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James Guthrie - 2003 - Hey You fanzine Print E-mail

JAMES GUTHRIE INTERVIEW, 2003

Posted on Brain Damage with kind permission of Hey You and Christian Diemoz


DSOTM 2003: not just another “re-master”

Hey You: When did you started to work on this project and how it’s been born? How much time did it take you to complete it?

James Guthrie: As we were approaching the 30-year anniversary of The Dark Side Of The Moon, I wrote a proposal to EMI, suggesting the release of a hybrid SACD. Doug Sax and I had re-mastered the album so many times for past re-releases, I felt that it was time to do something a bit special. Another ‘re-master’ just wasn’t enough.

With the SACD we could provide a disc that would contain a standard ‘red-book’ layer, allowing it to play in all conventional CD players, and a high-resolution layer with room for both the original stereo mix, and a multichannel ‘surround’ version. Either Alan’s original quad mix, or a new 5.1 mix.

Pricing the disc competitively with normal CDs meant that the record company could really give something back to the fans. Jody Klein had just done the same thing with his Rolling Stones catalogue, and I felt that the idea was inspired. EMI approved the plan. The band listened to the quad mix and elected not to use it. They called and asked me to have a go at an all-new 5.1 mix.

The process of locating all of the component parts began in November. Safety copies were made, and the original tapes were sent to me at my studio in northern California. Final band approval came in February.

Hey You: Had you some fears in “putting your hands” on such a masterpiece?

James Guthrie: ‘Daunting’ is a word that comes to mind! I think this is probably one of the most difficult 5.1 mixes. Not from a musical point of view, because the record really lends itself to 3-dimensional treatment. But from the point of view that everyone knows the original mix so well. It is indelibly printed on our minds. We’ve had 30 years to live with it, and some people don’t want that image to be altered. Knowing that you are about to start work on something controversial can be unsettling.

Hey You: Did EMI and Pink Floyd check your work while it was in progress?

James Guthrie: The record companies have never checked Pink Floyd’s work. The final creative say has always been with the band. Traditionally, the first time the label hears the music is when the band deliver the album. As this is a conceptual work, we decided that I should complete the mix, and then play it for the individual band members to get their input. That way they could hear everything in context.

Hey You: Concerning technical difficulties and differences with today’s technologies: from which tapes and/or mixes did you start from (and how were they conserved, thirty years later)?

James Guthrie: The first question was could all of the tapes be found? David (Gilmour) had told me that earlier generation multitrack tapes existed for each song. I was determined to use those tapes.

When recording the album, the band had used a similar technique to that used by The Beatles during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. Apparently The Beatles would fill a 4-track tape and then combine, or pre-mix those elements to one or two tracks of a second 4-track machine, giving themselves more free tracks to work on. This technique was applied to Dark Side but with two 16-track tape machines. The original, non-Dolby, recordings were made and then the drums were pre-mixed to a stereo pair, keyboards were combined, and vocals were bounced together to a new Dolby ‘A’ tape. The original stereo mix of the album came from this ‘dub’ reel, which contained a combination of first and second-generation elements. The drawback was that the album was recorded before the days of time code and multiple tape machine lock-ups.

Additionally, the multitrack machines used in those days were notorious for running a different speed from one end of the reel to the other. Consequently, the original tapes were never intended to be used for the mix because they wouldn’t sync up. The combined speed error after copying a song was pretty dramatic.

I know many people who’s answer to this dilemma would have been to transfer the elements of both tapes into a digital workstation, line those elements up visually, and start mixing. I just felt that a 5.1 mix of this album had to come from the analogue tapes and thankfully, those tapes were still in good condition.

The musical arrangements of these songs have such a beautiful simplicity; Uni-vibe guitars combine with Wurlitzer electric pianos played through Leslie speakers and droning Hammond Organs, all very often playing in the same register, and all held together by strong melodies and great lyrics.

The way the band voiced the instruments, coupled with Chris Thomas’ propensity to douse everything in lots of echo, creates a gluey, homogenous, three-dimensional sound that really gets under your skin. This is very much an analogue record. We just had to go through a painstaking process of synchronizing the elements.

Hey You: Being extremely aware of Floyd’s live sound (thanks also to your experience with The Wall Live), have you listened to Parsons' quadrophonic mix of the seventies (which, we can assume, sounded closer to the way it was played live)? Is that the one model you tried to reach or did you head somewhere else?

