Welcome to issue #75 of Tape Op.
I recently found myself working on the master tape of a CD that had been released in 1994, Elliott Smith's Roman Candle. My job was to prepare the stereo mix for re-mastering — to make some small sonic adjustments and come up with an approach for the upcoming mastering session. (We went to a pro! I wanted the second set of ears, skills and opinions that another engineer could bring to this project.) As I started listening to the files and making small changes — de- essing, removing unwanted noises, adding subtle volume moves, fixing bad punch-ins and applying tiny bits of noise reduction — I started to wonder if I was straying too far from the original CD. What was the point of the work I was performing? Was something being lost or gained? Sounds like harsh "esses", guitar scrapes and unwanted noises can sometimes distract the listener from the actual music, and as Jim Scott notes in his interview this issue, "Music's not about pushing people away." But such sounds can also add an intimacy — a "you are there" quality.
What this scenario brings us back to is the original intent of the artist. What was his intent? I would assume in this case, as with many but not all records, that the intent was to present the songs and the performances to a listener. Every time we fire up recording equipment with musicians present we also approach (maybe subconsciously?) the issue of intent. Perhaps this issue needs to be brought more to the fore in my own work. I'll be thinking of it more after this experience.
So what did I decide during this re-mastering project? I felt the music could be served better with a bit of my work and the touch of a great mastering engineer, and in the end the "cleaned up" version of this album feels more appealing to my ears (and others, thankfully) and invites me in to listen and enjoy the songs more than it ever did before. I think the intent is still in place, possibly served better than before, and I guess that's best of what we can do with our skills, ears, minds, opinions and experience.
Larry Crane, Editor
We recently lost a great friend and big fan of this magazine, Vic Chesnutt, who also performed at TapeOpCon 2005. I recorded with him briefly in my studio with M. Ward one time, and as we lifted his wheelchair into Jackpot! he exclaimed, "I'm so excited to be in this studio." I asked him if he maybe had some other place in mind. No, his enthusiasm for meeting "the Tape Op guy" was for real. I always assumed we'd meet again to do some more recording and laugh our asses off. Damn. -LC
Vic was equal parts king and court jester. Working in the studio with him never felt like "work". He was funny beyond measure, people loved to be in his company and he made everyone rise to the occasion and want to do the best they could. Everyone around him always felt important. These were but a few of his gifts. A more humble, intelligent, entertaining and gracious person, I have yet to meet. Rest in peace dear friend, you are already missed. -Howard Bilerman www.hotel2tango.com