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October 2022 Archive
31.10.22 > Playlist: Halloween
Yes, it's that time of year again when I drag out the old Halloween playlist. I make no apologies for it–I love the whole autumnal spookiness vibe. But just look at that track listing–how can you not get all witchy-tingly with such ghoulish gems?
30.10.22 > Spooky Revolver Remix for Halloween
Revolver, the ground-breaking Beatles album from 1966, continues to break new ground with another remix and re-release. But wasn’t it remastered in 2009, I hear you say? (Actually, I didn’t hear you say that at all, but just play along would you? Thanks.) Well, yes it was but remixing and remastering are different processes. Remastering is like a bit of digital cleaning and polishing to enhance the quality of the recording without fundamentally changing it. Remixing is effectively creating a new recording which can sound very different to the original. So why do this to a classic album like Revolver? The simple answer is because they can. Now. You see, although the Beatles used new and innovative techniques whilst recording the album, such as tape looping and backwards recording, some of the songs were simply recorded with the band as a whole, playing together in the studio–in other words, the instruments and vocals were all together on one tape track. If you just want to capture how the band sound together at the time then it is fine to record that way but the norm these days is to have every instrument and vocal given its own track so that you can control the sound, effects and volume of everything individually, as well as its placing in the stereo field. This accounts for why you see those ridiculous mixing desks in recording studios with millions of knobs and sliders on them. Back in 1966, a four-track recorder was considered a big deal. Today, if you want to remix and album and give it a completely different sound you can tinker endlessly with everything–guitars, drums, keyboards, bass, vocals etc. Retrospectively remixing tracks that contained multiple elements, such as on Revolver, was considered technically impossible.
Things are only impossible until they aren’t. Computers and digital music have been around for quite a long time, but until now they have been doing things that are relatively simple to understand, well, to geeks and nerds anyway. That has changed. Artificial Intelligence is really beginning to get a foothold in the computing world. And this is where things get spooky. You see, nobody actually knows how AI achieves the results it does. With conventional computer programming, a programmer tells the computer how to do everything. It is like the computer is following a recipe handed to it by the programmer. It can do it far faster and more efficiently than any human but it is still a human that gives it the recipes. However, with AI, the computer comes up with its own recipes. It starts with a rough idea of the goal and then tries various things to see what works and what doesn’t. A human user gives it feedback, letting it know if the results are good or bad, and the AI uses the feedback to learn how to improve and hone its technique. It is this machine learning that is unknown to us. The computer is finding ways to do things that no programmer could begin to comprehend. We provide the input and assess the output but what happens in-between is a mystery.
Peter Jackson employed AI techniques when he was sifting through old recordings for his Get Back documentary. Giles Martin, son of legendary Beatles producer George Martin, decided to see if he could use this AI to achieve the impossible on the Revolver tracks. And it worked better than he could ever have imagined. Somehow, from one tape track, the computer has been able to separate the vocals, guitars, bass and drums into their own tracks. Exactly how it was done only the AI knows, but basically it learned, for example, what John Lennon’s voice sounds like and was able to pick it out and exclude everything else from the tape. And it repeated this process with the other components. If your mind isn't being as blown by that as it should be then think of it like this: it is rather like taking a cake and un-baking it and ending up with your starting ingredients. It should not be possible.
So, having achieved the impossible, Martin set about remixing the album, giving it a fresher, vibrant sound and dealing with issues like the harsh stereo effect on Taxman, which was done to sound cool with speakers but is quite disorienting in earphones, which is how most people listen to music these days. The result is a clean new version of the classic album. Some purists are upset by it, but the original will always be there and you have no obligation to listen to the new mixes. Others may listen and struggle to hear much of a difference–Martin hasn't done a hatchet job, it is a careful and respectful remix–but those with a good ear will find the album generally more pleasing to listen to. Some, myself included, are just in awe of what technology can do and find the concept of what has been achieved as interesting as the results. This kind of project is only the beginning for AI. We are only just starting to comprehend the kind of things it might be able to do. For now, things like breathing new life into old audio recordings and colourising black and white photographs and films seem like utter magic but one day AI could be finding cures for diseases and goodness knows what else. We are witnessing the dawn of an exciting new era. But a spooky one.
16.10.22 > Guess the album?
Here is a lovely bit of artwork that references a song and an album. I expect most of you to get it straight away! Of course, it is Red Balloons from the album The House. This is the song that Katie collaborated with her friend Polly Scattergood on, and the album was produced by William Orbit. Orbit worked with both ladies once again on his latest album, The Painter.
11.10.22 > AAK is 5 Years Old!
Where does time go? I can't believe it is five years since I unleashed allaboutkatie.co.uk on the world. It has been a labour of love and I'm proud that it remains a non-profit site free from ads and clickbait, and all my own work. Long may it continue! Thank you to everyone who has visited 😊 and for all the support and positive feedback.
01.10.22 > What I Miss About You (Live)
One of my favourite songs is What I Miss About You from the album Pictures. And I'm in a state of perma-sadness that I never got to see Katie perform it live, with a diminishing likelihood I ever will. But at least there is video footage of what we've missed. This video may be dredged up from the murky mists of time but the quality is good, the sound excellent, and Katie's performance is utterly flawless. So good in fact, that you could close your eyes and think you were listening to the CD version. But I urge you not to do that because, well, firstly, viewing video with your eyes closed kind of defeats the purpose of video and secondly, Katie is mesmerically photogenic as ever, which doesn't come across at all on the CD version.