Ready for remix: Revolver etc
There’s a good, new Q&A with Giles Martin in Variety, where journalist Chris Willman adresses the question of remixing the rest of the Beatles catalogue:
Variety: There are people who insist a transformative remix couldn’t be done on the pre-4-track Beatles albums because of so many elements being blended into the two basic tracks. But of course, Beatles fans do speculate pretty much across the board: Is there an opportunity to do something with “Revolver” and “Rubber Soul,” now that you’ve gone through the Beatles’ timeline from “Sgt. Pepper” forward?
Giles Martin: –I think there is. I think we have to do it, and I’ve said this before… If you take something like “Taxman” from “Revolver” [a track often cited for its bizarre stereo separation], “Taxman” is guitar, bass and drums on one track, and vocals and a sort of shaking and guitar solo (on the right). And it sounds good; they’re amazing recordings, and amazing mixes. You know, we have to look into what technology we can do to make things de-mixed and all this kind of stuff, which I’m looking into. So I’m looking for the technology to do it with, to do something really innovative with “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver,” as opposed to just a remastering job, because it’s been remastered already. So I think we will. I think we also will look at outtakes as well.
–There’s such an overwhelming desire to do something with them, by fans. And at the same time, there’s the thing in the back of your mind: There’s no point in just doing this to make money or as a sales thing, or because we’d done the others. It’s more important that we do it for the right reason. So there’s your answer: yes. If, the same as “Sgt. Pepper,” I can find a reason to do it, then yes. An actual experience reason to do it, as opposed to just because we’ve done it.
After that, Martin says he is not doing this at the moment, and that one obstacle is that technology hasn’t yet gotten to the stage where separating everything from four or two track tapes is possible without artefacts. But he thinks technology will eventually make this possible. This is a little bit confusing to us, because when someone actually managed to crack the code on The Beatles Rockband game, they found that Martin had indeed already separated most instruments. Hence, remixing “Rubber Soul” became a favourite passtime for wannabe mixing engineers.
One thing is remixing from the bounced-down tapes, but then you go back to the original session take for a particular track and get the tape before it was bounced down (mixed together) onto a track on a second tape. Yet, that first tape can still contain more than one instrument and/or vocals together on one of the two or four tracks available there.
Another thing Martin can be interpreted to say, is that Peter Jackson’s team is better at cleaning up and remixing the mono Nagra tapes than what he is:
Giles Martin: –It is what it is, and yeah, we throw as much technology at these things as you can, but you have to be careful when you’re doing restoration work. And that’s why it’s been good collaborating with Peter and his team, because they’re really, really good at this stuff. I thought I was good at this stuff, and they’re way better than I am. The audio stuff as well — it’s really remarkable what they can do. It’s a collaboration process.
Another quote from the interview deals with remixings becoming dated:
Giles Martin: You don’t want to want to change the sound, because (remixes) actually can date very quickly, as we’ve experienced on legacy stuff in the past. …
Is he perhaps talking about all the Lennon albums Yoko had remixed and released in 2000, only to revert to the old mixes for later reissues of the albums, and now remixing them again for so-called “ultimate remixes” these days?
Go check out the interview in full (edited down for publication) at Variety.com
Why all this mania for remixes? The original albums are as The Beatles wanted them (except Let It Be). The remixed albums have a lot of differences in them – why? Are they better? No – how could they be? Here’s a hint, Mr Martin – Let them be!
I think when we agree original mixes are better, we can just refer to mono mixes. But since we need to put in the equation that people also listen to music via headphones – I mean, also professional headphones – we can admit we really need a remix for “pre-Let it be” albums. Having drum, bass or even vocal on one channel is a nightmare.
Because The Beatles are the only band in the world that money gets thrown at; really….they can do remixes like if they came out today and it doesn’t sound like historical recordings to young and new ears. Being a Beatles fan has its advantages.
You’re right do we really need to here 55 seconds of them doing a song like Taxman?
Without being a sound expert (which may make what I’m saying gibberish), i imagine that the key to separating different sounds locked into one track is frequencies. Each instrument has different frequency characteristics.
What confuses me about this interview with Giles, is he seems to be saying that more than one thing was recorded onto a single track and there isn’t the technology to make this happen at the moment. So, were more than one sound locked into a single track on Pepper, etc.? If so, then it obviously wasn’t a problemto stop them doing remixes for those albums. I can imagine a few headaches with Tomorrow Never Knows, though, with the use of tape loops and the like. To be a fly on the wall when Giles and Sam Okell do these remixes…
Finally, surely a good reason to do these projects is that the fans want them?
Yes, that’s weird. But just recently G.Martin said the Beatles were less keen to bouncing down prior to Sgt Pepper. That’s why. Well, this goes against what we learnt from history so far, but it may be true: up to 1966 they were recording more instruments in one track before they reduced this habit in 1967 and after.
