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Two Heads Are Better Than One

 

DURING that whole period - before and even after the Beatles arrived - the record producer was basically an organiser. Of course, he could make decisions about what should be on a record, and he could advise artists on how best to put over their performances. But it was the advent of stereo recording which first truly made him what he has become today - a creative person in his own right. It allowed him to stamp his own unique impression on the recording. To understand just how great that impact was, it is useful to hark back to the scene which met my eyes when I first entered Abbey Road studios in the autumn of 1950: a scene which typified the state of the recording industry then.

 

The control room was not large, by any standards. Its decor did a poor job of concealing its factory origins -walls painted with green and cream gloss, and a thin rug on the linoleum floor which probably did more for the acoustics than it achieved in cushioning the feet. On the left, as one entered, stood a bulbous green monster of a metal cabinet, with a glass-topped lid through which one could see spools spinning. This was the BTR 1, the first production studio tape recorder that EMI had brought out. The studio staff regarded it with a great deal of skepticism. In the opposite corner, dominating the room, stood the recording lathe. It was an impressive piece of machinery, surmounted by a turntable and cutter, which gleamed in the light of a naked bulb hanging above it.

 

Between these two great machines was the control panel, if one could dignify it with that name. It resembled the dashboard of a vintage car. It had four large, black rotary knobs which controlled the volume coming in from the microphones in the studio, and numerous toggle switches. Above this panel was a tiny window, about two feet square; this connected with the studio by means of two small doors, which the engineer could open in order to speak to the musicians or singers. There was a desk on which the recording information book sat. And finally there was a glass-fronted cabinet, about the size of a wardrobe, within which thermostatically controlled lamps would glow from time to time, revealing racks lined with translucent amber discs. These were the blank waxes, kept at a constant temperature of 100° F, ready for cutting.

 

Standing by the lathe, as I first beheld this scene, were two men, both engrossed in the appearance of a wax disc on the lathe. The shorter of the two, clad in a white overall, was using a small, high-powered magnifying glass to exam­ine the lines on the disc. The second, tall, and wearing a severe dark suit which accentuated his upright bearing, stood waiting for the engineer’s verdict. Then he picked up the disc from the turntable, holding it at an angle so that the light showed up the pattern of the groove. ‘Mm,’ he murmured, ‘looks a bit tricky there. What do you think, Charles? Will it hold?’

 

Charlie Anderson pursed his lips and sailed. ‘Well, we’ve had louder ones than that before now..! think it’s a good one, apart from that heavy spot just there. Look.’ He pointed at a mark on the disc caused by a loud sound during the recording.



 

‘All right, Charles,’ said Oscar Preuss, ‘let’s mark it as a master. But we’ll do one more take, just in case it goes down at the factory.’

 

The routine of another recording take began again. Charlie Anderson, the engineer, began winding a large crank, and a heavy weight rose slowly to the ceiling. As he did so, Oscar walked through to tell the musicians that he wanted another performance, murmuring a few words of encouragement to them. In the control room a fresh warm wax disc was taken from the cabinet and placed on the turntable, and the engineer checked his settings. Then he shut his little window, released a brake, and spun the turntable.

 

Slowly the weight began to fall. A buzzer was pressed to warn the musicians to get ready; then, as the needle was lowered on to the wax and a suction device began to devour the off-cuts as it bit into the surface, the buzzer was sounded a second time to tell the players that recording was imminent. Finally, a second or two later, the engineer turned a knob which tracked the needle into the right position to start its journey towards the centre of the wax; in the studio a red light was switched on, at which the musicians began to play. And play they had to, starting immediately on cue, for otherwise the piece, which would have been scored to fit exactly the playing time of the record, would overrun.

 

There could be no editing. There was tape, but it was still mistrusted. The dubs from tape were never considered to be as good as those from the direct wax recording, and the tape was used only as a standby, in case the waxes were destroyed in the factory process. It was also useful for letting the artists hear an instant playback of what they had done, which was especially helpful if they were going to have to do another take. Only a short time before I arrived there had been no tape recorder, and the unfor­tunate artist would have to wait a week before he could hear the results of his work on the test pressings which were sent up from the factory after the wax ‘master’ had been processed.

 

As for the wax discs, we went through them like the proverbial hot cakes. If someone made a mistake, or the recording was below the standard you expected, the wax was simply thrown away, later to be melted down and recoated. During an average recording session one would probably get through about fifteen waxes.

