidetic memory association experience, and once memorized, not one jot or molecule can be altered at all, I suspect only an original LP will satisfy. Make it the particular LP that had each surface blemish irradiated into your mind, such that to remove the smallest tick would be to destroy a cherished, nostalgic experience. It’s not easy to have such acute ears. I do sympathize: this mastering is slightly “different” (that was the whole point, of course). The CD is a more critical medium, and audio systems have advanced in many ways over what existed when these albums first came out. I don’t think the changing times CAN be ignored, nor ought be.
Anyway, I have given this my best effort over many months of extremely cautious work and auditioning, living with it. No snap decisions were allowed, unless they stood up weeks later. Apologies if you don’t agree. This is all much, much closer to what we originally intended back then, but had to be satisfied with less. Ultimately, I can only paraphrase the outraged playwright (Kenneth Mars) joke in Mel Brooks’s witty first film, “The Producers”: I’m the artist –I outrank you! This new remastering has me feeling gleeful and happy, and I hope you’ll feel that way, too!
On Pitch Errors
But ever since those first LP’s and prerecorded tapes were put out, I’ve had a few involuntary winces upon hearing several small problems that had been let go, or were impossible to render better back when the recordings were made. As one obvious example, the incredibly difficult task of trying to assure all of the first Moog Synth parts were in tune, absolutely and with each other, was far from perfect, and some of those errors have persisted until now. The original Ampex 8-track recorder was actually a modified 1/2″ machine, made to operate with 1″, using new guides, tape head stack, and rollers. It had difficulty maintaining a constant 15 ips comparing the start of a reel to the end. If you left the tape sections pretty much where they were originally recorded this wasn’t important. But if you took a section recorded near the start of a reel, and made an excellent splice to another section recorded near the end of another reel (an extreme case), you could be assured of some slight pitch change, apart from the synthesizer’s instability.
There are perhaps 30 places where I noticed while remastering that the pitch of a note or two, or some complete sections, were slightly out of tune. That was obviously not our intention, but we did the best we could with the limited tools we had. For the new boxed set I continued to trim and adjust by a few tens of cents of tuning the remaining more obvious spots which had been abandoned. Now you may note that the pitches within individual tracks are nicely consistent most of the time. The worst offender, a major blunder in truth, was on W-TS, the initial track: Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” Suite. Some of the adjacent sections here were more than a quarter-tone off-speed all these years — yikes! Very embarrassing, but next to impossible to fix with an old varispeed analog tape equipment, which can generate wow and additional random mistunings.
To repair the all-too-audible pitch errors of our Orfeo minisuite took two days. None of the other repairs of pitch were nearly so cussed nor extensive, just a few notes here and there, and by but a few cents. I seem to be very sensitive to these pitch things, with my experiences with alternative tunings, so if none of this bothered you before, forget I even brought it up now!
On Hiss Reduction
A more general kind of repair-work was the minimizing of tape hiss, hum, and other low level distractions. Unsurprisingly the noisiest masters were from the first album, when we worked just before buying our first Dolby A301 noise reduction units. Everything recorded after the masters for S-OB used Dolby-A, with a great improvement in sound. I have heard many albums that have been remastered with such aggressive hiss removal that all semblance to the original tapes has been lost. It’s easy to get carried away here. Since we can’t practically remove all the hiss, what should be the goal is to tame what remains, to make it less noticeable, and preserve as much of the original master as possible.
I used one of the most flexible audio tools for such a task, Arboretum’s Ionizer. This is a tricky, yet powerful program that if used intelligently allows you to tread very close to the optimum tweaks for every bit of sound on the original masters, while dropping the most objectionable hiss by a few dB. I didn’t use it as an automatic “blanket” device, but selected individual phrases and regions that were fairly consistent, then adjusted to obtain modest improvements, and saved several versions. I compared each such section over many days, coming at each audition freshly, and choosing what now seemed the most reasonable version of those best attempts, occasionally taking an additional pass.
