LeafTaming the Beast:
S-OBoxed Set and Single Album
Editions -- Audio/Musical Cleanup

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Leaf Overview
On Pitch Errors
On Hiss Reduction
On Hum & Thumps
On Teensy Ticks/Pops
On Individual Note Glitches
On Tempo Glitches
On The Ending Tails

Thanks to some of the sharper-eared among you, ESD and this website have gotten queries in regard to the many restorations and changes that were made to bring the original masters of this set up to date for 20-bit audio. We're grateful for your interest. Below we cover every aspect of cleaning and polishing that went on, in more detail than the average music lover would care about. Of course many of you ARE more discerning than average, and we hope this new page will cover any questions you might have. It may even be an enjoyable challenge to try to pick out the changes and repairs before you read all about them here. Once you've learned the behind-the-scenes details, though, I hope you can then just sit back and enjoy the music!

LeafNot many of you will be that interested in the litany that follows. Also, there will be some of you who probably will be happier not knowing about the touchups described below (the power of suggestion and expectation can work against you, hence the need for "double-blind testing".) But those with very sharp ears may specifically pick up on several changes that were made during the remastering process for our boxed set (beyond noticing how good it sounds). These addressed both audio and musical problems that had existed on all earlier versions of the original albums. IMHO, these are all notable improvements and repairs I've hoped to make for years.
You will note that in no case were any but the original master mixes used, the very first generation tapes when the balances and positions and reverb/ambiance were "locked-down" for good. (Next we had to make compromise versions, copies adjusted carefully to facilitate cutting reasonable LP's and prerecorded tapes. Those compromise tape copies, with limiting, compression, midrange-boosts and hi/low rolloffs, are what all other CBS/Sony CD releases have originated from up until this new deluxe edition.) For the Switched-On Boxed Set and the single album editions (S-OB, W-TS, S-OBII, S-OBrandys) no "sweetening" or substitute additional notes or parts were used anywhere (as Frank Zappa did some years ago, consternating many fans and collectors). Nothing was manipulated which could be considered as substitution of original materials. That was the ground-plan: improve, assist, clean & optimize, but don't alter the critical essence.
Please allow a me a personal thought about all of what you'll read below. Yes, I know that one can draw a line arbitrarily in many locations between leaving a master tape exactly as it is, every wart and zit more obvious with Hi-D sound than ever before, to doing extensive reconstruction, until very little of the original shape remains, so much cosmetic surgery has been performed. So there may be some of you who would have drawn the line slightly differently than I did here. For the most thoughtful of you, I can only offer my comments here, as honest and forthright as I know how. I hope you will be pleased at the effort made to produce as fine a version of the Switched-On Collection as has ever existed.
For those of you for whom music is an eidetic memory association experience, and once memorized, not one jot or molecule can be altered at all, I suspect only an original LP will satisfy. Make it the particular LP that had each surface blemish irradiated into your mind, such that to remove the smallest tick would be to destroy a cherished, nostalgic experience. It's not easy to have such acute ears. I do sympathize: this mastering is slightly "different" (that was the whole point, of course). The CD is a more critical medium, and audio systems have advanced in many ways over what existed when these albums first came out. I don't think the changing times CAN be ignored, nor ought be.
Anyway, I have given this my best effort over many months of extremely cautious work and auditioning, living with it. No snap decisions were allowed, unless they stood up weeks later. Apologies if you don't agree. This is all much, much closer to what we originally intended back then, but had to be satisfied with less. Ultimately, I can only paraphrase the outraged playwright (Kenneth Mars) joke in Mel Brooks's witty first film, "The Producers": I'm the artist --I outrank you! This new remastering has me feeling gleeful and happy, and I hope you'll feel that way, too!