I believe the band generally recorded whole takes playing together and then did some overdubbing onto the spare tracks. And yes, those basic takes were usually recorded to one mono track in the earlier years, with more separation coming in towards the end. Pepper was recorded a little differently, not least with Paul recording his bass parts after the basic track was completed. Pepper was the album where both George and Ringo complained of spending a lot of time having nothing to do. That was in part because of the way it was recorded, and it was a big part of why they didn’t record that way again.
… because remixing these tracks makes the original mixes disappear
I know what you’re saying, but when people call up Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road on Spotify or Apple Music, which version are they going to hear? When people search for the albums on Amazon, which will be at the top of the list? Of course the original mixes will always be available, but are they going to be pushed so far into the background that only dedicated fans will hear them?
Yeah, he was able to do it with stuff like Pepper because by that point everything the Beatles recorded was being kept, however pointless it seemed, so there were lots of recordings available from intermediate stages in the production. When four tracks got bounced down to one on a second machine, they would still keep the original separate four tracks in the vault. I suppose that becomes less and less common the further back you move through the Beatles’ career. As for separating things, you can do it using filtering based on frequencies, but it rarely sounds sufficiently high-quality enough for a new Beatles release. You’ll hear attempts at this all over YouTube if you search for them, e.g. vocal-only tracks from bands like ABBA (who have never made their multi-tracks available for remix) are almost all done that way. You’ll hear the artefacts and ringing that arises from the filtering, and it sounds like it was being sung in the bathroom. The key to convincing separation will be the use of artificial intelligence. They will need to be able to “train” a machine learning system to recognise that there are different elements being heard, and then to reproduce them in isolation from each other. I’ve no idea what state current research is in regarding that kind of thing, but it will be similar to systems that attempt to isolate a specific voice in a crowded room, I suppose.
I think there is a very good example that shows what kind of challenge can be the remix of this era with that lots of overdubs and bounced down tracks. This is the Eleanor Rigby remix from the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songtrack album.
If you compare it with the official mix, you can observe that the 1999 remix slightly loses sync between the strings and Paul’s vocal. Right after the “Ah, look at all the lonely people” intro, when Paul starts “Eleanor Rigby” you have a feeling that the string section plays kinda sleepy, they follow Paul a bit too slow. You have a feeling that someone should wake up the string section to play a bit faster.
But the original mix sounds very tight, from start to end, the string guys are not sleepy there.
The reason is that the 1999 remix uses first generation tapes of the strings and Paul’s voice. Instead of the bounced down strings track that the original mix uses. It seems some speed change happened when bouncing down the strings track and Paul sang to this track. That’s why Paul’s voice is not in 100% sync with the original string tracks.
I think similarly to what I believe was done on the “Yellow Submarine Songtrack” album where, the producers apparently found and used the set of element 4-track tapes before they were “reduced” down to single, composite tracks on the final 4-track master. This would provide a multitude of separate instrumental and vocal tracks once they were properly synced to avoid the problems Peter G mentioned earlier. In this scenario, using “demixing” software apparently would not be necessary.
IMHO the Yellow Submarine Songtrack sounds so much better than any of the remixes of the albums from which those songs came from that were done in the past including any of the more recent Sgt Pepper material done.. If the surviving Beatles approved “Songtrack” could the remixers not model their efforts on that approach?
Totally unnecessary. The 2009 remixes in my opinion are perfect, frankly I haven’t been thrilled with what Giles has done with the others though there was a lot more production to them he could never repeat perfectly (seques between “Lovely Rita” and “Good Morning Good Morning”, there’s an additional 0.25 second between the songs not there on George Martin’s mixes, throwing off the beat, also the segue between “Back In The USSR” and “Dear Prudence”, not to mention the butchery of John’s piano on “Something”). Leave them alone, they’re fine as they are. You Giles, son of George, not George himself. Your dad did fine with them, leave them alone.
You are one hundred per cent right! Giles Martin messing around with the mix is like giving Marilyn Munroe a facelift. Or putting the finishing touches to the Mona Lisa. Step away from the mixing console, Mr Martin!
Have you heard any of the remixes made for the Anthology DVD edition (2003)?
Especially that snippet of Got to get you into my life with the beautifully wide panorama – mixed horn section. Revolver deserves a remix!!!
The remixes are sensational and especially this new one Let it Be. The separation of the Spectorizations are great. Maybe they will allow him to do Phil Spector’s entire catalog or at least his Christmas album on Apple. I just wish he was more daring and give us more deep tracks.
