Thursday, 24 July 2008

Mastering The Orb - Complete BBC Sessions

Please forgive me a self-indulgent nostalgia post:

I love my job !

I vividly remember hearing "Little Fluffy Clouds" by The Orb for the first time - it was in 1991, and coincided with the beginning of one of my favourite times in UK music. I was in my second year at university, and it was the same time that Orbital's Brown Album came out, U2 released Achtung Baby, Screamadelica by Primal Scream was huge, Resevoir Dogs and the Director's Cut of Blade Runner were released, I was listening to "Copper Blue" by Sugar, Bowie's "Hunky Dory" and ""Mixed Up" by the Cure, and They Might Be Giants released "Flood". My friend Dan (nowadays I master his albums) introduced me to "My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts" by Byrne and Eno - and with hindsight, it was the year I started mastering.

That's not strictly true of course - I actually started work as a trainee tape-op at SRT roughly two years later, and mastered my first album for paying customers a few months after that. But I was mastering, nonetheless - or rather, re-mastering - in my own fashion. Bootlegs, to be exact - purely for my own listening - of Prince, no less, at various gigs on the Lovesexy tour and numerous after-show parties. I bought these in dodgy indie record shops for a pittance, on analogue cassette (remember those?) and then discovered I couldn't listen to them, because they were usually dull, distorted, off-azimuth and copied at such a ridiculously low level with no noise reduction that they were bathed in hiss as a result !

So, I would borrow a friend's ghetto blaster and use it's primitive 3-band graphic equaliser to copy the crappy transparent plastic TDK D90 original (remember them?!) across to a lovely new silver SAX90, making improvements as I went. Boosting bass, correcting L/R balance, probably rolling out the top end during quiet sections to hide the hiss and boosting it again in the loud bits to counter the inevitable distorted mush that came with them...

Those were the days. And in fact, nowadays I do pretty much the same things, but with gear I could never even have dreamt of back then. Samplers were the new big thing - I remember tearing my hair out my with best friend Ben (I master his albums now, too) trying to get a multi-patch set up in the cutting-edge Yamaha ____ - and it would always crash solid after about two hours work. I recorded albums for friends on a Tascam 8-track cassette machine, and thought myself lucky to actually have access to a DAT machine to mix down to.

"Little Fluffly Clouds" conjures up all of that for me, in a heartbeat.

Anyway, here I am, nearly twenty years later, actually mastering The Orb for real - listening to a version of "Little Fluffy Clouds" from the the 1998 Steve Lamacq sessions - and even better, "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld" from the original 1989 Peel Sessions (and everything in between) for a new double-album release. It's not distorted, it's not bathed in hiss, it doesn't need much bass and it's certainly not on analogue cassette, but it's still benefitting from some TLC from me. Which feels good.

Perhaps it's a sign of the times (hah!) that although I still remaster Prince bootlegs at home - purely for my own listening - nowadays it's with with ProTools running on a MacBook Pro, from where they go directly to iPod Touch and sound fantastic - but oddly enough, it's a CD of the same gig.

I love my job.