Led Zeppelin 'The Song Remains the Same' mixed for quad from the ground up (Eddie Kramer 1976 Interview)

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steelydave

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I came across an interview with Eddie Kramer recently from 1976 where he talks about the recording and mixing of Led Zep's The Song Remains the Same - I've reproduced the part about TSRTS below (it's worth a read), but there's a lot of interesting info, including:

  • the recording was done with quad in mind from the ground up, including four audience/ambiance mics
  • according to Kramer, Plant only punched in a few seconds worth of vocal overdubs, the majority of it is "live"
  • the final mix was 4-channel quad plus an isolated vocal track and a sync track on an 8-track tape (seems perfect for a 5.0 reissue?)
  • Warner never exhibited the film in quad, instead creating a LCRS (what Kramer calls 4-channel stereo) track from the quad master
  • The stereo soundtrack LP is an (elaborate) fold-down of the original quad mix - it's a shame it didn't come out a year or two earlier, it probably would have been a CD-4 quad LP
The article also provided this visual representation of Kramer's quad mix:
R-EP_12-1976-Eddie Kramer interview by Howard Cummings-MIX-LAYOUT.jpg


(Kramer's original quotes are below, along with a link to the entire interview. If you're interested in audio engineering, or his work in general it's well worth the read - nearly 15 pages long, and goes in to depth on many of the albums he engineered and musicians he worked with, including quite a bit of info on recording Hendrix.)

Eddie Kramer interview by Howard Cummings
Recording Engineer/Producer, December 1976 (pp. 17-29)

Howard Cummings.: Let's talk about the Zeppelin movie, THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME (shot in 1973 at Madison Square Garden).

Eddie Kramer: Ostensibly that was going to be an album, and suddenly it turned into a movie (chuckles) -- suddenly one track of my 16 -track disappears for a sync channel. We used the Bearsville Truck (Location Recorders), with 604's and a lot of Shure mixers stacked up because we ran out of channels. I think they had only 16 actual channels on the board so we used the Shures for percussion and audience mikes - four audience mikes -- two on either side of the stage crisscrossed pointing out into the audience, and two three-quarters of the way back into the hall pointing down towards the stage. So we had a semi sort of quad audience reaction. At this point Jimmy (Page) and I had discussed general ambience. I said, "What's the final product going to be?" And, he said, "Well, if we make a movie, we'll probably do it in quad." So I knew exactly what to do. My whole thinking was predicated on quad and I thought of that all through the project.

On the Sunday night we heard about the robbery, which made everyone a bit uptight. (Approximately $200,000 in cash was missing from their safe at Zeppelin's hotel.) At the time it seemed a very exciting show, it seemed like the playing was pretty good. Robert's (vocalist Robert Plant) voice wasn't quite on - there were a few squeaks and squeals - and we felt we could easily punch those in. There was a minimal amount of over-dubbing - Robert punched in maybe three or four words.

H.C.: Literally, through the whole 100 minutes or whatever of film?

E.K.: That's about it, and in retrospect I think he could have done a bit more to tighten up his vocals, but Jimmy wanted to keep it pretty much intact. I've heard some criticism on some parts of the musical performance. I don't know what your feelings may be.

H.C.: I've only seen some clips, but what I kind of noticed is that the real power is not conveyed in that performance as in the studio, possibly because there's a lot of over-dubbing done with Page -- between Page and Jones -- guitars, bass, the layering. You're only listening to one guitar on stage...

E.K.: Right. You are only listening to one guitar on stage is very true...

H.C.: So Page has to try to do a lot of fills and as fast or as good as he may be, he can't do it all.

E.K.: Right. Also, that footage is now over three years old. A lot of it had to be re-staged and re-shot in London because some of the original footage wasn't too good - it was the wrong angle, there was insufficient lighting, etc. So they took some rough mixes and played them backed and mimed to it on a shooting stage in London.

When I mixed the album and the movie, both at once, I took the 16- tracks, which is now 15- tracks, and mixed down to five tracks of an 8-track Dolby tape -- four tracks being a quad mix and one track being sync. This is why the quad mix is so important, because all the effects: DDL, tape delay, echo, any and all special effects, were criss-crossed on the back. The echo of the instrument would appear at the opposite corner in most instances. What I was trying to do was make it surround you to make you feel you were in the centre of Madison Square Garden such that the stage and the audience would wrap around you, meeting at a centre point.

