Bravo, James Clarke.
You might never have heard of James, but he’s an unsung hero, a worker bee (or Systems Analyst, to give him his official job title) at London’s Abbey Road Studios. It was James who spent hours developing software to ‘demix’ the original live recordings from the Beatles’ Hollywood Bowl concerts in 1964 and 1965.
If you’ve ever heard the original 1977 album, you’ll know that it isn’t exactly the cleanest recording of the band. George Martin describes the constant screaming of the audience as akin to the high-pitched wail of a jumbo jet engine. And so how the hell do you remaster something like that?
Enter Giles Martin, son of George, and heir to his father’s legacy. Live At The Hollywood Bowl represents the first in a long line of remixes of the band’s output by Martin Jr. and engineer Sam Okell, a series of release which would gather steam with Sgt. Pepper’s in 2017, the White Album in 2018, and Abbey Road in 2019.
James Clarke’s audio-modelling process separated each instrument and vocal track from the din of the aircraft engine audience, to provide Martin and Okell with individual elements to build up a new remix with. ‘It doesn’t exist as a software program that is easy to use,” Clarke says. “There’s no graphical front end where you can just load a piece of audio up, paint a track, and extract the audio. I write manual scripts, which I then put into the engine to process.”
Pulling out the bass guitar and bass drum was simple, with their low frequencies being easy to isolate. The hard part was separating the guitars, vocals, snare drum and cymbals, which commonly share the same frequencies as the screams of the teenage audience. Here, Clarke used the studio recordings of the band to help the software identify what needed to be pulled out of the live recording. “I went back to the studio versions to build the models,” he says. “They’re not as accurate, as there are usually temporal and tuning changes between playing in the studio and playing live, but the Beatles were pretty spot-on between studio and live versions.”
Even though Clarke achieved ‘nearly full separation’ of the music from the audience, they decided to keep the sound of the audience on the record for the explosive atmosphere it generates. On the finished product, the audience scream is 3 decibels lower than on the original 1977 release. “They could have pushed it a lot further if they wanted to,” Clarke says, “but I think they got it spot on.”
This 2016 reissue is an odd release, given that it’s the companion piece to Ron Howard’s documentary on the band, Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years. In lieu of a traditional soundtrack release, Apple Records decided to pair the film with Giles Martin’s remixing experiment, even though the Hollywood Bowl concerts are only mentioned in passing in Howard’s film.
Although I’m very excited with the new remix, I would rather have had an original release of the band’s 1965 Shea Stadium concert. This remastered concert footage was played in full after Howard’s documentary when it was released in cinemas, and it was just a joyous experience: euphoria, mass hysteria, John, Paul and George’s faces lit from below due to the placing of the stage-lights, military jackets, elbows on keyboards, and fans breaking out from the crowd, tackled midfield by police officers.
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