 

To my new and untutored eyes, the whole set-up seemed incredibly crude. I had thought, for instance, that the use of falling weights for motive power had gone out with Galileo. The answer, it seemed, was that electric motors in those days were not reliable enough to guarantee a completely steady and ‘wow-free’ 78 revolutions a minute. Gravity, on the other hand, knew no hiccups.

 

But if I thought that recording conditions and tech­niques were crude, they were nothing compared with the actual manufacture of the end product. Before I visited the works where the records were pressed, I expected immaculate, white-coated operatives standing by stainless steel, plastic-topped counters, pressing buttons and watch­ing the automatic moulding of the discs. How wrong I was. Reality was a hot and dirty factory, with men stripped to the waist, bathed in sweat and forever grimy with the black carbon dust which hung in the air.

 

The carbon was mixed with shellac for the raw material of the records, then was rolled into sheets, which were cut into rectangular ‘biscuits’ about 18” by 10”. The pressers, each of whom operated two machines, rolled these biscuits around on very hot steel plates until they formed solid ‘doughnuts’. Next, a label was taken from a rack and placed face-down on the press, the black doughnut went on top of the label, and the second label, for the reverse side, was placed atop the doughnut. Then the top of the press would be pulled down, squeezing the material into the thin disc, whose grooves were shaped by matrices in the top and bottom of the press. As it cooled, the presser made ready the material for his second pre^.

 

And so it went on, day in, day out, a Dickensian process in the middle of the twentieth century. After seeing it, I realised how fortunate I was to be on the originating side of the business.

 

The ‘sharp end’ of that side, of course, was and is the microphone, and as such it deserves some discussion in a book of this sort.

 

The first point is that when I started we were only recording in mono, so that the input, from however many mikes were used, all went on to one track. I also mentioned that the control panel had just the four rotary controls. That effectively limited the number of mikes used to four, though on occasion it was possible to feed the input from two mikes into one control. There were times when we would only use one mike, in order to achieve a particular sort of sound, but in the main it was a multi-mike tech­nique. For example, if you were recording people like Ivor Moreton and Dave Kaye, or Rawicz and Landauer, there would be two pianos and you would use one mike for each piano. By today’s standards it was pretty crude.

 

The microphones themselves were pretty crude, too. The moving coil mikes which we used to use picked up almost as much from behind them as from the front - and the sides as well! They were in no way discreet about what they heard and what they didn’t. This meant that the way to make good records was to use as few mikes as possible, because the interaction of one with another presented awful problems. It also meant that there was great skill in the relative placing of the mikes, because that, and the placing of the instruments, was much more critical than it is today. Apart from anything else, the mikes couldn’t pick up the wide range of frequencies that is possible with their modern counterparts.

 

As they improved, not only did that wider range of frequencies become available, but the mikes became more discriminating. That refers to the fact that different mikes have different patterns of pick-up, or what are called ‘polar diagrams’. If you place a modern mike in a room, you can actually draw a picture of the area from which it receives sound most favourably. In television studios, for example, you often see gun mikes used. These are extremely direc­tional, but probably too much so. They are fine for speech, but not adequate for music.

 

For recording in the studio, you may use a variety of mikes. It’s largely a matter of taste, and engineers and producers have their own particular favourites. But although mikes have improved greatly over the past ten years, the most recent have not, in my opinion, kept up with the previous quality. One reason may be that a lot of the earlier condenser mikes were valve-operated. In recent years there has been a tendency to get rid of the old valves - or ‘tubes’ as they call them in America - and replace them with transistors; and in trying to bring the same basic mike up to modern standards in that way, they lost something. For example, the old U47 Neumann mike was super, but you can’t buy it any more. We still have some, but they are like gold-dust. The modern replacement is simply not quite as good. Again, the C12, a valve-operated condenser, was a marvellous mike. It was very sensitive, and could pick up things with great clarity from quite a distance away - a very ‘hot1 mike as the Americans would say. But they don’t make that any more, either, and you just can’t buy one. I believe that microphone manu­facturers aren’t really alive to the needs of the recording industry. Their research departments design things that look better, and whose theoretical graphs of performance look great on the walls; but they don’t do any research in commercial studios themselves, which is where it matters.

 

After all, we are experimenting all the time. Just because I use one mike for strings on one recording, it doesn’t mean that I’ll always use the same one for all strings. Equally, there are some things you just can’t do. You couldn’t use the C12 on a bass drum or an electric guitar because, although it’s very good, it’s so sensitive that it would blow very quickly.