When we were mixing it on four (JBL) 4311's (at Electric Lady), we all became knocked out with the quad. The actual first mix to the 8-track was left-right front, left-right back, sync, and, oh!, the voice had to be on its own track so the film studio could bring it up and down in the transfers to the 6-track mag-stripe. The 8-track tape was then sent to Twickenham Studios in London and transferred. In their transfers they made a horrible mess of it. I had not gone to England to supervise the transfers, and when Jimmy heard them he said, "God, they're horrible". So we brought them back to Los Angeles for Todd-AO to re-transfer. We had to re-equalize and go over it again.

Now we decided to go Dolby with the Dolby Cinema System and equalized monitors. At this time the transfers are pretty much how I mixed it on 8-track; the high-end is there, the low-end, everything is there. So we started to mix the damn thing. (Film) After screwing around with the back speakers, we got the thing sounding "fat" -- when the bass played, you really felt it in your chest -- when the bass drum hit, it really socked you. Now this quad is sounding spectacular! It's four discrete channels and it sounds -- I can't tell you how it sounds -- and we were hoping that Warner Brothers would go with this system, which was a Dolby-ized, equalized speaker system in quad mag for major cinemas and 4-track stereo for smaller cinemas. This was not to be. I think through reasons of cheapness they decided to go 4-track stereo which meant there was no Dolby, there was no equalization of speakers, and I'm terrified of what it sounds like in a theatre.

You know what 4-track stereo is like. It's three speakers in front and surround-speakers on the back -- which is one track! All my stereo is just shot to hell because this is now combined into one channel!

H.C.: Well, your ambience...

E.K.: ambience is just gone into one channel -- into mono. It's a combination of the left and right -- all the ambience, the echo, the special effects which add to the "fatness" of the track -- are now gone! The tracks in front probably sound OK, but the rear is mono! You can't get any of the special effects!

At one point in DAZED AND CONFUSED, Jimmy hits his guitar with the (violin) bow…

H.C.: bop-BOP, bop-BOP…

E.K.: right, and I criss-crossed them so that the bow was struck in one corner (bop) and you'd hear it in the opposite corner (BOP), and no way you're going to get that in 4 -track stereo. Four -track stereo is a compromise and a very poor one at that.

H.C.: Did you or Page confront Warners as to why they did what they did?

E.K.: It's so dark and mysterious and confusing. I don't know how much power Page had in that decision and I don't know if he fully understood the difference between quad and 4-track stereo and what would happen when it was reduced from quad to 4-track stereo.

H.C.: Obviously he could hear the difference, because it was in quad at one time and then in 4-track stereo.

E.K.: Yes, but he heard it at Todd-AO studios under perfect conditions! He heard it in quad with Dolby and an equalized speaker system and he heard it in a 4-track stereo, Dolby, equalized speaker system -- which was not a bad compromise when you add all those other bits and pieces in, such as Dolby and equalized speakers.

I think Warner's excuse was it was too expensive to install Dolby, equalized speaker systems…

H.C.: … And tune the theatres.

E.K.: And tune the theatres. All I know is what I mixed did not come out in the film. But since we were so happy with this 8-track quad mix, we used it for the album mix by combining left and right, front and back, and adding the separate voice track. Actually it mixed fairly easy, it took us about two weeks to mix it.

H.C.: Did you feel like using some excessive compression or some double-tracking for the film mix in order to convey that power that Zepp shows on record?

E.K.: Well, no because it had to be a natural "live" experience, and it had to stand up by itself and if it didn't stand up by itself, well, that…I think it's strong enough. My main criticism would be one of corporate insensitivity to what it could have been.

I happened to have a rip of the old 2007 BluRay on my media player, so I ripped the 5.1 DTS-MA track to .wav and had a quick look at it in my audio editor, because I was curious if they'd possibly repurposed Kramer's quad mix + vocal track for the 5.1. It's really strange, because the instrument placements seem to be basically the same (keyboards front left, mellotron strings in stereo pulled out toward both side-walls for example) but listening to the center channel there's a lot more than just vocals, including what sounds like isolated bass guitar and drums. It's almost as if they re-did the 5.1 mix by listening to the quad, or possibly used the LCRS mix and somehow made the surround channels stereo from the mono channel of the LCRS. The 5.1 also doesn't seem to have any of the "criss-cross echoes" (or diagonal pans as I'd call them) described in the article, and during the 'bop-BOP' violin bow section, it definitely doesn't move (or echo) diagonally - in the 5.1 it goes 'bop-BOP' (both the hit and the echo) in one speaker at a time, in a clockwise direction.