I’ll tell you something else too. On the current digital-only Sony Walkman range, there’s a setting called ClearAudio+ that makes everything sound a bit more spacial and separated. It brings a really nice definition to all the different instruments, although obviously it’s a matter of taste and integrity whether you choose to use something like that. Anyway, back to the point, all of the original Beatles stereo albums sound really nice (to me) with it switched on. The 50th Anniversary Pepper one turns to horrible-sounding mush. I suspect Giles Martin already applied a digital trick like that to it before release, in an attempt to make it sound “amazing” out of the box. The trouble is, while I can choose to switch it off again on the original mixes, it’s impossible to remove on the new one…
Don’t you think if Giles didn’t do these they would someone else?
As it’s mentioned, some years ago while doing the Rockband soundtrack and splitting the original tracks, there were some artifacts on the resulting isolated tracks, some “bleed” from another instrument on each track. I guess the technology has improved in all these years, but it’s not perfect yet to separate some of the early tracks and do a better remixing proccess.
Hey, let’s not forget about Magical Mystery Tour! The album reissue campaign jumped from Pepper to the White LP without stopping in between! There are a bunch of orphaned tracks sitting there from 1967-68 that we have NOT heard given the new remix treatment (plus outtakes). I hope Apple backs up to wrap up this project before it moves backwards to Revolver, Rubber Soul, et al.
Every song already released remixed from the Magical Mystery Tour album, spread on several releases in the last 20 years:
MMT bluray DVD 2012
Pepper remix 2017
1+ album 2015
Love album 2006
Anthology DVD 2003
A few songs already released in 2 different stereo remixes.
By the way, songs from a Hard Day’s Night (film) also released in a new stereo (and 5.1) remix in 2014 on the bluray movie DVD. This is not the whole album and it’s the movie soundtrack, some songs are shorter. But the sound is very good, the remix sounds much clearer than the original.
A Revolver remix is far more important and necessary that Let It Be, Abbey Road, and The White Album. I would pay handily for a remixed Revolver. The 2015 Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine and the 1999 Love You To sound fantastic in comparison to the 1966 muddy mixes. C’mon. It’s time. If you’re reading, Apple, you can have my money….
Revolver is muddy even when compared the Rubber Soul. When the original first Beatles catalog CD mixes came out, Rubber Soul was designated ADD (Analogue original, Digital Remix, Digital Master). Revolver was designated AAD. I recall reading that George Martin said a digital remix of Revolver wasn’t necessary due to “technology”, although I could hear a clear difference of the musical definition and clarity between the two.
Absolutely agree with you 100%
Lord Reith has already proved that it can be done… but hey let Giles do his turn. Even for the book and the box set, extra tracks it would be great to have. Come on Giles!
He talks about dated remixes. The Yellow Submarine 1999 came to mind, but it still has some nice remixes there. I like it.
Rubber Soul could easily be one. Nowhere Man and Think For Yourself were remixed well for the Yellow Submarine songtrack. The SGT bootleg also shows what could be done with other songs from this era. Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out were also remixed for 2015’s ‘1+’. So why not all the other tracks from late 65?
I dare say the ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ compilations will also get the remix treatment eventually. With many of the 1967-1970 tracks already remixed with the Pepper to Let It Be reissues. So, why not do the Magical Mystery Tour tracks and the stray A and B Sides?
i ‘Ate you, Butler!
I wish Giles would do a Stones remix project. But I reckon that ABKCO couldn’t be bothered and the Stones (what’s left of them) care very little for their 60s catalogue.
Giles Martin remixed Goats Head Soup in 2020.
In my humble opinion Rubber Soul and Revolver are The Beatles finest albums and straddle a period when they morphed from the world’s best rock n roll band into something even greater. Since then we have had bootlegs, compilations, outtakes, remasters, remixes and everything else imaginable that the public will buy. Giles, please put the tapes back in the vaults, lock them up and step away from the mixing desk and leave these two peerless and perfect albums just as they are.
Well, if Danilo’s 2022 Colector’s edition calendar is anything to go by… https://danilo.com/products/the-beatles-collectors-edition-2022-square-wall-calendar?_pos=3&_sid=181697330&_ss=r
You can hear that Peter jackson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvWFYMk2DPg) is able to separate guitarrs and voices from tapes (I guess Nagra tapes). Therefore it is possible to also remix the first albums.
Another Peter Jackson clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln9EmnrHU7Q) where he explains that they’ve been able to separate all instruments and voices from the mono Nagra tapes.
Sure, but one thing is what’s acceptable on a film soundtrack, another thing is presenting a remixed CD. On the remixed “Get Back” track on “Let It Be” for instance, they digitally removed a snare for whatever reasón, which left some artifact noise on Paul’s final “wooo”, according to Doug Sulpy’s review in The 910.
I was lucky enough to attend one of the lectures at Abbey Road in 2019 where they played an example of what their software could currently do. They lifted George’s guitar out of a mono live recording. It was very good; however, there were still some artifacts leftover. While very impressive, it wasn’t quite ready for a separation of something like Revolver.