 

With the enormous volumes of sound we use in studios today, the tolerance of a microphone is of critical impor­tance. In the old days mikes were very intolerant. They were roughly the same as the human ear in that they couldn’t stand a huge amount of sound. But today you can get mikes which will. If you go into a studio where a rock group are playing guitars, the sound may be so loud that you will be on the threshold of physical pain twenty feet away. But the mike will be only three or four inches from the diaphragm of the loudspeaker, so that the poor electronic ear is withstanding an amazing volume.

 

Again, that means the other mikes have to be extremely directional in order not to pick up the edges of that sound. Simply in terms of decibels it’s a very different technique from recording a string quartet. This was never more in evidence than when I recorded the Mahavishnu Orchestra for Columbia. The album was called Apocalypse, and was, I think, one of the best records I have ever made. Maha­vishnu was a rock-jazz group led by John McLaughlin, and they were backed by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson-Thomas. Since it was what I would call a very live sort of work, I said at the start: ‘Let’s try and record this live. It’s very extreme, but let’s see if our techniques can cope with it.’ So I got the LSO into our big studio at AIR and put the Mahavishnu group in the corner. It was all fairly cramped.

 

I got a good sound balance on the orchestra. I got a good sound balance on the group. But when they started playing together, Apocalypse wasn’t the word for it- It was impos­sible. I was standing beside Michael Tilson-Thomas on the rostrum and, after three or four bars, he flung down his baton, and said in desperation, ‘George, I can’t even hear the first violin down here.’ Although the group were way over in the corner, you could hear nothing else; the difference in sound level must have been about sixty decibels. I just had to put them in a different studio altogether - it would have been no use asking them to play more quietly, because then they wouldn’t have been play­ing what they were used to playing. The drummer wouldn’t have been able to get the right sounds out of his instru­ments, nor would the electric-guitar player.

 

That is just an indication of the different sorts of jobs you have to ask different microphones to do. And they are very delicate instruments: if you overload a mike by put­ting too much volume into it, you will simply break it. We use the U47s for vocals, but if you put them in front of the drums the diaphragms will simply stop working.

 

In spite of knowing that, we do still break mikes. The reason is that we are always pushing equipment to its limits, trying to see just how far we can go. Because it’s just a fact that the nearer the limits you go, the better your overall sound will be. It’s like driving a racing car. You know perfectly well that if you hit it with 6000 revs, the gearbox will fold up. So you hit it with 5900 revs, hoping it will tolerate that. Do that sixteen times in a row, and the chances are that on the sixteenth time it will go. At AIR studios, we have to replace about a dozen mikes a week. That means either replacing the cartridge, or sending them back to the manufacturers for a replacement mike.

 

What the microphone is doing, of course, is to convert the sound frequencies it hears into a series of electrical impulses which are recorded on the tape, and thence translated on to the record. But how are they translated?

 

We all know there are grooves on a record, but I wonder how many know what one looks like. On a mono record, it’s a V-shaped channel which, when magnified many times, looks like a watercourse with a rounded bottom. The needle going along that groove is rather like a car driving along a motorway. If you imagine the disc as standing still and the needle as moving, instead of the other way round, then the needle becomes the car. But the road isn’t straight like a motorway; it’s more like a winding English lane. As it follows this road, the needle wiggles from side to side. The sharper the bend, the higher the frequency generated through the medium of the needle.

 

In a mono record, that groove is a constant depth. The needle only moves laterally, rather like a wave turned on its side, following the bends in the ‘road’. So if you were to generate, say, a constant frequency of 3000 hertz, there would be 3000 such ‘bends’ in every second of playing time, and the needle would therefore vibrate 3000 times a second. The volume of the note is determined by the depth of the ‘bends’, so that if it’s very quiet, the needle will move almost imperceptibly.

 

But just as a car on a road will turn over if it tries to take a sharp bend too fast, so too is the needle limited in what it can take. If the frequency is too high, and if the modulation - the swing - is too wide, the curve that the needle has to follow becomes too sharp, and it will jump and be thrown off the record, rather like a toboggan going over the edge of the Cresta Run. So the cutting of a record becomes a very fine art, a matter of getting the maximum possible sound out of it without throwing the needle off. As with microphones, the possibilities in disc-cutting are pushed to the limits, because everyone wants a louder record than the man next door, and only an expert disc-cutter can achieve the maximum amount of sound without overdoing it and getting a lot of rejects which jump the grooves. I always go along to the cutting sessions on my records to make sure the cutter is getting a good sound out of them. But equally, the producer has some respon­sibility, in making a record that will cut easily.

