Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 August 2014

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I was there watching on that evening 50 years ago in 1964 when The Beatles first performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. Like so many other baby boomers, my world was transformed by the excitement, the power, and the appeal of rock-and-roll. The first Beatles film, A Hard Day’s Night was also shot in 1964…and thanks to a collaboration between The Criterion Collection and Apple Corps, the film is getting a full restoration and upconversion to 4K (Ultra HD) and 5.1 surround sound.

The groundbreaking film was directed by Richard Lester and released by United Artists. The black and white film shows the boys from Liverpool running between concerts, interviews, and various forms of transportation (cars, limos, trains and planes) and provides a glimpse of the mania that followed their every move. A A Hard Day’s Night has become a classic in the genre of rock movies and is one of the few DVD-Video discs that I regularly watch.

There’s a terrific article over at studio daily that discusses in great depth the transfer and restoration of the film’s frames…the first time it’s been done digitally. Apparently, there was a high-quality chemical restoration done in 1994 but with Criterion involved with the project, each frame was scanned and laboriously cleaned (I really wish we could do this in the audio domain…we can to a degree but it’s not the same).

With a fresh new picture, the soundtrack was also slated for an upgrade. As they had done with Cirque du Soleil Love project, the producers sought out Giles Martin, son of The Beatles producer Sir George. The Love soundtrack on DVD-Audio and CD won a Grammy for the Martins so it was natural to work with Giles once again. He and his associate Sam Okell were tasked with creating a new stereo mix AND a 5.1 surround presentation. He was very fortunate to have the original session tapes that his father recorded with the band back in the early 60s but these multichannel masters don’t contain the individual tracks broken out like more modern masters. And then there was the problem of locating clean copies of the dialogue tracks.

The original soundtrack was monophonic. But EMI and Abbey Road studios had upgraded to 4-track recording by 1964 with the band on a track, the lead vocal on another track and a final track containing the lead vocal or doubled vocal. Extracting these into components that Giles could mix into surround proved daunting. According to the article,

One trick the two did utilize on the music was that of parallel compression — sending the rhythm track through a compressor, and bringing that compressed return back up in the mix alongside the original uncompressed track. “You can pan the original track out slightly and then bring the compressed track up dead center,” Okell explains. “It makes the drums sound really punchy or the bass sound really nice and thick, producing a more solid center image.”

The new version of A Hard Day’s Night is available on Blu-ray and DVD. I’m definitely going to purchase the new Criterion version and revisit my youth just as I did when I listened to the Love soundtrack several years ago.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a “binaural” electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art.

As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more.

Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com.

A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, “High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback”. The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(12) Readers Comments

  1. Mark, by virtue of the discussions we’ve had, I don’t get how an old B&W film can be made into Ultra-HD(sounds like a hi-rezzy term to me,), but an original master tape of historic music does not qualify. Again, and I’ve bounced this off quite a few industry folks, we can’t reasonably ask for more than ‘first gen’ of any music. You are touting technically up to date first gen, that seems to be the sticking point . But most of the hi-res downloads will be of older music for some time to come; as long as they sound WAY BETTER than any previous release, we can be pretty sure of first gen authenticity. The “half-way to the wall” analogy comes up here. We’ll never get to the wall, but a few centimeters away is unquestionably much, much better than 3 feet, and I don’t see how any difference of opinion could arise from that perspective. Thanks, Craig

    • Actually, making older films better is very time consuming but really does work. I wouldn’t call the High Res or Ultra HD but artists going through and cleaning each frame by hand one at a time does work. We have tools for audio but not that specific. The soundtrack for “A Hard Day’s Night” is being reconstructed from the original masters…it’s not ever going to be HD quality but it will sound great and in 5.1 surround.

      The sound of new transfers of older masters can deliver a great sounding experience…depending on the quality of the source and the skill of the engineer doing the transfer. Will they sound “WAY BETTER” than any previous release…no. Different…maybe. It’s a personal preference.

    • As far as picture, 1080p does not capture the full detail of 35MM film. 4K is closer to the full resolution of 35. The analogy to sound does not apply.

      • I’m not an expert in this area…35mm has a look as does digital.

  2. I just never got it, I believe The Beatles made a mess of popular music in the 60s. I didn’t want to hear what they were going at the time, give me Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” and the style of music we were getting pre-brit invasion. After that I’d rather listen to the Animals or Stones any day, you can save She Loves You, Yellow Sub, etc for the 10-14 year olds. Later I got sick of the psychedelic sound completely and switched my dial to Motown and R&B. Right at the moment I’m listening to South Side Johnny and The Asbury Jukes “Hearts of Stone from 1978.
    Beauty IS in the ear of the beholder. LOL

    • I grew up in Motown and have actually worked with Berry Gordy…but for me the launch was the Beatles. The music, the movies, the style, the innovation touched my creative spirit and I’ve been at it every since.

      • Sorry Mark, To me the Beatles will never be any more than glorified teeny bobber- bubble gum music.

        • Then I’m very proud to be included in your assessment as a teeny-bobber-bubble gum fan.

    • Oh yeah, the Beatles were significant sociologically, but they were a pretty crappy rock’n’roll band.The Rolling Stones are in a class of one at this point, while Vegas does the Beatles show.

      • Craign…I’m not going to start a Beatles vs. Stones debate. That might just more fruitless than the DSD vs PCM war.

  3. Reading about remastering the Beatles reminds me of a recent Home Theater Geeks podcast. The guest was a gentlemen who was into vinyl and had assisted in remastering the Beatles catalog for release on mono vinyl. He has been critical of the stereo vinyl releases because they didn’t sound like the original vinyl. Apparently they agreed with his analysis. The new master for mono vinyl were mastered to sound like the initial stamping of the original vinyl records. Only later did it occur to me that, if that is the reference, the initial American stampings were not perfect either. Anyway the original Vinyl was used a the reference.

    This contrasts with I believe is your position that the mastering processes for most commercial albums of the era for popular music was not too gentle to the original music, especially for artists who has little control over what the labels considered as just product. But I may have misinterpreted you points.

    Emerson Lake and Palmer’s first two albums were recently remixed and remastered, digitally creating a digital master to match the original vinyl and an all new stereo CD mix and DVD-Audio stereo and surround sound mixes.

    The guest on the poscast indicated that many older vinyl records had very high frequency information and that the dynamic range of vinyl was higher than orginally thought, but the surface noise got in the way.

    • Your comment raises some interesting issues. Is the model the “original” release of a particular tune or album? Or is it to maximize the fidelity or music? The processing of mastering has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. We have new tools that give us options that were unimaginable in the 60s.

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