L.A. Grapevine

Jul 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Maureen Droney

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Producer Randy Thornton (left) and engineer Jeff Sheridan
photo: Maureen Droney

Disneyland turns 50 on July 17, 2005, and the anniversary is generating buckets of press and a flood of nostalgia. A surprise hit among the commemorative items developed for the occasion is the Disney Records six-CD boxed set 50th Anniversary: A Musical History of Disneyland. A compilation of the songs and sounds permanently embedded in the memories of millions, the musical journey starts at Main Street and travels though the “happiest places on earth”: Adventure, Frontier, Fantasy and Tomorrowlands; themed attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World; and more.

The task of assembling the sonic portion of this elaborate production (which also includes vinyl and the 72-page coffee table tome, The Sounds of Disneyland) was helmed by compilation and restoration producer Randy Thornton. I visited with Thornton and engineer Jeff Sheridan, who mastered the project (and mixed much of it), at Sheridan's Soundworks Studio in North Hollywood.

Main source material came from the archives of Walt Disney Imagineering, the company in charge of design, engineering and production for Disney theme parks and attractions. After transfer at WDI from a plethora of formats to Sonic Solutions and Pro Tools, files were delivered to Soundworks, where Sheridan input them via EDL Convert by Cui Bono Soft into a MAGIX Sequoia editing system.

The project's mind-boggling parameters quickly become apparent when you realize that many of the music pieces play in loops of about a minute long, with approximately 60 tracks of those loops playing simultaneously on separate speakers throughout each attraction. With the goal of duplicating the sonic experience of the rides, well…

“For this project, we rebuilt the tracks from the ground up with the original narration, as if you were actually on the attraction,” explains Thornton, who has worked on the annual Disney theme park albums and soundtrack restoration for such classics as Snow White and Mary Poppins. “We wanted an immersive experience, so we also recorded ambient sounds in the park: On Pirates, you can hear the boats going down the flume and the water lapping against the sides of the boats.”

Thornton did much of the compiling and editing on his portable Sequoia system at home, bringing segments to Soundworks for cleaning, tweaking and mixing. “We used some great tools,” says Sheridan. “Sequoia has the same kind of editing capabilities as Sonic Solutions, but it's ‘object-based.’ You can make sounds on the same track be individual objects that can be EQ'd and have reverb or plug-ins attached separately. It's also helpful that it sample rate — converts on the fly and accepts a variety of plug-ins. Algorithmix is one of the primary ones we used. They make a linear phase EQ, a broadband denoiser and reNOVAtor, an interpolation algorithm for getting rid of extraneous noises. It's so good it's scary!”

L-R: engineer/producer David Thoener, engineer/programmer Tal Herzberg and Record Plant president Rose Mann-Cherney
photo: Maureen Droney

Much of the source material was mono; tools used to enhance the original tracks included a TC Electronic System 6000 and a Z-Systems z-K6 processor. “Through [U.S. distributor] TransAudio Group, we were able to demo the z-K6,” continues Sheridan. “It was designed as a surround processor, but we used it to give the mono recordings a stereo feel. This processor worked really well. It just made the ambience much wider, giving us a kind of ‘room’ feel that helped smooth transitions.”

Anticipating the 50th anniversary, Thornton began gathering material for the project as early as 2000; ultimately, he had almost eight hours' worth. “I didn't think I could get it approved,” he recalls, “but I made a montage and played it for the staff. It evoked so many great personal memories for everyone that they said, ‘Go ahead.’”

Thornton's dream is already a success: The initial limited-edition release of 5,000 sold out; 2,000 of them went within 12 hours after they were available on DisneyDirect.com. A second special edition is on the way, and the set will be available nationally in September.

“I wanted to re-create the incredible feeling of excitement that you got from Disneyland,” says Thornton. “Everyone involved in this — Imagineering, the writers, the designers, so many wonderful people — felt the same way; there was a no-holds-barred attitude. We're really proud of it.”

It had been a while since I'd been to Record Plant (www.recordplant.com); hearing that the studios have been jumping lately with the likes of Kanye West, Avril Lavigne, Black Eyed Peas, Jennifer Lopez, Ringo Starr, Jerry Lee Lewis and Santana, I dropped in for a visit.

Since it opened 37 years ago, Record Plant has always managed to comfortably mingle a genre-crossing client base; doubtless it helps that what those clients often have in common is the fact that they're superstars. Engineer/programmer Tal Herzberg, who, on the day I visited was working in Studio 2 with producer (and A&M Records president) Ron Fair on the Pussycat Dolls, points out that the studio's current clientele merely mirrors current Top 40 and Star-format radio playlists, where various hip hop, rock and pop artists are all considered mainstream.

“A lot of the Top 40 stations will play the new Ashlee Simpson and Ashanti back to back with P.O.D., and it's okay,” he says, shrugging. “What is mainstream now? It can be hip hop, R&B, rap, rock. Radio now is at the point where you have to fit between Dido and 50 Cent, no matter who you are.”

The projects Herzberg and Fair work on tend to include lots of live playing, albeit combined with Pro Tools precision. Case in point, he cites a recent collaboration in Record Plant's Studio 4: a ballad with Christina Aguilera on vocals and Herbie Hancock on acoustic piano, which he calls “amazing in its level of musicianship.”

Regarding the live element of recording, Record Plant president Rose Mann-Cherney notes, “Something I'm very proud of is that even during the period when no one seemed to be doing live recording, we thought it was important to teach our staff how to do it. We'd bring bands in and have tutorials for them with experienced engineers so they could get practice.”

That kind of training still pays off. For the 2004 to 2005 award period, five Record Plant staff engineers garnered Grammy® nominations. “A lot of people think that there's no place for the old guard of recording,” Mann-Cherney continues. “At Record Plant, we strive to be the place where both classic and new technology and skills meet in the middle because they both need each other. I think we're successful at it.”

As far as amenities go, the facility just added a workout room with treadmill, Universal gym and elliptical machine, as well as a high-end Avid video suite where clients can get video editing done while they work on their album. “Fitness is an important component of the profile of our clients, and we want to make it convenient for them,” says Record Plant CEO Rick Stevens. “We also noticed clients today are dealing with a high demand for video content to accompany their projects. To accommodate that, we've put together a high-definition Avid editing suite. It's all part of constantly assessing what clients want and what will help them do their best work. Our goal is to provide the kind of creative and supportive environment that successful people want to be in.”


Got L.A. stories? E-mail MaureenDroney@aol.com






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