Notes and musings are posted at the top of this page, fun facts are posted under the notes
Restoring The Classics...
What it takes to get 20 plus year old master tracks up and running for the 21st century.
Why has it taken soooooo very long with the restoration of our music?
First, let's start with how the original tracks were recorded in the first place. The original music tracks were recorded on a Tascam Porta One Studio recorder, this is a small (about two thirds the size of a briefcase) portable 4 track multi-track recorder that used cassette tape (remember cassettes?). By four track, that means that you could lay down four separate musical tracks on one tape and then mix them down to a stereo or mono master tape. So we have four tracks, one for Drums, one for Bass Guitar and two for the other two Guitars. This is all well and good until you realize we need an extra two tracks for our voices...
So, what we had to do was record the basic four tracks of music, mix this down to two track stereo onto another cassette, and then use the remaining two tracks on that cassette for our voices, and then mix that down to a two track mother tape. And here is where the fun begins.
First off, the Signal-to-noise ratio increases whenever you dub from one tape to another, and the quality of the sound goes down with each generation, so you are looking at, by the time we were finished with the final release, the music is three generations down and the voices are two generations down. So going back to each original separate track master for instrument and voice was of prime importance.
Problem number one.
All our music and voice tracks were recorded 'wet', not 'dry'. This means that all effects and compression and reverb and such were recorded on the tracks before mix down, and usually that is done via effects loops during mastering, but not having the luxury of more than four tracks at one time did not allow us this amount of control. So we had to guess at the right amount of effect and eq we were applying in the initial tracks and what they would finally sound like after signal decay, bouncing from tape deck to tape deck, running through some eq and enhancer equipment, and final mix three generations down. And I must say, we guessed very well. But, with that being said, going back to the original tracks for restoration, there is now the problem of them all being designed to sound good under those conditions stated above, which is now not the case in the new digital era, so things are a bit off, and the new and 'improved' digital equipment just sometimes is not capable of duplicating its analogue counterpart in performance and sound.
Problem number two.
The voices have too much echo on them, as most of the echo was originally designed to be 'lost' in the generation to generation downgrade of recording between tape decks. And there is no way to cut back this echo digitally, or analogue for that matter, that does not interfere with the quality of the sound itself. So what we now have to do is noise gate the echo to get rid of most of the extra echo, but this sounds a bit halting and does not flow well, so then we had to go into each voice track and after each spot where the echo drops off too suddenly, we had to capture the very last half second of each drop off on each word and apply a fade out of the cut off so it does not sound so halting, but still, this does not entirely fix the problem, so after doing that (which is thousands of small edits collectively) we then have to apply another gated echo to the track designed to trigger once the volume of the track goes down to a certain level. So the new echo would trigger about a millisecond before the sudden drop off of sound and smooth it out to a more proper sounding natural echo decay.
Problem number three.
Tape speed. Unlike in the new digital era of constant, consistent speed, tape decks do not all run at exactly the same speed as each other, they are very close, but no banana. So this means that the four track music masters and the two track voice masters are running at slightly different speeds from each other, so in order to utilize the best quality sound by going back to the first generation of each track, we now have music that is out of sync with the voices (or vice versa depending on how you look at it). No problem you say, just use the digital speed and pitch plug-in. Again, back to digital not performing like analogue, in the analogue world, it would have been a matter of just adjusting the tape speed and this would be fine. However, digitally this is fine for small adjustments, but when you have to do larger speed adjustments, the digital seems to give strange choppy artifacts in the sound, so to compensate for this, instead of just adjusting the voices, or the music in one large speed change, we had to adjust the speed of the music slightly in one direction and the voices slightly in the other as to avoid the digital artifacts that arise from too much pitch change at once.
Problem number four.
Not only does each tape deck run at slightly different speeds from each other, they are also not consistent within themselves. that is to say that each tape deck on its own does not always run at exactly the same speed consistently throughout a recording or playback session, unnoticeable to the human ear, you get a bit of tape 'warble', the warble being that very slight moment where the tape changes speed, ever so slightly. So we have four track music with a 'warble' or two in them for each song, and two track voice also with a slight warble here and there. Problem being is that all tape decks to not warble in the same spots or at the same speeds, so once we have now adjusted the proper speed overall to sync the voice and music, somewhere during the course of a song, the warble happens on the music and then the music and voice get slightly out of sync, then the warble happens on the voice and the music gets out of sync a little more. So now we have to carefully go over each song, pinpoint the exact moment the warble takes place on each track and adjust the speed for that small microsecond or two to get the sync back and then keep doing it again until the whole track is perfectly synced. Oi!!!
