This four-CD box set includes 42 live performances by the legendary Velvets at the San Francisco club, The Matrix, in late 1969. Some of the material was on 1974's venerable 1969: The Velvet Underground Live; though these are new mixes. And while several "performances" overlap with Robert Quine's lo-fi cassette recordings used for Bootleg Series Volume 1: The Quine Tapes, the new Matrix set is from a completely different, higher fidelity, multitrack source. Last year's Super Deluxe Edition of the Velvets' self-titled third album also contained 18 of these tracks, but hearing these recordings all in one place with consistent mixing is really the payoff here. My pal, Tardon Feathered of Mr. Toad's (an excellent audio transferal service), was lucky enough to mix this release so I dropped a line to find out what that experience was like. -Larry Crane
Peter Abram, one of The Matrix's owners, recorded the band onto 4-track. What type of deck was he using?
I think co-owner Gary Jackson was involved with the recordings as well. It's all 1/2-inch, 4-track on Scotch 206. Great tape; except for approximately one reel's worth of what appeared to be Ampex tape. I have no idea of the deck make. I know they had a custom desk and two 4-tracks at one point, but I'm not sure if that was the case while these recordings were going on.
One version of "Sister Ray" ends with a low fidelity recording, presumably when the original master tape ran out. Is this from one of Robert Quine's recordings?
That's what happened. Producer Bill Levenson suggested getting me the Quine recording to fill the gap. We snagged the appropriate section and pitch corrected them to somewhat match. This actually spawned the idea to do an entire surround disc comprised of the Abrams recordings in front, and the Quine recordings in back. The sonic footprint in the two recordings couldn't be any more different. By themselves each one of these recordings is a little flawed. These 4-tracks are a little too close mic'd on the guitars, and the Quine tapes, from the back of the room, has a huge keyboard sound — together they solved that. I did a test sync of "Sister Ray" and liked it. But we weren't sure we had enough tracks from both Quine and the Matrix recordings to make a full disc, so that idea never took off.
The second version of Maureen Tucker singing "After Hours" has a lot of tape noise and artifacts. What caused that? Did you try any single-ended noise reduction techniques?
On the first version of "After Hours" I did apply noise reduction to the tracks; especially that poorly mic'd acoustic, mandolin, or "whatever-that-is-back-there" track. I often felt like I was chasing a phantom instrument in that mix. When I delivered the second version, I left all the warts in because it was so flawed sonically, with both hiss and random clicks, that I wasn't sure it'd make the cut (and it had no sign of the phantom guitar). I probably should have cleaned it up and given them an updated mix, but I was moving the studio this summer. That was hard!
Was a lot of noise reduction used for eliminating artifacts?
Only on that first "After Hours." Otherwise, this is an honest recording. No monkey business or trickery, just four tracks and a bunch of compression. There's no reverb added, and I never EQ'd Lou Reed's voice even once. I'm so in awe over the quality of Lou's voice on this recording. I had the feeling that it was like gospel at times, especially with the vibe in tracks like "I'm Set Free" and "Beginning to See the Light."
Did you transfer over the tapes and mix from digital?
I used my Mike Spitz rebuilt ATR deck with 4-track heads, and Audicon's Programmable Padnets (from Flux Magnetics) to pull signal right off the heads into our Mytek analog to digital converters. The funnest aspect of this gig was with nearly consistent tracking from take to take, I was able to do a custom alignment per track on this one. So instead of aligning the deck in a single, overall alignment across all four tracks, each track had a tweak to emphasize the best of the instrument on that track. When I have the budget, it's a great technique for getting the best out of any analog recording. That'd be nearly impossible to do if I'd been mixing via analog, as it'd be such a distraction from simply focusing on the mix.
How were the instruments spread across the four tracks?
It was unique: Two tracks were closely mic'd guitars [Lou and Sterling Morrison], and the other two tracks (with huge room sound) had the vocals (Lou and Doug [Yule] on one track), and bass/keys with drums. I resisted the urge to apply reverb to the guitars to bring them back a bit. There were no effects at all used on these mixes; just the sounds on tape. The "teaser tracks" from the 45th anniversary third VU album box were mixed in one chunk. The additional tracks (showing up for the first time on the Matrix box) were mixed in a different chunk of time. To me, the most interesting development between those two groups of mixes was that after spending so much time "respecting the recording" on the first group, I totally changed my tune and said, "Fuck it. These are 4-track recordings. Just go for it." I took a whole (to me, at least) different shape where I smacked both "room" tracks harder with compressors. It brought out the background detail more. Guitars started sounding more natural. Bass and keys also sounded better. So the second session had a more compelling cohesiveness to it. There's a fine line between respecting the authenticity of the tracking and "improving" it. I hope I achieved a good balance between the two.
Were there any significant challenges?
I think the hardest thing to do was not psych myself out. Once I'd listened to the reels, it became obvious that the make-or-break track to get right was the bass/keys/drums track, as it held so much varying information. Bill was happy with my mixes, starting from the rough stage, so I had near autonomy on the project. I think I revised three mixes, in total, and they were all from the first round.
Any heartbreaking things, like half a song with tape running out?
Nothing like that. According to information you can easily find on the Internet, it doesn't appear that these were actually recordings of four discrete sets over two nights. You notice we have no continuity information, like applause, between any two songs. It's hard to tell when these were from, in their multiple Matrix stays in '69. Since these are compiled reels of takes, not whole reels tracked live, there were no junk takes in there; just the best ones. The narrative that these were four discrete sets made for easy groupings of all the songs where there were four takes of many. I hope it doesn't take away from the project in any way if it wasn't.
Produced by Bill Levenson. Mastered by Kevin Reeves at Universal Republic Studios, New York, NY.