So what you will hear is that some tracks have essentially no audible hiss left. Cool. Others retain a bit of hiss, but it’s much less than ever before. If you tried to remove much more, the music would suffer. I assume most of you would prefer not to go that far (yes?). Finally, I hand-reduced a great many very brief snippets, quiet pauses, the reverberating tail-off of a piece, a moment when hiss increased just before a new sound entered, since I must have raised some (rotary) faders. Now less than a second of this type of lead-in has the hiss dropped a bit more than what comes before or after that entrance, kinda subtle stuff.
There was very little hiss on most of the later masters, with the exception of the “Air” from Handel’s “Water Music” on W-TS. That piece mixed together too many low-signal additional tracks which contained some EQ boost, and has had a noisy background as a result. It took several days to “nail” that track’s hiss by an optimal amount. The “Air on a G-String” from S-OB was even worse, but came out surprisingly well. Those were the most difficult to denoise complete tracks on the set.
A special consideration was given to the opening minute of our 3rd Brandenburg performance. This initial movement is demonstrated on the final track of CD #I, in which musicological concerns expressed by Folkman (Bach would seldom double melodic lines 8va and 15 ma, for ex.) led to the opening being synthesized with no pitches above a standard 8′ (damn!). That means we included no subtle additive overtones as analog synth timbres often require, and the opening is muddier and murkier than I desired. If it weren’t for our remastering policy (as stated above): not to add or replace any original material, more could have been done. This policy also is why the ending notes of the Invention in F, described below, remain slightly compromised. I was sorely tempted to “sneak in” a few 4′ and 2′ doublings during the remastering of that first page, but knew this opened the door of a Pandora’s Box (bad enough to have a ridiculously bright Siamese cat named Pandora! ;^).
Instead all I did for now was to add a slight aural exciter effect, with some very carefully considered high frequency boost of the affected portion. This lightened the passages somewhat, but brought up additional hiss as well. So a tradeoff was made, reducing the added hiss a bit, brightening the remainder slightly more, until diminishing returns set in. It isn’t perfect, but the opening of this movement now is the best it’s ever sounded. After page one, I insisted we clearly needed some of those higher octave overtones, if only like soft organ stops and mixtures, and Ben finally relented. So everything gradually becomes brighter, and no more cautious enhancement was needed beyond a gentle hiss-reduction, a few mini off-pitch fixes, and restoration of the original master tape’s “buried treasures.”
On Hum & Thumps
When listening at loud monitor levels I discovered a few hums and low-thumps, too. These were simply inaudible on the small monitors I used while recording those masters that had them. Oops! So the same kind of care used to reduce hiss where it was found also went into these spots that contained hum. Some 60/120 Hz leakage on one of the tracks of the old Ampex machine occasionally became audible throughout W-TS. It was not a happy surprise to discover this after we’d gotten the big new Klipsh monitor system installed in the brownstone studio, and were playing that master which had sounded decent in the first studio.
Since these hums were intermittent, no single setting of hum rolloff back then would have been reasonable, without harming all of a track. I was generally loathe to do any such changes anyway, as they automatically accrued a generation loss going to a “new” master tape. It’s wonderful at last to have been able to locate these, the ones that were most noticeable, and slightly nudge them down a bit, until you really won’t hear them anymore. Once again, I made several varieties of these cleanups, and auditioned them again over several days, before choosing the best one to use.
On Teensy Ticks/Pops
With our new monitor system we also became aware that the first two albums had some peculiar tiny ticks and pops within the music in many places. These were not so noticeable at that time. But for this project, once those tapes were mastered to 20-bit “Hi-D” sound, I became all too aware that on an ultra decent CD master the formerly “insignificant” ticks were not easy to ignore. They began to drive me nuts! Where were they coming from? Hard to track down…
It turned out that they were on individual tracks of the multitrack tapes, and could be heard just as slower attack patches began, at the exact point when the Moog keys were depressed, in fact. A hard-attack sound hid them. It was only in certain patches that these audible bugs were generated along with the notes. I’d just not noticed them on the first two albums with the modest speakers I was using (this is a lesson to all of you who master your own music: be sure your monitors are faithful and of decent quality!)
Okay, small ticks existed at the start of certain Moog patches, mostly the softer, slower pieces on the first two albums, W-TS especially. Hundreds of them. What to do? I really don’t trust any automatic program for taking out more than really obvious pops and clicks, such as transferring of old LP’s and film soundtracks to digital. These things were very subtle. To remove them would risk removing some music as well.
