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Star Wars score recording techniques?


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We all know that there are new Star Wars films coming in the future, and we know how much the prequels managed to deteriorate the iconography of the originals. One of the things that I think defines some of this iconography and identity of the original films is the LSO, their performance, and what I believe to be the techniques with which they were recorded. There is a gritty, edginess to the sound of the orchestra, which is completely lost in the prequel recordings. The new ones just sound too smooth. Does anyone feel the same way? I wonder what kinds of techniques were used back in the 70s and 80s to achieve this; I'm not sure if it is merely an analog vs. digital debate because it sounds like there are many more things going on, perhaps close-mic-ing the instruments, I'm really not sure. Do we hope that this could be something that John Williams and JJ Abrams will care about for the 2015 film? It would seem that John Williams would be an advocate for a smoother sounding orchestra these days. Does that detract? Do we care? Does it matter? How would they go about it if they DID care? Thoughts?

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I like the smoother, more modern sound of the LSO for the prequels. It works well with the sleeker style of the prequels, just as the gritty, unrestrained feel of the originals works well.

The LP owns them all!

The haircut of Mark Hamill still date the original Trilogy also.

Well... you try to compare 70's soundtracks with 2000's soundtracks...

The sound is obviously different and that's fine, recording techniques are far better today!

You know it's the same with classical music... we love the nostalgic sound of some historical recordings, but we also love the well defined, warm and dynamic sound of modern recordings.

We can't really compare them...

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Iconography? I'm not sure that's the word you're looking for.

Analog sound (this especially makes a difference in the brass), close mics, and very dry acoustics are what made the original SW scores, and most of his others from the period, sound the way they do. Williams hasn't sounded much like that for decades, and I don't think it's an aesthetic thing, just a technical one. He goes for the best sound possible, and likely will for the new films too.

So is it part of the "iconography" of the films? No, I think it's iconic of the era the films were made in.

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Analog sound (this especially makes a difference in the brass), close mics, and very dry acoustics are what made the original SW scores, and most of his others from the period, sound the way they do.

Another thing is the type of mics used. RCA Ribbons in particular have a 'old school' grit and warmth to them, and they're used by contemporary jazz/big band ensembles who try to recreate the sound of 40s/50s recordings.

One of the elements of 'Shaun Murphy Sound' is the Decca Tree, which is how he records brass. It's a microphone array (with each mic spaced apart to avoid phase cancellation) positioned above the source of sound.

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Hmmm... It's those kinds of points that make me wonder if the music for the original films should be rerecorded in a more modern way instead of just remastered, given the fact that the visual effects have all been updated to cgi. It would seem that, as it stands, there is a fundamental disconnect between the two elements. I do find it odd that Lucas would make such a decision, not taking into account that the sound of the score would still date the films, if his intention was to make them timeless.

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The Decca Tree is from the 50s, though. I can imagine that it was used to record the Vienna/Solti Der Ring des Nibelungen. Which, I think sounds fantastic! Still has that edgy sound. One thing I've noticed with analog recording is that engineers "ride the gain". They push the clipping point, which you absolutely can't do with digital. Once over 0db, it clips like crazy. I'm going to read that analysis right now.

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From that analysis:

Despite an avoidance of compression and limiting the engineer related that, as they were recording entirely in the analog domain, setting levels a few dB hotter than normal produced an appealing sound. “John Williams and I had a gag. Where it says on the VU [Volume Unit] meters ‘VU’ he used to say ‘let’s have a bit of voo - voo land.’ Just get into the red to give it that edge, a little bit of crispness.”

BTW, you can clip with digital - it just gives a rather nasty sound.

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What I meant by riding the gain, is that you can push the clipping point WITHOUT clipping, with digital, it clips after 0, no matter what. And I just read that, and was just going to share it. I think that has a LOT to do with it.i wish that the prequel music had that edge.

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Doesn't Abbey Road use B+W monitors? How would that affect the sound?

Yes, Abbey Road uses B&W 800 D monitors. These are heavy beasts (maybe about 250 lbs each) and I adore the sound of these speakers because they are exceptionally clear, warm, and detailed - especially well suited for acoustic music such as orchestral and jazz. So the idea is that when the engineers are recording a top level orchestral ensemble, having a great sound in the booth will help them get the pest recording since they have a real sense of how the mic placement and levels are working based on the precision of those B&W monitors. Since a room is typically made up of an assortment of complex microphone and patterns and a precise array of placement (the sweet spot for a trumpet and frequency response would mean a Royer mic would be great for trumpet but not for violin as an example where a vintage neumann would probably work better for the violin). These mics can cost up to tens of thousands each and in a typical orchestral setting, one might have 48 microphones - the end result is a very complex array of mics, placement, frequencies, phasing issues etc. A detailed and wonderful set of monitors (such as B&W) will help the engineer realize the ideal placement, mic selection, etc., to get the best recording given the ensemble, skills, and style. Basically, you end up getting a very accurate audio picture of what is happening in the room. This is the theory of why it is a good thing to have high end monitors at these top studios. I believe Skywalker Ranch also has those same monitors. BIS, the Scandinavian classical label uses B&W to mix their award winning recordings. Though much of the recorded sound comes from the decca tree above the conductor which captures the left, right, and center channels of the room, each instrument group will have a mic (or several) to capture the texture, solo, or clarity of the instrument and get mixed in low since instruments have an ideal "sweet spot" that is usually not close to it and this mixture is what we hear in recordings generally. Do note, many times the mixer will "fix" issues of frequency responses and such while doing the edit and mix probably in their own studios, but having the source material captured in the most ideal way from the start makes their job much easier.