 

That explains how we get one frequency out of a record’s groove. But a piece of music, of course, has a myriad frequencies in it. In fact, no sound we ever hear, apart from a computer sound, consists of just one frequency. For instance, if you play a middle A on the piano, the most distinguishable frequency you will hear is 440 hertz. But you will also be hearing 880, and probably 660 and 330 as well, which are the natural harmonics. Moreover, if you stopped an orchestra playing at any one moment, you could say: ‘What we’re hearing now are violins, violas, cellos, double basses, bassoons, trombones, oboes, French horns, woodwind, harp, glockenspiel, and whatever.’ But you could also analyse the frequency spectrum at that moment with the help of a computer, and it would give you a complete breakdown in frequency terms. In effect it would tell you: LI am hearing 120 hertz at an amplitude of 32 decibels, 121 hertz at an amplitude of 37 decibels ...” and so on. What the groove in the record does is to reflect that complicated combination of frequencies, rather than follow an orderly series of curves. A pure note of 440 hertz will have its own particular swing, but if you add a note of 880 hertz the curve will be a combination of those two swings, and so on as more frequencies are added.

 

The question then arises as to why a particular frequency played on one instrument sounds different from the same frequency played on another. The answer is that the harmonics within the note are different for each instru­ment. If you looked at the groove where a piano was playing A, and then where a trumpet was playing A, you would see in both the overall swing of the 440 hertz. But within that you would also see all the little decorations, the extra frequencies peculiar to each instrument.

 

There is also another difference - the ‘envelope’ of the note, which roughly means its shape. Take the trumpet. In its first few milliseconds, the note will be comparatively quiet, almost nothing. Then it will be quite loud, after which it will reduce in volume, settling to a steady note which rises and falls according to the vibrato. On the piano, on the other hand, the first thing you hear will be a very high impact noise as the key strikes the string. Then it will diminish very quickly, fall below its normal level, rise, fall, and finally settle down to a fairly sustained but decaying sound. Every instrument has its own unique ‘envelope’ of this kind, together with its unique set of harmonics. Each of those harmonics is a frequency which forms part of the complicated set of curves interpreted by the needle.

 

That’s how a mono record works. But now we have stereo. In fact, it came in soon after I entered the record business. They issued stereo tapes before stereo discs, and could have put stereo on the old 78 r.p.m. shellac discs. But they never did, and it wasn’t until LPs came in that stereo really gained acceptance.

 

The bases of stereo lie in hearing more than one record­ing at a time, and in the fact that we hear with two ears. Some years ago there was a vogue for stereo pictures (they always seemed to turn up in dentists’ waiting-rooms) which went into 3D when you looked at them through a special pair of spectacles. That worked by using the rela­tionship of one eye to the other. Just as we have two eyes, so we have two ears, and it’s natural to want to build space into recordings as well.

 

The original way of putting the two separate sounds into the groove of the record was by making the needle move not only laterally, but also up and down: the ‘road’ had not only its curves, but also a lot of bumps. The information was interpreted mechanically, with one part of the pick-up reading the lateral movements, the other the up-and-down movements. This last movement was known as ‘hill-and-dale1 recording. It soon proved not to be a very good system. In the first place, it was very difficult to press good records, because now there were two different directions in which too loud a sound could make the needle jump. It seemed to be flung off more often than it stayed on! Secondly, there was a certain amount of feedback between the two movements, which interacted so that you got distortion in the middle.

 

The answer came from a man called Blumlein who worked for EMI at Hayes. He came up with the idea of a groove combining two different motions, running side by side at forty-five degrees from one another. Now the needle was analysing two sets of lateral information, by means of a much more sophisticated type of pick-up. There were two sets of information, each going to a different loud­speaker. But the amazing thing was that to our ears, functioning as they do, there weren’t only two sets, but an almost limitless variety.

 

This was proved at the first demonstrations of stereo records. The two speakers were placed behind thick gauze curtains. Then demonstration discs were played, all designed to emphasise the stereo effect. There were record­ings of ping-pong matches, the click-clack of railway trucks going through a siding, trains hurtling through stations, jet planes roaring overhead, and so on. You could hear not only the sounds coming from the speakers on the left and right, but all those from the centre too. I well remember the excited feeling of participation one got from first hearing it. Then, the demonstration over, the gauze cur­tains were drawn -aside - to the accompaniment of oohs and aahs from the audience, because of course there was no speaker in the centre; yet you could have sworn you heard things coming from there. And so, in a sense, you did.