leafOn Pitch Errors:
But ever since those first LP's and prerecorded tapes were put out, I've had a few involuntary winces upon hearing several small problems that had been let go, or were impossible to render better back when the recordings were made. As one obvious example, the incredibly difficult task of trying to assure all of the first Moog Synth parts were in tune, absolutely and with each other, was far from perfect, and some of those errors have persisted until now. The original Ampex 8-track recorder was actually a modified 1/2" machine, made to operate with 1", using new guides, tape head stack, and rollers. It had difficulty maintaining a constant 15 ips comparing the start of a reel to the end. If you left the tape sections pretty much where they were originally recorded this wasn't important. But if you took a section recorded near the start of a reel, and made an excellent splice to another section recorded near the end of another reel (an extreme case), you could be assured of some slight pitch change, apart from the synthesizer's instability.
There are perhaps 30 places where I noticed while remastering that the pitch of a note or two, or some complete sections, were slightly out of tune. That was obviously not our intention, but we did the best we could with the limited tools we had. For the new boxed set I continued to trim and adjust by a few tens of cents of tuning the remaining more obvious spots which had been abandoned. Now you may note that the pitches within individual tracks are nicely consistent most of the time. The worst offender, a major blunder in truth, was on W-TS, the initial track: Monteverdi's "Orfeo" Suite. Some of the adjacent sections here were more than a quarter-tone off-speed all these years -- yikes! Very embarrassing, but next to impossible to fix with an old varispeed analog tape equipment, which can generate wow and additional random mistunings.
To repair the all-too-audible pitch errors of our Orfeo minisuite took two days. None of the other repairs of pitch were nearly so cussed nor extensive, just a few notes here and there, and by but a few cents. I seem to be very sensitive to these pitch things, with my experiences with alternative tunings, so if none of this bothered you before, forget I even brought it up now!
leafOn Hiss Reduction:
A more general kind of repair-work was the minimizing of tape hiss, hum, and other low level distractions. Unsurprisingly the noisiest masters were from the first album, when we worked just before buying our first
Dolby A301 noise reduction units. Everything recorded after the masters for S-OB used Dolby-A, with a great improvement in sound. I have heard many albums that have been remastered with such aggressive hiss removal that all semblance to the original tapes has been lost. It's easy to get carried away here. Since we can't practically remove all the hiss, what should be the goal is to tame what remains, to make it less noticeable, and preserve as much of the original master as possible.
I used one of the most flexible audio tools for such a task, Arboretum's Ionizer. This is a tricky, yet powerful program that if used intelligently allows you to tread very close to the optimum tweaks for every bit of sound on the original masters, while dropping the most objectionable hiss by a few dB. I didn't use it as an automatic "blanket" device, but selected individual phrases and regions that were fairly consistent, then adjusted to obtain modest improvements, and saved several versions. I compared each such section over many days, coming at each audition freshly, and choosing what now seemed the most reasonable version of those best attempts, occasionally taking an additional pass.
So what you will hear is that some tracks have essentially no audible hiss left. Cool. Others retain a bit of hiss, but it's much less than ever before. If you tried to remove much more, the music would suffer. I assume most of you would prefer not to go that far (yes?). Finally, I hand-reduced a great many very brief snippets, quiet pauses, the reverberating tail-off of a piece, a moment when hiss increased just before a new sound entered, since I must have raised some (rotary) faders. Now less than a second of this type of lead-in has the hiss dropped a bit more than what comes before or after that entrance, kinda subtle stuff.
There was very little hiss on most of the later masters, with the exception of the "Air" from Handel's "Water Music" on W-TS. That piece mixed together too many low-signal additional tracks which contained some EQ boost, and has had a noisy background as a result. It took several days to "nail" that track's hiss by an optimal amount. The "Air on a G-String" from S-OB was even worse, but came out surprisingly well. Those were the most difficult to denoise complete tracks on the set.