Time for the old Pencil Tool… Ouch! Yup, this tedious method is what I did, for three weeks, going carefully over each track for the set, and whenever I found some of these rascals, I’d go through probing the waveform, trying to center the teensy intruder on screen, which is hard to do. In most cases once you’d enlarged it enough, you could see the distinctive “twidget” right there on screen. Yeay! Fire! Usually you saw a few minuscule spikes, like a little damped wavelet that was barely there, but too easily heard. Then you’d have to draw it out, or pop an extremely brief low-pass filter on the millisecond affected, to kill it. Check playback before and after a few times. If not undetectable, try it again. You’d get to be pretty expert after the second or third 12-14 hour day of this… :^)
There were a few I just couldn’t remove completely. I reduced what I could, and just went on, as what now remained was very hard to hear, unless you know exactly where to find it. These are all extremely small fixes, but in some passages where it sounded like birdseed being dropped onto a tin plate (hey, I’m exaggerating!), all is now smooth and lovely, and in retrospect the tedium was well worth it (no, honestly).
On Individual Note Glitches
During the recording of S-OB, I often worked with Ben (Folkman) there, at all hours of night and day, frequently overtired and frustrated with equipment nightmares long past. I must confess to being fairly influenced by a collaborator (with Rachel we were BOTH obsessive, thus “no note was permitted to survive until it was near-perfect!”). Ben was far more pragmatic than us, so my obsessing over every detail must have driven him nuts. He often would say after a reasonable take: “that’s just fine, let’s move on”. Most of the time he certainly was right. But there are several places where I was not satisfied then, nor later when I heard the LP release, nor when listening to the album years later. I should have fought for another take or two to get it in fact “correct”, not merely close enough. But I deferred (and probably carried a bit of a grudge all these years, to remember and bring up such petty issues here and above, on the opening of Brandy #3).
There are two passages especially clumsy, both in the Violin I part of the Brandy #3 third movement, where the 32nd note passages occur. The final uppermost note of both of these passages is “fluffed” on the master, barely played, as it was exceedingly difficult to do with that old clunker of a keyboard. Grr…’s for years. Now I wondered if on the digital audio workstation (DAW) it might be reasonable to try to repair these fluffs at long last.
Indeed, it was! You’ll barely notice, assuming you ever did before, those mis-keyed two notes. I could boost them in level and tricky EQ peakings that made you think you were hearing those exceedingly short notes played as they ought have been played. I didn’t believe at first that I could get away with such a simple, if time-consuming trick, and saved a few versions plus the original once again, to listen to the next day or two. The best of these is nearly undetectable, and no longer do I wince when hearing them. In fact I have difficulty finding them now, which implies they’re pretty decent. Big sigh of relief! Boldened, I touched up a few similar spots on a few other isolated notes that were not so badly played, but could use a similar fix, too. In an age that permits punch-ins and edits and copies and looping, this kind of careful blemish repair seems to me to be called for and a wonderful gift.
While these individual note touch ups above were done to repair performance fluffs, I also discovered that the modest monitor speakers I had been using were inadequate to judge the levels of very low bass parts. With my Velodyne subwoofers (amazing, amazing speakers!) I’ve found a lot of recent orchestral recordings contain stage or traffic sounds, thumps and rumbles and the like (c’mon, people, get some decent speakers!). It was also obvious that several notes on the first two albums for this set, had inconsistent levels. Some were much too loud in context and muddy, others were not as deep and resonant as I had thought they were.
It was quite easy to go in and touch up the lowest octave a very little on the offensive notes, to fix that which I’d have caught originally if I’d had excellent monitors as I do now (you don’t find them on the third and fourth albums, for example). Also, once all the tracks were collected together for the whole set, I became aware that some pieces were either overall too bassy, or not bassy enough, similar with the overall loudness, to match with all the other tracks. This was a good chance to bring all the tracks into better alignment with one another, so you can now jump from selection to selection and not feel an urgent need to touch your volume or tone controls.