 

It was the human ear which did it for us. If you play a mono record on two speakers, the ears will automatically balance those sounds and hear them as if they were coming from the middle. But, unlike mono, stereo had two differ­ent sources of sound, and all the producer needed was a perfect spatial approach. Where a sound came only from the left-hand speaker, you would hear it only as coming from the left. The same with the right. Where a sound was identical on both speakers, it would appear, as with mono, in the middle. But it didn’t stop there. You could place a sound at any point you wanted between the two speakers, simply by the proportion of that sound you put into one speaker compared with the other.

 

This was achieved partly by the placing of the micro­phones during the recording, but mainly by where you decided to place that information during the mixing of the record. For instance, when I did a record with Peter Sellers in which he played all five characters in a sort of Brains Trust spoof, I only recorded him in mono, as five separate tracks, one for each voice. Then I mixed those tracks on to stereo. The interviewer, or chairman, obviously had to be in the middle, so that voice went equally on to each track. The voices who were supposed to be sitting at the ends went one on the left-hand track alone, and one on the right. Then, to get half-left and half-right, I put each of those voices three quarters on one track, and a quarter on the other. It had the desired effect. In fact, the variety of positions where the sound can be placed is limited solely by the fineness of the balance you can achieve between the two tracks.

 

A physicist will tell you that space is allied to time, but a record producer will assure you that it is closely allied to sound as well. However, stereo gave us more than just the ability to hear things coming from different places laterally. There was a bonus. It gave us perspective. Exactly as the stereo photograph allowed us to see things as being in the background and the foreground, so stereo recording gave us depth. We could hear things to the front and things to the back, and the ambience of our recordings became much more lifelike. Listen to a good stereo record­ing and try to ‘see’ with your ears, and you will hear now the sounds do vary in depth.

 

With quadrophonic recording, of course, you could go even farther: you could place sounds all over the place. But it hasn’t really caught on yet, and I doubt whether it ever will. It’s too complicated and too cumbersome for the average person. Mum didn’t like it much when two speak­ers appeared in the living room, and she likes it even less when threatened with four.

 

For all practical purposes, I believe that stereo, is per­fectly adequate. And although quadrophonic tapes are fine, the process of making quad discs is terribly compli­cated. You have to have a decoder and two stereo ampli­fiers, and if you want to make quad records that can be played on stereo machines it becomes worse still: you tend to get a lot of ‘cross-talk’ between the tracks, making the sound more impure than on a straightforward stereo rec­ord. In fact, I’m so convinced that quad has come and gone, that in the design of our new studios out in Montserrat we have not included quad recording equipment.

 

Stereo, however, is a different matter altogether. When it arrived, one of our first problems was how best to place the microphones. In the early days, we had two ways. One was to have two microphones, each in a corner of the studio, facing along the two diagonals. That way you got two different kinds of information out of the same source. The other way was to use what we call a stereo pair. This is when two microphones, of either the ‘cardioid1 or ‘ribbon’ type, are placed together at the centre of the recording, but facing at ninety degrees away from each other. Because of their particular pattern of pick-up, as in the ‘polar diagrams’ I was mentioning earlier, not only will the mike facing left pick up the left-hand side of the orchestra and the other the right-hand, but each will also pick up a little of the other’s area. The result is that the sound will be spread over the whole stereo picture; when it is put on to stereo tape in the form of two signals, one from each mike, it will have the same spread as the pair of microphones received in the first place.

 

That was the simple way of making a stereo recording. Today, with both classical and rock music, it has become a very complicated affair. We use not only stereo pairs, but also mono mikes whose output is fed into the stereo picture wherever the producer wants. All this is purely a matter of taste. For example, when using the Fender electric piano, many producers give that a stereo effect of its own, making it oscillate between one speaker and the other. Stereo took the producer into the realm of ‘anything goes’. He no longer had to think in terms of making a record sound as the original would have sounded on the stage or in the concert hall. He could make any artificial sound he wanted, provided it was pleasing to the ear.

 

On the Sergeant Pepper album we did all sorts of things with the stereo effect. We had things in absurd positions. We had movement, with an instrument floating from one side to the other, giving the listener the impression that it was almost flying over his head. On the other hand, taste would prevent you from trying something like that if you were recording Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto. People do like to listen to their favourite works recorded in a way that evokes the concert hall. They don’t want the piano, in the middle of its cadenza, floating through the roof and travelling across to the other side of the platform. Equally important, Rachmaninov didn’t have that in mind, either. But if I’m going to write an electronic work called ‘Space Odyssey’, I can do whatever I please, and my only regret will be that I won’t be able to reproduce my recorded sound in the auditorium.

