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Author Topic: Critic At Large, Vol. IV: The Beatles Remastered  (Read 3346 times)


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Critic At Large, Vol. IV: The Beatles Remastered
« on: April 17, 2011, 09:41:15 PM »

Originally Posted By: Klaus Heyne on Wed, 09 September 2009

Two box sets of yet another ‘re-mastered’ Beatles music compendium (mono/stereo years) were recently issued by EMI for a whopping €200 each in Europe, and $200 plus in the US.
 Over the last weeks there have been widespread reports, discussions, reviews and blogs about this event. Many of them I read or heard gave praise to the “crisp” sound, the “updated clarity”, which “brings the Beatles’ songs into the 21st century” and similar compliments for a job well done.

A few critics voiced complaints about the price and wrote the venture off as a coldly calculated business move first and foremost; others remarked that the sound was “too clean”, or that ambience changes or reverb that had been added or amplified on some songs were too strong or out of place, or that voices and instruments were so cleanly, sterile isolated now in the mix that the cohesion of the song as a whole was damaged.
These may all be valid points about micro-cosmic details of this reissue, but am I the only one who thinks that this project is clumsy, disrespectful historic revisionism of an art piece that should have never been undertaken?

To illustrate the point:
During this long re-issue project the musical equivalent of the Mona Lisa was not only washed clean of time’s ravages but the restorators*, while they where at it, empowered themselves to add some nice clouds here, (listen to the new, cheesy slap-back echo added on Lennon’s voice in “If I fell”) or apply luscious primary colors to the landscape there (listen to the hif-fied up Höfner Bass, or the now glistening Rickenbackers and Gretschs on many cuts.)
(*none of the decisions makers in this restoration project were in similar executive positions during the original recording sessions, with both the chief engineer and producers - still alive and well- notably absent)
Why don’t we rise to the same reverence and respect in preserving the original Gestalt of a piece or work of popular music that we afford other forms of art?
Would we dare to “update” a Bach Fugue’s intricate meter (not snappy enough for our ADS kids anymore), a Richard Rauschenberg painting (dated color palette, let’s spruce it up!) or a Frank Lloyd Wright house (that roof line- so 1940s!)?

But ‘remastering’ of pop music’s iconic works that defined the consciousness of a whole generation? No problem. Music that those who witnessed it first hand back then will forever associate with sacred times and places in their lives? Let's go! We (EMI) own the rights don't we? Who will stand in the way to milk another buck from the same old cow? So let’s do it. And let’s have it officially sanctioned by using ‘Abbey Road Studios’, dragging ye olde equipment back in, so we can put “authentic” on the box with authority.

Just like we hauled Andrew Loog Oldham (original producer of early Stones works) out of retirement and convinced him, with a little financial incentive, to put his stamp of approval on plundering the old chestnuts one more time! We just got him to sit his old bones on the control room couch once again, and made sure he gave his blessings in lots of interviews to pushing the tambourine on ‘Satisfaction’ a bit more into listeners’ ears. Update that rusty cow-webbed ’60’s sound! Why leave it in black and white when we can colorize it so well now! And, would I have known what I know now, I, Andy O., would probably done all those changes already back then!
And doesn't that term ‘remastered’ sound rather harmless? They just 'cleaned the pops and crackles' (an argument included in almost all reviews of pop reissues), so what could possibly be wrong with THAT?

To me, the term is intellectually dishonest. Any interference with a work of art that alters the overall Gestalt of the piece, once it is established and well-known, is unacceptable to me, regardless of its purported goal ("remastering" ) because it is indistinguishable in its effect from any other form of reinterpretation, like any 'remix' of an original.
For the same reason- not to alter the Gestalt of a piece of recorded art- I would also leave late 1980’s pop music recordings in their digital ice box; likewise, Prince’s crunched-up, distorted, almost unlistenable Purple Rain album, and any other period pieces that, from today's view, sound "dated": these recordings were messengers of esthetic sensibilities of their age, and I can best understand them and their period in their authentic versions at the time of their creation.

So I disagree with the same lame excuse put forward to do this Beatles remastering for a second time; the boys behind the board, once again, felt comfortably disrespectful enough to reinterpret, stealing creative license to change the pieces here and there. As if there was a technical deficiency in these recordings so grave in the first place that it mandated these kinds of 'cleanups' of song arrangements and tonality: If there ever was a time and a place for technically mature recordings, it was in Western Europe in the 1960s.

When, as threatened, an all-analogue LP version of the unadulterated Beatles masters will be issued some day, I will save up for them and introduce my son to some aural and musical magic. Until that time, I’ll sit on the side lines, and look at these shenanigans with disdain.
Klaus Heyne
 German Masterworks
Klaus Heyne
German Masterworks®
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