Because my original Blu-Ray is in storage, I wasn't able to check if there was a booklet inside with any credits or info about the 5.1 remix. All I can find online is a picture of the back cover, which says something like 'Remixed for 5.1 from the "Original Master Tracks"' which is suitably vague that it could mean either the original 16-track multitrack, or that it was derived from the quad mix or even the LCRS mix. Does anyone have the disc to hand, or any other info about the creation of the 5.1 mix?

It's probably a 'never happen' pipe dream now, but I'd love to hear Kramer's original quad mix - I always felt like the 5.1 mix on the BluRay was underwhelming, a bit sloppy and overly boomy too boot.
 
I came across an interview with Eddie Kramer recently from 1976 where he talks about the recording and mixing of Led Zep's The Song Remains the Same - I've reproduced the part about TSRTS below (it's worth a read), but there's a lot of interesting info, including:

  • the recording was done with quad in mind from the ground up, including four audience/ambiance mics
  • according to Kramer, Plant only punched in a few seconds worth of vocal overdubs, the majority of it is "live"
  • the final mix was 4-channel quad plus an isolated vocal track and a sync track on an 8-track tape (seems perfect for a 5.0 reissue?)
  • Warner never exhibited the film in quad, instead creating a LCRS (what Kramer calls 4-channel stereo) track from the quad master
  • The stereo soundtrack LP is an (elaborate) fold-down of the original quad mix - it's a shame it didn't come out a year or two earlier, it probably would have been a CD-4 quad LP
The article also provided this visual representation of Kramer's quad mix:
View attachment 34685

(Kramer's original quotes are below, along with a link to the entire interview. If you're interested in audio engineering, or his work in general it's well worth the read - nearly 15 pages long, and goes in to depth on many of the albums he engineered and musicians he worked with, including quite a bit of info on recording Hendrix.)

Eddie Kramer interview by Howard Cummings
Recording Engineer/Producer, December 1976 (pp. 17-29)



I happened to have a rip of the old 2007 BluRay on my media player, so I ripped the 5.1 DTS-MA track to .wav and had a quick look at it in my audio editor, because I was curious if they'd possibly repurposed Kramer's quad mix + vocal track for the 5.1. It's really strange, because the instrument placements seem to be basically the same (keyboards front left, mellotron strings in stereo pulled out toward both side-walls for example) but listening to the center channel there's a lot more than just vocals, including what sounds like isolated bass guitar and drums. It's almost as if they re-did the 5.1 mix by listening to the quad, or possibly used the LCRS mix and somehow made the surround channels stereo from the mono channel of the LCRS. The 5.1 also doesn't seem to have any of the "criss-cross echoes" (or diagonal pans as I'd call them) described in the article, and during the 'bop-BOP' violin bow section, it definitely doesn't move (or echo) diagonally - in the 5.1 it goes 'bop-BOP' (both the hit and the echo) in one speaker at a time, in a clockwise direction.

Because my original Blu-Ray is in storage, I wasn't able to check if there was a booklet inside with any credits or info about the 5.1 remix. All I can find online is a picture of the back cover, which says something like 'Remixed for 5.1 from the "Original Master Tracks"' which is suitably vague that it could mean either the original 16-track multitrack, or that it was derived from the quad mix or even the LCRS mix. Does anyone have the disc to hand, or any other info about the creation of the 5.1 mix?

It's probably a 'never happen' pipe dream now, but I'd love to hear Kramer's original quad mix - I always felt like the 5.1 mix on the BluRay was underwhelming, a bit sloppy and overly boomy too boot.

Fascinating Read, Dave. Thanks so much.

Here's a Blu~Ray.com review of the original 2007 BD~V of Song and note the audio was Dolby True HD 5.1 but encoded at 48/16bit. http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/The-Song-Remains-the-Same-Blu-ray/531/#Review

Apparently the reviewer, Greg Maltz, was hardly a fan of the film awarding it 2*.

My impression of the audio portion of the BD~V was that it WAS INDEED double Stereo with no attempt at discrete placement of instruments.

Does anyone know if Eddie Kramer's original QUAD mix was utilized in the new BD~A transfer or is it lost [in the vaults]?

While I've always been a fanboy of the Madison Square Garden concert footage, the 'movie' portion, as Meltz suggests, was amateurish and certainly NO LAST WALTZ.

Having a stand alone BD~A of the actual concert in 48/96 FOR THE FIRST TIME, IMO, should be a REAL TREAT.




531_back.jpg


 
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