Elvis Presley 'Young Man With the Big Beat' Box Set
Dec 12, 2011 7:37 PM, By Barbara Schultz
“I try to bring out what I think are the best qualities of the tape while retaining the original sound, and I’m always referring to previous issues of the music because I don’t want to stray too far from what the fans remember. I wasn’t there when they recorded this material; I wasn’t there when they mixed it and I wasn’t there when they mastered it. So I have to figure out what they did. They may have raised the second verse 2 dB. I don’t know until I actually A/B things.
“You can really get yourself in trouble by thinking, ‘I have the master tape, let me just do what I think sounds best instead of comparing,’” continues Anesini, who also mastered the epic 30-CD Complete Elvis Presley Masters box. “You may think: This is the master take of ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ but it might be an alternate take, and [you don’t know it] because you didn’t compare to the original release. It could even have alternate lyrics. Elvis would record five to 10 takes of a song and really not stray too far vocally.”
Anesini plays back the original analog masters on his ATR machines and does all his mastering through the custom console. “The console directly outputs to the Pacific Microsonics HDCD analog-to-digital converters,” he says. “I use Sequoia as my digital audio workstation to assemble the digital tracks, but all processing—EQ, compression, gain—is done in the analog domain.”
Anesini says that in addition to having wonderful technology at his disposal, it’s also important to understand what technical possibilities or limitations existed in the studio circa 1956. “Usually less is more with a lot of this material,” he observes. “Back in the ’50s, there were certain techniques they would use. Highpass filters: Sometimes the engineers would cut all the extreme low-frequency information because it could cause extreme swings in the cutter head. Sometimes they would cut back on the high end, too, because too much high end and sibilance could cause distortion or damage to the cutter head. And they’d use compression if the levels were too dynamic or to boost overall level. Barring those anomalies, there’s not too much done to the source when they’re going to cut vinyl. A lot of times you put up the tape and the vinyl sounds amazingly close to what they did.”
Of course, the “less-is-more” approach doesn’t necessarily hold up when Anesini is presented with an equal measure of live recordings and radio interviews—all from different sources, recorded differently—that were not necessarily ever intended for public consumption on this level. “The archives have accumulated so much material,” Anesini says. “There are thousands of Elvis tapes in our vaults. They’re little gems. Some of them may be originals, but some are copies. Some of them are not hi-fi. Some of them were recorded off the radio; some could have been somebody holding a mic up to a speaker, but sometimes that’s all you have: a little piece of history.
“Mainly, on those historical recordings, there is some pitch correction,” Anesini continues. “Some of these were done with home recorders, consumer decks, and they may have been recorded at 7.5 or 3.75 ips, and the speed is not always accurate. So we did have to vari-speed a little bit so they would be true and played back in the right key. If the song is supposed to be in A, you don’t want it in G. We check for that.”
It’s Jorgenson and Anesini’s detailed approach to Presley’s music that makes each track a joy to hear, and it’s Jorgenson’s dogged pursuit of all things Presley that enriches each collection they create. Not only is the audio pristine, but the 82-page book shows letters, press clippings, photos, playbill and a timeline that accounts for every musical move Presley made during the year of 1956: the year rock ’n’ roll burst forth as a national phenomenon, the year Presley shook everything up.
“Elvis Presley was my first love in music,” Jorgenson says. “This collection is really to help people remember that what happened in 1956 in the music business has changed the music world forever, and in many ways it all had to do with one artist, Elvis Presley.”
Mix contributing editor Barbara Schultz agrees with Mojo Nixon: “Elvis is everywhere.”
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