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All this talk about the Star Wars recording techniques has made me blow the dust off my Star Wars A New Hope OST and plop it in the CD player. I am surprised by how bad the sound is frequently clipping - what is considered the best sounding version of the OST because it is hard to keep track of which version is the glossy attempt to get more merchandising money through an anniversary re-release versus one that is actually an improvement in the recording. The one I have is the black cover where the CD is a holograph or something. Is that the one with the best sound?

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There are only 3 versions of the Star Wars OST.

The original LP from 1977, which has been re-issued on CD as a 2-disc set in a double-wide CD case, with the all-black cover

The 1994 Star Wars Anthology boxset, which contains music from all 3 films. The Star Wars disc is essentially the OST re-arranged into a more chronological order, though several tracks have extra music added, several tracks were re-created from the wrong takes, and the Cantina Band cue is moved to Disc 4 (which also contains additional, previously unreleased music from Star Wars)

The 1997 2CD set, which is the definitive presentation containing the complete film score (all made from the right takes) in chronological order, and the best sound quality.

Technically Sony issue a "re-mastered" version of the 1997 2CD set in 2004 I think it was, but pretty much everyone has been completely unable to tell any sort of audible difference.

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There are only 3 versions of the Star Wars OST.

The original LP from 1977, which has been re-issued on CD as a 2-disc set in a double-wide CD case, with the all-black cover

The 1994 Star Wars Anthology boxset, which contains music from all 3 films. The Star Wars disc is essentially the OST re-arranged into a more chronological order, though several tracks have extra music added, several tracks were re-created from the wrong takes, and the Cantina Band cue is moved to Disc 4 (which also contains additional, previously unreleased music from Star Wars)

The 1997 2CD set, which is the definitive presentation containing the complete film score (all made from the right takes) in chronological order, and the best sound quality.

Technically Sony issue a "re-mastered" version of the 1997 2CD set in 2004 I think it was, but pretty much everyone has been completely unable to tell any sort of audible difference.

Ok, thanks. I was confused between the 1997 and 2004 versions. Maybe one day someone will do a proper remastering ala the new Jurassic Park 20th anniversary.

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The 1997 2CD set, which is the definitive presentation containing the complete film score (all made from the right takes) in chronological order, and the best sound quality.

It's debatable whether the 1997 version is the definitive presentation or whether it contains the best sound quality. For my money, the Anthology has the best arrangement and sound.

Maybe one day someone will do a proper remastering ala the new Jurassic Park 20th anniversary.

That was not a proper remastering!

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For TESB and ROTJ the 1994 anthology set is superior to the 1997s in a couple of places (and the 1997 set is superior in others), but for SW I can't find anything wrong with the 1997 set (other than the needless of overlapping cues together in one track that were never meant to overlap)

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For TESB and ROTJ the 1994 anthology set is superior to the 1997s in a couple of places (and the 1997 set is superior in others), but for SW I can't find anything wrong with the 1997 set (other than the needless of overlapping cues together in one track that were never meant to overlap)

Hmm, 1997 SW set has many flaws (princess Cue weaker than main title) Inconsistent sound on some cues, frequent distortion, strange panning, etc. I just hope an audiophile gets access to the source documents and can clean it up.

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For TESB and ROTJ the 1994 anthology set is superior to the 1997s in a couple of places (and the 1997 set is superior in others), but for SW I can't find anything wrong with the 1997 set (other than the needless of overlapping cues together in one track that were never meant to overlap)

Hmm, 1997 SW set has many flaws (princess Cue weaker than main title) Inconsistent sound on some cues, frequent distortion, strange panning,

To be complete, the music is compiled using different sources, even the sound track of a film. It's probably impossible. You can't deny the source.

To avoid any form of harshness, they often tune speakers in such way that they produce less mids. I can imagine that the CDs sound better or more homogeneous when listened to his type of popular sound.

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Ok, thanks. I was confused between the 1997 and 2004 versions. Maybe one day someone will do a proper remastering ala the new Jurassic Park 20th anniversary.

Karelm, the sad truth is that the Jurassic Park 20th anniversary remaster is quite bad. The easiest way to see the problem yourself is by comparing the track "Journey to the Island" of the 1993 OST with the Remaster. Listen to the section 1:00 - 1:30. Attention: The remaster is mixed much louder so you have to adapt the volume to reach same volume levels for comparison.

You immediately realize that the buildup into the first grand statement of the Island Theme sounds much less prominent and exciting on the Remaster. What happened is that for the remastered version the volume was not only normalized it was also changed within the cues/tracks (!). This completely changes and destroys the recorded dynamic range of a cue. The quieter parts were mixed louder and the loudest parts remained the same to avoid clipping.

The unique orchestral performance captured in the recording sessions gets lost that way. As far as i know a remix/remaster reducing the dynamic range of a recording is a cardinal sin. It is especially noticable in orchestral music where you have the capture the greatest variety of instruments and performances.

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