Problem number five.
Signal degradation. Tape medium sometimes with age, has a tendency to 'bottom out', that means that signal on a part of a tape sometimes loses its strength in spots. Although we don't have much of this problem as we used Maxell chrome cassette tape, probably the best cassette tape available to consumers ever! These tapes are now 25 years old and were not always stored in the most prime of conditions... and still, the bottoming out have been VEREY minimal. Hooray Maxell, you go, girl! But it still occurred in spots, so what happens is the sound in those spots gets very muffled and the tape hiss sometimes increases, and when you increase the sound level of that section of tape and eq it to drag it out of the 'muffle' you now increase all the other imperfections and hiss in that part of the tape masters, so you have to apply just the right amount of volume boos and eq to get it to match the rest of the sound on the track and just the right amount of noise filtering to also match. In some cases the bottoming out was so bad that the sound in those spots disappeared completely, and we had to 'clone' a different part of the track that was playing the same riff and put it precisely where the bottoming out occurred. However, sometimes this happens on the voice track as well, although we have been lucky that this has only occurred a few times on the voice tracks and then only on choruses, so we could use an earlier chorus to insert over the bottomed out later chorus to fix this, there was only one tough voice bottoming out to deal with and it was in a song where the choruses were in different keys, so we had to digitally shift the key of the cloned section to match the other. And again, once done the speed had to be changes for each fix because sometimes the cloned bit took place before the tape warble speed change and now that new copied sections also had to be readjusted.
Problem number six.
The Drums. The drums were created by using a crappy little 1980's drum machine (Roland TR-505 Rhythm Composer). Not the best of the line, but it gave us the slightly crappy amateurish sound we were going for! Now given the problems stated above about mixing back and forth for a final product, the drums were recorded in a particular eq fashion as to sound good in the final mix. The analogue equipment we used to do so does not exist anymore and the digital equivalent does not react the way it should, so the end product now has the drums sounding a bit lifeless with no punch to it. Simple you say, just midi them. Well.... first off, for some reason, that particular drum machine, out of all the other crappy drum machines from that era, was never converted into a sound font, the model before and after that model were, but not that one for some reason. So now we had to find all the sample sounds from that drum machine and create a sound font for use in a midi version of the drum track. I have no idea how to do that, but luckily I ran across a man whose hobby was making sound fonts and he just happened to have access to those samples from that model drum machine and made us a nice sound font of those drums. (and he will be credited as soon as I can find his name in my email records from my last computer crash) But it is still not that simple. Sure, we could just bring in the original drum track into Acid Pro and let the program properly speed adjust the track and use midi loops to fill alongside it.... except then the drum tracks would now not be at the proper sync as the rest of the music and that would involve even more speed adjustments for every single God damn track for each song on top of what we already had to do. So now what we have to do is bring the original drum track into Acid, and on a parallel track, painstakingly manually put in each beat to match the exact position on its analogue counterpart, export the midi version of that track and pop it into the mix. A lot of work on one end, but overall, less work as a whole.
Problem number seven.
You just can't do some things in the digital that you could do in the analogue! Certain random effects, like grabbing a control dial and wildly moving it about in a random fashion.... well, forget it! As mentioned before, almost all effects were done 'wet' on the tracks, but for a very few, an additional effect was applied as we mixed the music down to two track stereo, and that effect was done in the random manner stated at the beginning of this paragraph, soooooo. we had to listen to the original effected track, find where each random change occurred on the effected track and adjust the digital effect, step by step, to match the random change of the original, which, in one instance on a guitar solo for one of our songs, consisted of cutting, pasting and blending a particular effects change about one hundred forty six times for about thirty five seconds of sound just to duplicate the original effect. FUCK!
Problem number eight.