A special consideration was given to the opening minute of our 3rd Brandenburg performance. This initial movement is demonstrated on the final track of CD #I, in which musicological concerns expressed by Folkman (Bach would seldom double melodic lines 8va and 15 ma, for ex.) led to the opening being synthesized with no pitches above a standard 8' (damn!). That means we included no subtle additive overtones as analog synth timbres often require, and the opening is muddier and murkier than I desired. If it weren't for our remastering policy (as stated above): not to add or replace any original material, more could have been done. This policy also is why the ending notes of the Invention in F, described below, remain slightly compromised. I was sorely tempted to "sneak in" a few 4' and 2' doublings during the remastering of that first page, but knew this opened the door of a Pandora's Box (bad enough to have a ridiculously bright Siamese cat named Pandora! ;^).
Instead all I did for now was to add a slight aural exciter effect, with some very carefully considered high frequency boost of the affected portion. This lightened the passages somewhat, but brought up additional hiss as well. So a tradeoff was made, reducing the added hiss a bit, brightening the remainder slightly more, until diminishing returns set in. It isn't perfect, but the opening of this movement now is the best it's ever sounded. After page one, I insisted we clearly needed some of those higher octave overtones, if only like soft organ stops and mixtures, and Ben finally relented. So everything gradually becomes brighter, and no more cautious enhancement was needed beyond a gentle hiss-reduction, a few mini off-pitch fixes, and restoration of the original master tape's "buried treasures."
leafOn Hum & Thumps:
When listening at loud monitor levels I discovered a few hums and low-thumps, too. These were simply inaudible on the small monitors I used while recording those masters that had them. Oops! So the same kind of care used to reduce hiss where it was found also went into these spots that contained hum. Some 60/120 Hz leakage on one of the tracks of the old Ampex machine occasionally became audible throughout
W-TS. It was not a happy surprise to discover this after we'd gotten the big new Klipsh monitor system installed in the brownstone studio, and were playing that master which had sounded decent in the first studio.
Since these hums were intermittent, no single setting of hum rolloff back then would have been reasonable, without harming all of a track. I was generally loathe to do any such changes anyway, as they automatically accrued a generation loss going to a "new" master tape. It's wonderful at last to have been able to locate these, the ones that were most noticeable, and slightly nudge them down a bit, until you really won't hear them anymore. Once again, I made several varieties of these cleanups, and auditioned them again over several days, before choosing the best one to use.
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leafOn Teensy Ticks/Pops:
With our new monitor system we also became aware that the first two albums had some peculiar tiny ticks and pops within the music in many places. These were not so noticeable at that time. But for this project, once those tapes were mastered to 20-bit "Hi-D" sound, I became all too aware that on an ultra decent CD master the formerly "insignificant" ticks were not easy to ignore. They began to drive me nuts! Where were they coming from? Hard to track down...
It turned out that they were on individual tracks of the multitrack tapes, and could be heard just as slower attack patches began, at the exact point when the Moog keys were depressed, in fact. A hard-attack sound hid them. It was only in certain patches that these audible bugs were generated along with the notes. I'd just not noticed them on the first two albums with the modest speakers I was using (this is a lesson to all of you who master your own music: be sure your monitors are faithful and of decent quality!)
Okay, small ticks existed at the start of certain Moog patches, mostly the softer, slower pieces on the first two albums, W-TS especially. Hundreds of them. What to do? I really don't trust any automatic program for taking out more than really obvious pops and clicks, such as transferring of old LP's and film soundtracks to digital. These things were very subtle. To remove them would risk removing some music as well.
Time for the old Pencil Tool... Ouch! Yup, this tedious method is what I did, for three weeks, going carefully over each track for the set, and whenever I found some of these rascals, I'd go through probing the waveform, trying to center the teensy intruder on screen, which is hard to do. In most cases once you'd enlarged it enough, you could see the distinctive "twidget" right there on screen. Yeay! Fire! Usually you saw a few minuscule spikes, like a little damped wavelet that was barely there, but too easily heard. Then you'd have to draw it out, or pop an extremely brief low-pass filter on the millisecond affected, to kill it. Check playback before and after a few times. If not undetectable, try it again. You'd get to be pretty expert after the second or third 12-14 hour day of this... :^)
There were a few I just couldn't remove completely. I reduced what I could, and just went on, as what now remained was very hard to hear, unless you know exactly where to find it. These are all extremely small fixes, but in some passages where it sounded like birdseed being dropped onto a tin plate (hey, I'm exaggerating!), all is now smooth and lovely, and in retrospect the tedium was well worth it (no, honestly).