On Tempo Glitches
The majority of cleanups made on the boxed set were for audio reasons, as you’ve read. But there were also a few minor places where I had to touch up a raw-sounding tempo shift that had been intended properly, but came out faulty. As you must know, tempo is tied to the pitch (and timbre) of most recordings. Change the speed and you slow down but also become flatter, and vice-versa. I recall that we had been forced to allow to stand several notes, generally in a ritard or allargando, that were unintentionally a little uneven and inelegant. The only choice, to do the whole thing over, was something you did only if the problem was very noticeable. We had to do that nightmare often enough, but got better at preplanning our special click tracks, with experience.
Even so, there still exist those mildly clumsy tempo spots. I had repaired one of the worst already last year: the trailing off end for the speeded-up “William Tell Overture” on Clockwork Orange betrayed a clumsy several notes. I just went in on remastering and spaced them as the intention had been, a matter of a few milliseconds of shifting here and there. Much better now, and honestly what we intended in the first place, but were thwarted by the earlier technology. Some of the same thing exists on the Bach/Baroque selections, perhaps six spots over this complete set. It was not too hard to repair these, as none of them was more than a few percent of change. Only an obsessive compulsive like me would notice or care enough to dive in to such microsurgery these many years later, what the heck. I can only say I’m relieved and much happier than I’ve ever before felt about these selections, no kidding!
There is but one such repair that I expect any of you might notice (congrats if you did, it’s a brief change). That piece ought not to have been allowed on the final tape for S-OB in the first place. We did it for sentimental reasons, as this was the very first Bach piece we’d attempted, but also because it was fun. I refer to the “Two-Part Invention in F”. This was truly a “baby piece”, using a non touch-sensitive keyboard (the only such on the set) played in mono, sound on sound (pre-multitrack) with no click track, rechanneled into stereo after the fact. Yet it was fun, and short enough not to outstay its welcome.
But we had difficulty trying to get the ritard right at the end (not to say last chord, which I had to cheat), and grudgingly settled for the version you know. That ending happens to be momentarily kind of embarrassing for us, even if one may get used to the clumsiness (just play it over and over… ;^). If I could have, I’d have inserted one of our more graceful and natural sounding ritards. Even now there’s but so much you can do (oh, no, another compromise!). It still seemed worth a try. I spent many hours on those last two or three notes, trying to stretch, space and underline them with a bit of brief EQ so that it felt more human and less like the mistake it actually was (including an early tape edit “repair” that didn’t help one whit).
The new master acquired a small amount of reverb-repetition on the next-to-last note for just under a millisecond, which I hand-smoothed as much as possible. I tried a few variations, and again came back to listen and compare with the original over a week, to pick the best. The original goof was something we certainly knew about, and flinched about, and talked about, after fussing about to no avail. For the first time it is now very nearly what we’d tried to do on our modest experiment, before Switched-On anything had been invented.
On the Ending Tails
I was surprised that many of the final tracks that we’d done for the Brandenburg set had one notable weakness: the fade-away of reverb at the endings sounded a little abrupt, and clipped. It had become necessary during the middle 70’s to use some single ended noise reducing equipment at times, as we had begun to experience some RF noises and buzzes out of the blue. Drove us crackers! We discovered that the house next door had installed high-wattage lights on solid-state dimmers, and these would transmit a horrid hash of RF frequencies into our equipment! At night, when they would go to bed, the ugly noises ceased.
But we often had to work continuously, and would pick up some noises here and there, if the music had silences or fade-aways in certain places. Later we got an electronics wizard (Chuck Harrison) to come help us reduce the equipment’s vulnerability to detect such noise signals, and this helped enormously. (Better still, my current studio’s a “Faraday Cage”, and is immune to all such problems!) But we often heard some noise at the very end of the reverberating tail-offs of selections that ended very loudly, then slowly faded away into silence. We were forced to edge the tail down somewhat faster than we’d have liked, using the master fader. At the time it seemed reasonable. But on the 20-bit masterings, you could hear that the last bit of tail had been truncated slightly.
For the new set, I’ve restored these long tails with the same equipment that produced them originally. Only the last note is affected in each case, as it decays and fades away. It’s not a crucial series of repairs, but certainly on the newest wide-dynamic range equipment, it’s a graceful way to restore what had been intended, but had to be compromised for technical and practical reasons.