James Guthrie: I did listen to the quad mix, but did not use it as a model. The original stereo mix is the one that contains the detail and the emotion of the songs. I used that as my reference.

As with any project, the multitrack tapes contain elements that were not used on the final mix. I felt that the musical content of the 5.1 mix should be consistent with the original, so we took a lot of care to use the same elements. The exception is a very small guitar bit in On The Run, which I liked and put in. The band agreed.

Hey You: In a word, can you describe to someone who already knows Dark Side Of The Moon what this 5.1 SACD will be like? Furthermore, we learn it’ll be a hybrid disc, but who hasn’t availability of a Super Audio player, what has to await for, exactly?

James Guthrie: The disc contains three things. A re-mastered, standard CD layer of the original stereo mix. A re-mastered high-resolution version of the original stereo mix. And a new, high-resolution 5.1 surround mix.

The CD layer will play in any conventional CD player. An SACD player is required to experience the high-resolution layer, and additionally, a 5.1 speaker system is required to experience the 5.1 mix.

Hey You: Do you think this project could mark the first step in a whole process of reissue of Pink Floyd’s full catalogue on SACD 5.1?

James Guthrie: I hope so. The Floyd’s music is perfect for surround sound. As you know, they have been performing with quad sound for years. In fact, one of the first quad pan pots, called the ‘Azimuth Coordinator’, was developed for the band. It’s a natural progression to make 5.1 mixes of their work.

Hey You: Wouldn’t it be simply spectacular to apply such a technology to a structurated LP like The Final Cut or to a visionary opera like Wish You Were Here?

James Guthrie: All of their records would work very well in this format, including the early work with Syd. Unfortunately, some of those early albums are recorded on 4-track. Fewer original tracks will somewhat limit your flexibility of instrument placement, although there are still some great atmospheric ‘spaces’ that can be created to help enhance a 5.1 mix.

Hey You: Purists says that, to have an album sound correct in 5.1 you need to create new tracks for the channels which aren’t part of the stereo technology. Their opinion is that, since it’s a new mix, it’s not anymore Dark Side Of The Moon, but another “new” record. How do you situate yourself in this debate?

James Guthrie: When mixing from a multitrack tape, there are choices that you make about the position of instruments in the stereo picture. With 5.1 you have a bigger soundstage to work in, but you still have to make those choices. In other words, in its raw form, a multitrack recording is not yet necessarily ‘stereo’ or ‘mono’, or ‘5.1’. Obviously, having a greater number of source tracks will increase your options, but you don’t have to separate an instrument just for the sake of it. An echo, or 3-dimensional space is sometimes more effective.

The biggest issue for me in a 5.1 remix is; have you retained the emotional impact of the song? All this technology is meaningless if you have turned the record into a novelty; a video game. The approach to a 5.1 mix should be the same as a stereo mix. To try and create a dynamic, musical mix that best serves the song. If you have achieved that, if the songs are still emotionally satisfying, then is it a new record? Yes. Is it still The Dark Side Of The Moon? Absolutely.

Hey You: How did (if it happened, of course) the band comment on your job, when it was over?

James Guthrie: They have been very supportive and enthusiastic about it. They seem to be excited by the format. They are, after all, pioneers in the 3-dimensional audio experience.

Hey You: To end this interview, do you still remember the first time you listened to Dark Side? Which have been your impressions and emotions, both now and then?

James Guthrie: I remember being very impressed when I first heard the album, and I’m still very impressed after 30 years of living with it. The delivery device for a song is crucial. By that I mean the musical arrangements and the atmospheric production. These elements are a big part of this record and a big part of why a song touches you.

The usual sequence of events for a band making a record are; write the songs, rehearse and arrange the songs, record them, and then go on tour and perform the songs. Very often, the touring experience will cause a band to experiment and change the musical arrangements. In many cases, for the better.

Pink Floyd performed this work (as ‘Eclipse’) many times before entering the studio. Consequently, many of the arrangement issues were worked out in advance.

I think Dark Side will continue to appeal to people regardless of their generation or background. It endures because it is about something. We identify with the condition.

Our thanks to Christian Diemoz for Hey You fanzine, for granting permission to Brain Damage to post this on our site. You can reach the Hey You fanzine at their website - www.Heyou.it.

 
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