leafOn Individual Note Glitches:
During the recording of
S-OB, I often worked with Ben (Folkman) there, at all hours of night and day, frequently overtired and frustrated with equipment nightmares long past. I must confess to being fairly influenced by a collaborator (with Rachel we were BOTH obsessive, thus "no note was permitted to survive until it was near-perfect!"). Ben was far more pragmatic than us, so my obsessing over every detail must have driven him nuts. He often would say after a reasonable take: "that's just fine, let's move on". Most of the time he certainly was right. But there are several places where I was not satisfied then, nor later when I heard the LP release, nor when listening to the album years later. I should have fought for another take or two to get it in fact "correct", not merely close enough. But I deferred (and probably carried a bit of a grudge all these years, to remember and bring up such petty issues here and above, on the opening of Brandy #3).
There are two passages especially clumsy, both in the Violin I part of the Brandy #3 third movement, where the 32nd note passages occur. The final uppermost note of both of these passages is "fluffed" on the master, barely played, as it was exceedingly difficult to do with that old clunker of a keyboard. Grr...'s for years. Now I wondered if on the digital audio workstation (DAW) it might be reasonable to try to repair these fluffs at long last.
Indeed, it was! You'll barely notice, assuming you ever did before, those mis-keyed two notes. I could boost them in level and tricky EQ peakings that made you think you were hearing those exceedingly short notes played as they ought have been played. I didn't believe at first that I could get away with such a simple, if time-consuming trick, and saved a few versions plus the original once again, to listen to the next day or two. The best of these is nearly undetectable, and no longer do I wince when hearing them. In fact I have difficulty finding them now, which implies they're pretty decent. Big sigh of relief! Boldened, I touched up a few similar spots on a few other isolated notes that were not so badly played, but could use a similar fix, too. In an age that permits punch-ins and edits and copies and looping, this kind of careful blemish repair seems to me to be called for and a wonderful gift.
While these individual note touch ups above were done to repair performance fluffs, I also discovered that the modest monitor speakers I had been using were inadequate to judge the levels of very low bass parts. With my Velodyne subwoofers (amazing, amazing speakers!) I've found a lot of recent orchestral recordings contain stage or traffic sounds, thumps and rumbles and the like (c'mon, people, get some decent speakers!). It was also obvious that several notes on the first two albums for this set, had inconsistent levels. Some were much too loud in context and muddy, others were not as deep and resonant as I had thought they were.
It was quite easy to go in and touch up the lowest octave a very little on the offensive notes, to fix that which I'd have caught originally if I'd had excellent monitors as I do now (you don't find them on the third and fourth albums, for example). Also, once all the tracks were collected together for the whole set, I became aware that some pieces were either overall too bassy, or not bassy enough, similar with the overall loudness, to match with all the other tracks. This was a good chance to bring all the tracks into better alignment with one another, so you can now jump from selection to selection and not feel an urgent need to touch your volume or tone controls.
leafOn Tempo Glitches:
The majority of cleanups made on the boxed set were for audio reasons, as you've read. But there were also a few minor places where I had to touch up a raw-sounding tempo shift that had been intended properly, but came out faulty. As you must know, tempo is tied to the pitch (and timbre) of most recordings. Change the speed and you slow down but also become flatter, and vice-versa. I recall that we had been forced to allow to stand several notes, generally in a ritard or allargando, that were unintentionally a little uneven and inelegant. The only choice, to do the whole thing over, was something you did only if the problem was very noticeable. We had to do that nightmare often enough, but got better at preplanning our special click tracks, with experience.
