- Additional Engineering
Early in 2019, Sean Brennan approached David Lawrie to revisit the original, 24 track 2” tapes of the Selected Scenes From The End Of The World sessions - originally released in 1991. The band had recently digitised the recordings, with the intention of completely mixing the album from scratch. Sean was never happy with the original mixes of the album, and every re-release of the album so far has been a case of remastering, which has never rectified the root problems with the original production.
Initial meetings were held with Sean, David, and Ishikawa team member Matthew Setzer (and LAM guitarist since 2008), at Matthew’s personal studio in Los Angeles. There, the raw recordings were analysed, and a plan of action was created. Sean had created Logic sessions from the digitised stems, which made it much quicker to demonstrate to him how a large number of elements could be improved with just a few strokes, and how even some of the most damaged parts of the recordings could be salvaged with some modern audio repair tools.
A timeframe for project completion was proposed, and the recordings were transferred to the studio at Ishikawa HQ, in Northern California. Here the Logic sessions were cleaned up and organised, and any immediately noticeable damaged audio was spectrally repaired. By using iZotope RX 7, much of the tape "hiss" could be removed from individual performances, and unusually loud headphone bleed on some vocal channels could be almost completely removed. By removing these, and other damage/noises, many of the performances that had originally been "buried" in the mix could now be brought much further forward. One extremely noticeable difference is the clarity of the vocal on "Sacrifice," which was placed very far back in the original mix, but is now sitting comfortably forward.
To further lengthen the audio restoration process, the original recordings also had a lot of audio processing printed to tape. Some percussive elements had been so heavily gated that it was necessary to reinforce them with samples. The goal was never to outright replace audio with “fake” sampler instruments, and for the vast majority of the songs, most of what ended up on the final mix was from the original recordings.
After the initial cleanup was completed, another meeting with Sean and the band was held in Los Angeles, in order to double check that all of the required elements were present. After a green light from Sean, the album could now be mixed.
ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE AND ENGINEERING
Unfortunately not all of the original audio could be salvaged. Some percussion parts needed to be re-recorded, but it was very quick and easy to replace these parts and blend them into the production.
The 1991 version of "Claire's Horrors" featured a very pronounced drum machine. In order to bring the production aesthetic up to the rest of the newly mixed album, LAM drummer Pete Pace recorded a live drum take for the 9119 version of the song. By sampling the original drum machine snare, and triggering it from the new snare transients, a hybrid of the two drum kits was forged.
When mixing the 2003 version of "Inamourada" (which had purely sampled drums), the drums felt somewhat lacklustre, when compared to the rest of the album. Pete Pace once again stepped up, and provided an excellent live take, which could be blended with the rest of the 2003 arrangement. MIDI tambourine parts were replaced with live tambourines, performed by David, to add more of a human feel.
However, when all is said and done, around 90% of the original material was used, and any re-recording was done sparingly.
The first pass, or "static" mix was completed relatively quickly. David tends to take the initial mix to an extreme, as his attitude is that it is easier to pull back on elements, due to the artist's requested changes, than it is to add more to a mix later.
After a “static mix” was created, with a very “flat” and balanced frequency spectrum, a wide variety of creative strokes, and the absolute most time-based processing that could have been suitable for the project, Sean came to the studio to give his final input, and the mixes were finished. Generally the mixes became somewhat drier (less reverb), but not so much that the mixes no longer resembled the era from which they came. Because some of the songs have very busy instrumental arrangements, it was difficult to judge which elements should be the main focus. Even though they were sonically working, Sean's input meant that focus could be shifted to the elements he felt were most important.
David made sure to explore all avenues with Sean, as it was very important for Sean to feel that all avenues had been explored, and that the final mixes were as robust as they could be.
After the final mixes were signed off, they were sent to our favourite mastering engineer, Andy Wilson, for mastering. Andy did an incredible job of respecting the dynamic content of the audio, whilst bringing the album to a (conservative) modern playback level, and enhancing the high frequency energy, which added even more punch to the mixes.
Because London After Midnight has historically been largely independent, we worked with Sean to formulate a strategy that would maximise the exposure for this unusual project. It is very rare to re-release an album in a completely remixed form (most of the time re-releases are simply remastered), and as so, the release of the project couldn’t follow the usual routes.
Variations of a press pack were created, in order to tailor the information for the relevance of the press outlets. For magazines and outlets most interested in reviewing the musical side of things, a music-focused press release was created. For outlets more interested in the technical aspects of the process, a tech-heavy press release was crafted.
The before-and-after comparison video you can see at the top of this page was made by David at Ishikawa, with text direction from Sean, for fans of the band to hear that Selected Scenes...: 9119 is not just a "louder" version of what they already own. Interestingly, when creating the video, the original masters had to be slowed down by up to 3% (in pitch and time), in order to be a fair comparison. An old mastering trick, in the days of purely analogue recording, was to speed up the tapes by a tiny amount, in order to add "excitement." The original master of Selected Scenes..., however, was sped up to an extreme!
After approving the test pressings of the deluxe, heavyweight, double-vinyl version of the album in the studio, another teaser video was shot and edited by David. The video below shows the actual audio from the vinyl version of "Sacrifice" - one of the band's most loved songs:
It goes without saying that this project was a significant undertaking, and we are honoured to have been involved. It is so rare for any mix engineer to be approached with the task of mixing a previously released album, completely from scratch!