Mastering The Orb - Complete BBC Sessions - Mastering Media Blog

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.

15 comments:

steve said...

OMG, Primal Scream, The Orb and Orbital, it never got any better than that for me, Im in a lucky position to have met Kris from the Orb and chat to a guy who works for them. I was 16 then and Im still listening to those albums today. Just beautiful.

How much difference is there between the masters and the CDs once we get them?

Ian Shepherd said...

You mean, how much work did I have to do in the mastering ? It varied from track to track - some of the early sessions I basically copied flat, apart from sorting the levels out, some of the more full-on stuff like Assassin needed a bit more work. But it all sounded great to begin with, so I'm basically just polishing things and making it all flow as an album.

steve said...

Sounds wonderful, really looking forward to the release in september.

:o)

Ian Shepherd said...

Hope you like it ! I think there's something in there to surprise everybody...

guidster said...

mornin'
really chuffed this is coming out as some of my tapes are worn or lost. just wondered hy it isn't fully complete i know there stacks of orb stuff in the vaults at the beeb, which makes it nigh on impossible to release all but i would of like some of the live shows, or annie nightingale mixes, or breezeblock stuff. it's not just the completist in me just that there the tapes getting the most hammer even now on my shitty car stereo. like you 91 was when i first heard them on peels festive fifty et all

cheers anyroad
guid

Ian Shepherd said...

You'd have to ask Universal/Island about that - or perhaps Dr Paterson himself ! The most likely explanation is just that they wanted to fit it onto two discs - the packaging and retail price go up if you want more.

But also you want an interesting sequence and a balanced selection, which I think they've got. Sometimes in that case less is more. If it sells well, maybe they'll release another one.

mcantu said...

I was searching for sacd's and found The Orb Complete BBC Sessions on Amazon.com. I haven't found any reviews yet, so I'm hoping you can answer my question. Is the sacd content mixed in 5.1 surround, or is it a high quality stereo mix?

Thanks!

-matt

ianshepherd said...

I'm not aware of an SACD version of this, sorry. If you're referring to the listing on Amazon I think it might be an error.

Ian

mcantu said...

Darn. Well, I'll still pick it up. Can't wait to hear it. Thanks for the speedy response!

Brjoro said...

Hello. Just wondering if anyone on here has any idea if this Orb BBC cd will be released in the US? I'm more than happy to buy it as an import, but just curious about a US release? If anyone has any info please feel free to email me: brjoro@nyc.rr.com
Thanks in advance!

ianshepherd said...

I emailed Universal UK but they don't decide this, it's done in the US. Apparently there have been some sales over there so it may be worth asking a record store if they can order it ? I'm not sure if the US sales were imports or not, though.

Dr Wu said...

Great to see that these other sessions finally coming out on official release. Just a couple points though. The liner notes are mixed up and repeat a paragraph mid-way through. Also I recall listening and taping the Mark Radcliffe session. I distinctly remember that Montagne D'Or was included in that session not Plateau as described. Is my memory correct?

ianshepherd said...

Hi Dr Wu,

Thanks for the comment. I don;t have a copy, so I don;t know about the liner notes - that sounds like a mistake at the printers.

But yes, I think you are right about Montage D'Or - there was a version of this on one of the sources that Alex decided not to include - but I don't know his reasons.

Glad you like the CD !

Ian

kris weston said...

as the guy says who links to this article - this is yet another cynical release asking for cash - time and time again they release my tunes without my permission and give them to people to master such as yourself. i appreciate you like the music and dont want to piss on yo fire, but no offence, i master things myself and i would never let anyone anywhere near my tracks to master them (given the choice)! this is basically chrysalis trying to squeeze as much cash as they can out of the back catalogue because none of the new stuff is selling, probably because its shite and they gave alex too much cash which they couldnt recoup. it took about five albums of these releases featuring my tunes for me to finally call in the legal crap, its such a shame that the music industry is like this, but then its a reflection of the rest of the world, powered by money, with no room for actual human feeling. anyway have a nice day ! heheh.

Ian Shepherd said...

Hi Kris,

Nice to see you here ! But, sorry you're unhappy about this release and others like it. Alex approved this one, I think, for what it's worth.

And, if you master your own stuff then fair play - I help people do that, too. I'm really happy with the results on this though, it really benefited from the extra work.

Cheers,

Ian