Even so, there still exist those mildly clumsy tempo spots. I had repaired one of the worst already last year: the trailing off end for the speeded-up "William Tell Overture" on Clockwork Orange betrayed a clumsy several notes. I just went in on remastering and spaced them as the intention had been, a matter of a few milliseconds of shifting here and there. Much better now, and honestly what we intended in the first place, but were thwarted by the earlier technology. Some of the same thing exists on the Bach/Baroque selections, perhaps six spots over this complete set. It was not too hard to repair these, as none of them was more than a few percent of change. Only an obsessive compulsive like me would notice or care enough to dive in to such microsurgery these many years later, what the heck. I can only say I'm relieved and much happier than I've ever before felt about these selections, no kidding!
There is but one such repair that I expect any of you might notice (congrats if you did, it's a brief change). That piece ought not to have been allowed on the final tape for S-OB in the first place. We did it for sentimental reasons, as this was the very first Bach piece we'd attempted, but also because it was fun. I refer to the "Two-Part Invention in F". This was truly a "baby piece", using a non touch-sensitive keyboard (the only such on the set) played in mono, sound on sound (pre-multitrack) with no click track, rechanneled into stereo after the fact. Yet it was fun, and short enough not to outstay its welcome.
But we had difficulty trying to get the ritard right at the end (not to say last chord, which I had to cheat), and grudgingly settled for the version you know. That ending happens to be momentarily kind of embarrassing for us, even if one may get used to the clumsiness (just play it over and over... ;^). If I could have, I'd have inserted one of our more graceful and natural sounding ritards. Even now there's but so much you can do (oh, no, another compromise!). It still seemed worth a try. I spent many hours on those last two or three notes, trying to stretch, space and underline them with a bit of brief EQ so that it felt more human and less like the mistake it actually was (including an early tape edit "repair" that didn't help one whit).
The new master acquired a small amount of reverb-repetition on the next-to-last note for just under a millisecond, which I hand-smoothed as much as possible. I tried a few variations, and again came back to listen and compare with the original over a week, to pick the best. The original goof was something we certainly knew about, and flinched about, and talked about, after fussing about to no avail. For the first time it is now very nearly what we'd tried to do on our modest experiment, before Switched-On anything had been invented.
On the Ending Tails:
I was surprised that many of the final tracks that we'd done for the Brandenburg set had one notable weakness: the fade-away of reverb at the endings sounded a little abrupt, and clipped. It had become necessary during the middle 70's to use some single ended noise reducing equipment at times, as we had begun to experience some RF noises and buzzes out of the blue. Drove us crackers! We discovered that the house next door had installed high-wattage lights on solid-state dimmers, and these would transmit a horrid hash of RF frequencies into our equipment! At night, when they would go to bed, the ugly noises ceased.
But we often had to work continuously, and would pick up some noises here and there, if the music had silences or fade-aways in certain places. Later we got an electronics wizard (Chuck Harrison) to come help us reduce the equipment's vulnerability to detect such noise signals, and this helped enormously. (Better still, my current studio's a "Faraday Cage", and is immune to all such problems!) But we often heard some noise at the very end of the reverberating tail-offs of selections that ended very loudly, then slowly faded away into silence. We were forced to edge the tail down somewhat faster than we'd have liked, using the master fader. At the time it seemed reasonable. But on the 20-bit masterings, you could hear that the last bit of tail had been truncated slightly.
For the new set, I've restored these long tails with the same equipment that produced them originally. Only the last note is affected in each case, as it decays and fades away. It's not a crucial series of repairs, but certainly on the newest wide-dynamic range equipment, it's a graceful way to restore what had been intended, but had to be compromised for technical and practical reasons.

--Wendy Carlos

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Wendy Carlos, Boxset etc. Cleanups