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Hedwig

John Williams Recording Technique

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Wondering if anyone has any thoughts regarding the very consistent sound Williams manages to create amongst his OST recordings? Not his very precise orchestration/melodic or harmonic tendencies, which are obviously very consistent, but more so how the orchestra is captured and the amazing performances he always seems to get.

 

It was mentioned by a couple of people in the recent thread about the main theme from Jurassic Park, that the OST version was the only version which captured it exactly right- I completely agree with this and feel it could be due to several things. The pacing and performance seems to be how the melody is truly intended to be performed which is a part of it. But I feel it is also due to how the individual sections of the orchestra are placed within the recording and how prominently they individually feature in the tutti sections of the piece.

 

I also find, particularly with his woodwind performances, that even the sound of the instruments, or how certain doublings work together, is always so precise and has a quality to it which can never seem to be replicated live. A good example of this is the first statement of the B theme in Hedwig's Theme performed by the woodwind section- bassoons, clarinets and oboes I think? I've never heard a live performance or any other recording which captures the same texture as the OST recording. I was at the recent LSO concert at the Barbican and although a really amazing performance was given, I still felt the same texture was not achieved.

 

I'm aware that a live performance will always be different to a recording but I'm just interested as to whether anyone else also feels Williams has some secret tricks up his sleeve when it comes to balancing sections of the orchestra within the studio? Obviously he is not doing the actual recording or mixing technical stuff but considering the consistency of the sound across his output- particularly noticeable in the digital recording era- I feel he must be responsible for the sound achieved? 

 

A really good recent example is Rey's Theme- I've heard it live a couple of times now and have watched videos of performances on youtube and such and none of them seem to come close to the sound captured on the album! I find it most noticeable at places like 0.14 secs when the percussion and harp are isolated or the section at 1.10 secs when such a cool balance is captured between the upper woodwinds and the bass. 

 

Does John Williams just have a really incredible recording team which work extremely consistently on all his recordings? Or is there something more?

 

(Disclaimer- obviously not all Williams scores have the exact same sound and the quality can differ score to score- but even within these different sounds, i.e prequels vs TFA, there is still a consistent Williams quality to how the instruments sound)

 

  

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I've wondered the same thing. Wish I had any answers. As you said, he obviously has tendencies in his writing that define his style, but his albums recordings definitely have their own sound too. And that sound has changed over time - the 70s don't sound like the 80s, and the 2010s don't sound like the 90s or 2000s.

 

I'd be very curious to hear anyone's insight!

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The OS recordings and the film score recording sessions are done over and over again until the players get it just right. The studio players are used to that. Sometimes a piece is made up many shorter passages, which are the very best performances recorded.

 

But JW is known as a perfectionist and a very meticulous conductor. And it shows. 

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14 hours ago, Hedwig said:

It was mentioned by a couple of people in the recent thread about the main theme from Jurassic Park, that the OST version was the only version which captured it exactly right- I completely agree with this and feel it could be due to several things

  

 

I love the performance of the theme by the Pops on Williams on Williams just as much as the OST version.  Maybe it's just because I owned that release for quite a few years before I owned the OST.

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The recordings of JW's scores (and partly BPO albums) have always been hit-or-miss. I remember when it got into collecting in the 90's i was constantly amazed that Shawn Murphy sounded so much punchier on JNH and James Horner albums while his Williams recordings often approached murkiness (exceptions include 'Nixon', 'Jurassic Park'). Scores from the 70's and even 80's also varied considerably (a brilliant EOTS vs. the sludgy 'Last Crusade' etc.)

 

Nadir: 'AI'and 'Minority Report', then it improved considerably. The crystalline 'Memoirs of a Geisha' being a particular highlight. 

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1 hour ago, Datameister said:

Things got weird with KOTCS and haven't fully recovered.

There is indeed a strange "shrill" tone to the brass there which doesn't sound right.

And ever since, I have associated that sound with "annoying inappropriate aliens".

The same sound appears in the brass of TFA, but thankfully it bothers me decidedly less there.

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Recording techniques definitely play a big role, especially in how instruments are mic'ed and mixed, but I think the most consistent feature of the sound clarity of JW's OSTs come from his orchestrations. He does such a good job layering the sections of the orchestra (like in Harry's Wondrous World) or in spacing them out so that each section can be heard clearly (like in Confluence from Memoirs). The orchestrations in his scores tend to really help the orchestra shine compared to other composers who seem to favor denser, muddier sounds. 

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On 28/11/2016 at 9:49 PM, Disco Stu said:

 

Both TFA and BFG sound beautifully recorded to my ears.

 

There's something off about TFA. Sonically something is different.

 

The weak as piss opening blast especially. 

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Well, Shawn Murphy did something different when recording AI than he did with a lot of his previous scores.  It sounds a bit muddled.

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It has relatively minor suck, comparably. Nevertheless, the recordings of i. e. 'Atlantis' and 'Treasure Planet' (about the same time) are top-notch.

 

Interestingly, 1999-2000 seems the dividing period: both TPM and 'Angela's Ashes' sound fine.

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I haven't listened to The Patriot in ages. Kind of waiting for session leak or specialty label CD set before re-experiencing it.

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Acoustically I've always preferred the LSO/Abbey Road recordings; they sound slightly more distant, yet I feel this unifies the orchestra and sounds more like you're listening to a concert.

 

The LA/freelance contract orchestra always sounds in-your-face, and perhaps sterile. They are of course musically second-to-few.

 

"Good microphones, good preamps, good mixing desk, good engineer, good musicians, good room, good conducting, good orchestration." - Yes. It takes a combination of many perfected elements and factors to make a good recording.    

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2 minutes ago, zoltan_902 said:

"Good microphones, good preamps, good mixing desk, good engineer, good musicians, good room, good conducting, good orchestration." - Yes. It takes a combination of many perfected elements and factors to make a good recording.    

 

Indeed!

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On 11/29/2016 at 4:47 PM, alextrombone94 said:

POA sounds incredible, perhaps the best sounding JW album.

I'd rank it second to Amistad, which I'm in awe of every time I hear it.  I usually only notice the quality of a recording or mix if it's bad (AI, The Conjuring, and Battle of the Five Armies come to mind immediately), but with Amistad I'm struck by how perfectly clear it is.

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Man after listening to the new JP set both on a hifi living room system and good headphones, these two scores have shot right up there as among his best recorded scores!

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