Facebook R&B crooner Mario has been relatively quiet on the music front for…
- Posted on Sep 9th 2009 10:45AM by Stephen Dowling
The Abbey Road Studios engineer has spent the past four years living and breathing the Beatles as leader of the seven-strong team remastering the Fab Four's albums -- from 'Please Please Me' to 'Yellow Submarine.'
It's a daunting prospect: How do you improve pop music's most famous body of work for the digital age without compromising it, or sullying the sounds so many millions of people love?
Rouse has had to deal with this kind of problem before. As an engineer at the hallowed London studio since 1971, Rouse first got to grips with the Beatles' master tapes when he copied them to digital tape in 1991, before working with Sir George Martin on the TV documentary 'The Making of Sgt. Pepper' and the CDs 'Live at the BBC' and 'The Beatles Anthology,' as well as the remixed version of the band's final album, 'Let it Be ... Naked.' Here is a man you want on your pub quiz team for the Beatles round.
Rouse spoke to Spinner about the unique challenges faced with "improving" the Beatles' back catalogue.
How did the project get off the ground?
I got a phone call from either Apple [Corps] or EMI, after they concluded they wanted to do it, and then I recruited the people we ended up with mainly because, particularly with Paul Hicks and Guy Massey, they had been working on Beatles projects since 'Yellow Submarine 5.1' for the film and stereo for the CD, and subsequently they've done numerous Beatles jobs, so they had done an apprenticeship, if you like.
You've worked on a lot of Beatles projects before, but this must have been especially challenging -- remastering all of the band's albums?
I think the biggest challenge this time was recognising that we weren't remixing. We've remixed so much material in the last 12 or 13 years where you can achieve results that you cannot possibly achieve in remastering. It was a question, particularly for Paul and Guy and myself, thinking to ourselves: "We've done that, but we can't do it now." These are the original masters, created by the original engineers, the original producer and the original band.
As a remastering project, this must feel like the Holy Grail.
We had to, not restrain ourselves, but we just had to be reverential with what we were dealing with. We knew what we wanted to do was make them sound as good as they possibly could in 2009. That is what I've hoped we've achieved.
We'd loaded all the tapes into the computer and all the original CDs and the original vinyl in so that we had a reference so we could see what we were doing, where we were going, what they sounded like originally. When we compared the original CDs to our new transfer, without doing anything to them they were already better. Even that alone has made a vast improvement.
The project took four years to complete. How long did you spend on each record?
Each album was taking about two weeks, which, in remastering terms, is extraordinary because if you really wanted to, you could remaster an album in a day, but we spent upwards of two weeks on each. Why? One, it's the Beatles, and fortunately the company let us keep doing it until we felt we'd got it right. We didn't want to present something to Apple [Corps] that was second-rate.
How did you decide what to leave in or take out?
We split it into two: whether it was a technical issue or a performance issue. Breaths, for example, and another thing is Ringo's squeaky bass drum pedal, the squeaky chair on 'A Day in the Life' underneath the piano chord ... these were all things that took place during the performance.
The things we considered we should attempt to remove or improve were things like electrical clicks or a bad edit -- not that there were that many of those but there were some -- a dropout in the tape, sibilance, microphone pops. You could argue that sibilance and microphone pops are part of the performance and I've seen some people say that they are ... they are both technical things.They didn't have an awful lot of time to do these things, especially at the beginning."
If it was part of the performance, we didn't remove it and if it was a technical thing we'd try and remove or improve it. The pops, we reduced them. You can't remove them entirely, but we made them less obvious.
Were you nervous about how the surviving Beatles and Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison would react?
We sent all of the discs to Apple, they distributed them to the four board members [Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Ono and Olivia Harrison], and we just sat round and waited for the phone to ring. Generally we prefer it not to ring, because if it does that means there's an issue so if it doesn't ring it means we've got away with it."
Can you listen to the Beatles without a critical ear?
In the conditions we've been doing it, it's more of an audio experience than a musical experience but you can't detach the two, because you can do things in an audio sense that start to detract the musical sense.
I can honestly say I've got them on my iPod, but probably won't be listening to them for a little while yet.