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T. Rex's 'Warrior' a Winning Remix
Sun June 15, 2003 08:22 AM ET
By Christopher Walsh
NEW YORK (Billboard) - The medley of sounds and styles that makes up T. Rex's 1971 opus "Electric Warrior" will be heard -- finally! -- in the full glory of surround sound.
Original producer Tony Visconti's recent surround remix of "Electric Warrior," due for September release on DVD-Audio in the U.S. and Super Audio CD in Europe, lays bare both the greatness of the album's 11 tracks and the benefits of high-resolution, multichannel audio.
Sitting in the middle of a 5.1-channel speaker array, the core musicians and overdubbed string and horn players are practically in the room, generating an extraordinary concoction of primal rock; trippy, early-glam attitude; and Visconti's classical-inspired arrangements.
Analog masters were baked in London and delivered to Looking Glass Studios in New York on an AIT tape, which Visconti and engineer Hector Castillo downloaded to Pro Tools for the remix. With the exception of two songs for which original multitrack masters could not be found, Visconti reveals, the remix process was not complicated.
"It was all 16-track tape, and on a lot of, we didn't even use 16 tracks," he recalls. "For instance, 'Jeepster' is a 12-track recording, and I think there's another one that is an 11-track recording. The hardest thing is remembering what I put those through 30 years ago -- what compressors, what kind of delays, all that. We listened to the stereo versions very, very carefully, because if we didn't copy it exactly, it sounded really bad."
Fortunately, Visconti adds, Looking Glass Studios is equipped with a variety of vintage processing equipment, including 10 channels of Neve preamplifiers, a Fairchild compressor/limiter, Universal Audio 1176s, and Pultec equalizers.
"The only thing we made a concession to," Visconti notes, "was when we had slapback echo. In those days, we used to have a tape machine spinning at all times; nowadays, we use digital delay." Classically trained, Visconti's string arrangements complement the four-piece rock 'n' roll of T. Rex. Presented in surround sound, the string and horn tracks gain greater prominence, allowing a more engrossing blend of sounds and styles.
"Besides the traditional string section, which was a full complement of violins, violas, and cellos, on some tracks we had two cellos and a bassoon," Visconti says. "That is a very lovely sound, and you can hear it much better in surround."
As with his 5.1-channel remix of David Bowie's "Heathen," Visconti's surround mix of "Electric Warrior" is big, utilizing all speakers fully. Additionally, low-frequency signals -- bass guitar and bass drum -- are fed to all five speakers as well as to the subwoofer.
"I've heard some 5.1 mixes that are amazingly thin and puny, because everyone puts everything in the front speakers and only the reverb in the back," he observes. "I think it's a great injustice to the system.
"The band was mainly featured in front with guitars wrapped around the sides, kind of in a semi-circle," he continues. "I used the center channel exclusively for the voice, then bled the voice a little bit into the left and right speakers. I had the reverbs coming from all speakers, but certain ones -- for instance, if it was the vocal reverb -- would be going to the rear speakers.
"I kept the strings in the back speakers, creating a semi-circle with the string section in the rear speakers, and their reverb would be thrown to the front. We placed saxophones on the sides -- I would pan them and make a kind of center between the front right and the rear right, and the rear left and the front left."
"Electric Warrior" was recorded more than 30 years ago at four now-defunct studios -- Media Sound in New York, Wally Heider's in Los Angeles, and Trident and Advision in London -- but the surround remix brings the sounds of its era very close.
"That was the idea," Visconti says. "Not to make it sound like it was recorded today, to make a spacious recording of yesterday."
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