I work second shift and I do not own a recording studio, nor do I have a home studio set up any more as there is no room for it nor do I have the cash for it. So final mixing is a problem as I only have a few hours every couple of weeks to do any kind of mixing that will not disturb the people I live with. In addition, I do not always get the best sound balance here, what might sound great here sounds terrible elsewhere, so this means getting a mix, burning it to CD and transferring it to my iPod, sitting in my car to listen to it and take notes on what needs to be adjusted, going over to several friends houses and playing it on a variety of systems to also see how this has turned out, and then, the next time I have the time to mix, make the adjustments accordingly and start the process all over again until I have a mix that sounds proper on as many different systems as possible.
So there you have it. That is most of the major obstacles we are facing in getting our music re-released right now. There are many other smaller problems, but you get the idea.
How long does it take to write a Bastards song?
Most of the Plastic Bastards songs took longer to record the song than it did to write the song!
What are some of the methods used to write a Bastards song?
Some songs were written with dice! One die had the chords; the other die determined if it was a sharp, flat or natural. And since the die was only 6 sided (A, B, C, D, E, F) whenever the same chord would come up twice in a row, it was automatically considered a G chord!
Bla Bla Bla, Yak Yak Yak
This song was written with dice and was also specifically written to fill the blank space at the end of the cassette tape on side 2 of their release album. It took about a half hour to write both music and lyrics, and was considered by most fans to be one of the better songs on the album! (go figure)
Do The Twitch
This was the second song the Bastards recorded, it was also their first original song.
There is only one rhythm guitar on this song, the secondary rhythm guitar was created by flipping the master tape backwards and and ping-ponging the rhythm guitar to another track while applying a strong delay effect and changing some of the tone through equalization, them flipping the tape forward again.
Either Way, It's Fine With Me
This is the first song the Plastic Bastards ever recorded.
It is also their first cover tune. A remake of the same name by the artist Randee of the Redwoods.
The lead guitar on this song was played by Will and Ned, on the same guitar at the same time using finger, and a knife and fork!
Using the knife and fork was inspired by the experimental performance artist Laurie Anderson.
Excuse Me While I Go To The John
The music for this song was written with dice!
This song was also written on a bet with the manager of The Plastic Bastards. The bet was that The Bastards couldn't write a song from the first words out of the mouth of the next person who spoke. ... Well, Will Wonkers thought that would be a great breakpoint in the debate to take a bathroom break. So he got up and announced "Excuse me while I go to the john", Will, and Ned both stopped and then smiled at each other, looked at their manager, Mr. Kincaid, smiled at him. Ned picked up a pen, Will went to the john, and by the time the last flush was heard, the lyrics were half written!
When recording this song, it was decided that the Bastards wanted to make this the worst possible song it could be. So when recording each track, they laid them down all slightly out of sync with each other. That is to say, that when recording each part (drums, 2 guitars, bass, acoustic, leas and both vocals) they used a slight delay, for each track. Each one having it's own varying delay time. And the lead guitar was played by Will, and as he was playing, Ned slowly detuned the strings as the lead progressed. Then when the 2 track stereo master was made, the right and left were also laid down slightly our of sync with each other.
We Shot The New Kids On The Block
This song first aired on Chicago radio station 'The Loop' after an encounter with Steve Dahl at the famous night club 'The Avalon'. After hearing Dahl express his discontent with The New Kids On The Block, and knowing that he was to drop in at The Avalon, and being big fans of Mr. Dahl's humorous band Teenage Radiation, The Bastards thought it would be nice to present Mr. Dahl with a copy of the song. But when Will and Ned arrived at the club, Mr. Dahl was surrounded by adoring fans in an almost mob like fashion. Mr. Dahl looked like he just wanted to enjoy his night out, but was gracious to his fans anyway. So not wanting to bother him further, The Bastards went up to him and asked: "Do you hate the new kids on the block?" Where Mr. Dahl replied: "Yes!" The Bastards then handed him the tape and said: "Then this is for you! Enjoy your evening". And they left him alone. The next day, much to their surprise, Steve Dahl played the song on the radio! Subsequently, the song was submitted to Doctor Demento by The Plastic Bastards agent. But for some reason, in the Dr. Demento broadcast of the song, a verse was cut out. The verse in question is as follows: "We've Shot The New Kids On The Block Strung em up by their toes And pelted the with rocks But you should have seen those teeny-boppers start to pout When we reached down their throats And ripped their scrotums out!" So the original length of the song is 1:53. And this song appears in its full length on the album release of the same name.