This week was a proud one for me. After working closely with London After Midnight throughout 2019, Selected Scenes from the End of the World: 9119 is now available for pre-order. It has been a long journey for a unique project. If you would like to read about the process, please head over to Ishikawa Media.
Sean asked me to write about my personal experience, so I did. The following is included in the liner notes of the album:
“Unearthing archived audio recordings from any era is always fascinating. Listening back to individual instruments, hearing vocal warm ups, and imagining the decisions that were being made during production can open up a whole new level of appreciation for a piece of art. When the recordings were made by young, independent musicians with a super tight budget, at a time when recording in an analogue studio was the only option, things get even more interesting and intriguing upon reflection.
When I was asked to revisit the digitised tapes of Selected Scenes From The End Of The World and mix the album from scratch, I jumped at the chance. So far, every re-release of the album seems to have been a simple case of remastering from the original mix, and/or adding previously unreleased songs/versions. Ultimately, though, the mixes themselves were masking the quality of the performances. I saw this opportunity as a chance to make a real difference to the presentation of the songs.
Technical issues aside, the first challenge was to identify the elements of the original productions that needed to be preserved. Nostalgia is especially strong when it comes to music. The original productions were released twenty eight years ago, and no matter what direction my ears wanted to take the mixes, I knew I couldn’t ignore that fact. I wasn’t going to be mixing the songs for the first time, and vast numbers of people have been listening to them for many, many years. Even though it is 2019, I knew I couldn’t work exclusively in a 2019 mindset. Key post-punk production elements such as rich plate reverbs, gated snare reverbs, deliberately synthetic strings (amongst other things) that were present in the original recordings would need to be preserved and enhanced. Vocal double tracking would need to be a little more obvious than if it were being produced today. If anything, however, these elements were too present in the original mixes, so they needed to be tamed.
On the other hand, it is 2019, and what is the point of revisiting an album almost three decades later if not to inject some new life into it? Surely it would be disappointing for listeners to barely hear a difference. Modern production techniques have opened up the ability to heighten the low end of mixes which, in turn, heightens the overall feelingof the song. Increased CPU power now means that signal processing can be practically limitless. How far could I go to bring something new to the album, without taking away from it? This question was frequently asked throughout the entire mixing process.
Creative decisions aside, there were some significant technical difficulties to traverse. The limitations of the original media meant that there were far more compromises in the 1991 production than would be necessary today. The number of channels allocated to the drums was small. Splices of different instrumental and vocal takes were sometimes abrupt, and oftentimes unable to be smoothed. These kinds of things are to be expected in low budget recordings from the era, but there were a few engineering elements that were very unexpected. One of the things that caught me off guard was the fact that some severe dynamics processing on the drums, namely gating with an infinity floor, was printed to tape. This meant that sections of the original performances were lost forever. Or rather, they were never captured in the first place! With this in mind, I did have to use some subtle sample-based reinforcement, but I am happy to say that I was able to rely primarily on the original recordings for the most part. The one main exception to this was in “Claire’s Horrors,” seeing as the original version relied purely on a drum machine. Sean never intended for this to be the case, so I was supplied with a fantastically engineered and performed drum recording by Pete Pace. It was actually a little too comprehensively recorded, when compared to the rest of the drums on the album, so I had to pull back on what had been presented to me. Alas, this was probably the greatest example of me trying to marry the nostalgic expectations with a more robust mix aesthetic. By allowing the live drums to trigger samples of the original drum machine sounds, the final drum sound is a hybrid of the two.
Another major issue from the 1991 version (and subsequent rereleases) that presented itself was that the original 2 track master was noticeably sped up. Speeding up the master tape used to be a trick that was employed to add a subtle element of excitement and energy to any mix. Usually this speeding up was by a tiny fraction, but Selected Scenes was quite significantly sped up – and as so, was significanntly pitched up as well. Has anyone tried to play along with the original release? If so, you’ll know that you had to tune up your instrument! Because I was working from the 24 track 2” tapes, the digitisation is in the original tempos and pitches, and even though on first listen it may appear slower, this is the originally intended pitch and tempo.
In the end, Sean wanted to release a version of the album that was as close to his original vision as possible. I would like to think we have achieved this – at concert pitch, with more dynamics – and that it is robust enough to last another twenty eight years.”