 

But then again, you have to remember that an audi­torium isn’t just one seat. There are seats right at the front and others right at the back. So where do you place your sound? As I said, it’s a matter of taste, but if I’m recording a piano concerto, I will want it to sound as if you’re standing right in front of the orchestra, a little behind the conductor. I will have the piano in the centre, first and second violins on the left, violas and cellos on the right. The harp would probably go left, trumpets and trombones possibly on the right, horns and woodwind in the centre. Something like that.

 

What I would never do is to make it sound as though you were listening to it from the back of the auditorium, for one very good reason. When the record is played at home, the room becomes the auditorium, and the farther you get from your speakers, the more mono the sound is going to become. To take it to the absurd, if you stand a mile away from a pair of stereo speakers four feet apart, you won’t hear any stereo effect at all. But if you go within the magic triangle, the equilateral triangle of which you are the apex and the two speakers the other two corners, that is the ideal position. Some people, including quite a few engineers, actually prefer to sit just outside that triangle; my preference is to sit just inside it. If, however, you had made the original recording with the idea of reproducing the sound from the back of the auditorium, you wouldn’t get much stereo effect wherever you sat, because you wouldn’t in real life either.

 

The danger in stereo recording comes with the greater number of mikes we use. The more we use, of course, the more flexibility we have in placing on our stereo picture the particular sound each mike is recording. But that leads to the risk of picking up too much of what other mikes are recording, which can lead to ‘ghost images’. In a live recording you’re bound to get a certain amount of pick-up between mikes. You’re bound to get a certain amount of trumpet on the string mike, for instance - though the other way around, strings on the trumpet mike, is not so likely, since the trumpets are much louder. In Abbey Road Number One studio, large, live, and highly reverberant, we got a glorious string sound, but the bane of our lives was the tremendous amount of ‘dirt’ we picked up on the string mikes from the other instruments - the bass guitar, the drums, the heavy brass.

 

Not that I want to eliminate that altogether. To my taste, a certain amount of it does help to colour the sound. Sometimes I set out to do it deliberately. In recording drums, I sometimes put a mike in the distance in order to get the sound space around them. The reason is that today’s technique of close-miking means you tend to lose a lot of the natural overtones. So I actually encourage a certain amount of spillage between one mike and another.

 

It’s true that close-miking is often necessary in order to achieve separation of sounds. Again, it’s a matter of plac­ing. If you have a cardioid mike ten feet away from one instrument, and another instrument ten feet behind the first one, you’ll pick up more of the second instrument than if you put the mike four inches from the first and had the second twenty feet behind. But certain instru­ments don’t work well with close-miking. A violin sounds awful if you put a mike four inches away from it. You lose all the beautiful resonance of the body which is generating the tones, and instead you pick up all the scratch and scrape that you would hear if you put your ear next to a violin while it was being played. I remember the John Barry Seven - before John became a film composer -recording a piece in which he used four violins with the mikes about four inches from them, and lots of echo. The pizzicati sounded like machine-guns going off! It was an effective sound, all right, but it was a gimmick, and it doesn’t happen to be how I like to hear violins. Apart from anything else, you’re losing the benefit of Stradivarius and his colleagues!

 

A bass drum, on the other hand, will sound flabby and boomy if you record it from a distance. But put a mike two inches away from it and you get a nice crisp sound, which is what you need for rock instruments. It’s a question of horses for courses, and it’s the producer’s job to know the characteristics of each instrument as much as the technical qualities of different microphones.

 

When stereo arrived, it was with techniques like this that the producer could make the best use of the new tool he had been given. But at first stereo had one great limitation. It was effectively two separate recordings, on two separate tracks - and only two. There was no such thing as re-mixing. We made the recording as we went along, and apart from a certain amount of equalisation -cutting a bit off the top or bottom frequencies, or com­pressing them - that was the final product. You couldn’t alter the balance between the instruments on the tape. The relationships of voice to rhythm, of drums to bass, were fixed once they had been recorded. It was pretty obvious that it would be a great luxury if we could delay the moment of truth, the moment of combining all those sounds as a final product, as long as possible.

 

For that, there was only one possible answer: more tracks. Luckily, they were on their way. We were going to need them.

 


Date: 2015-02-28; view: 144


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