Peter Gabriel discusses CD, SACD, vinyl, CP, and MP3

Discussion in 'Music' started by Joe Casey, Aug 8, 2003.

  1. Joe Casey

    Joe Casey Stunt Coordinator

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    Taken from Gabriels website:

    Back To The Future...
    (Re-)Mastering Peter Gabriel

    In the July Issue of HiFi Plus Magazine there is an extentive section on the SACD remasters including this interview with Peter.

    With the arrival of the re-mastered Peter Gabriel catalogue, it seemed like a good time to revisit this substantial body of work, and grab the opportunity to discuss the project with the man himself. So saying Chris Binns was despatched to the Real World studios in Box, where he met Peter in his personal studio. Meanwhile, David Ayers launched into the back catalogue while RG listened to and compared the re-mastered CDs with the new SACD issues and the Classic Records 200g LPs. Altogether it represents an insight into not just Gabriel's own work, but attitudes within the music industry (within which Real World are one of the most enlightened elements) towards new formats and possibilities. It also offers the opportunity to finally pin down exactly what mastering or re-mastering is, and just why it's such an important issue in the sound that we hear at home. But first, let's hear from the man himself...

    CB: So how did the project come about?

    PG: I think that it was sparked off when Sony approached us with the idea of the back catalogue being released on SACD. Having said that, It was something that I always wanted to happen at some stage, because there's no doubt in my mind that increasingly there's the capacity with equipment to make things sound more like they did when they were recorded, and thus minimise the distance between what was intended and what comes out.

    CB: What was your involvement in the actual re-mastering process?

    PG: Most of the work was done by Tony Cousins at Metropolis, with Richard Chapel, (Peter's engineer) and I would go in there a bit for each record, usually at the beginning and the end to provide some feedback... but I didn't stick it out. I thought it might take a couple of weeks - in the end the process took months so I would tend to go in initially or late in the day; it varied, but I think that the effort has been worthwhile. There are improvements in all of them. Tony Cousins is a great mastering engineer. With most of the albums he was trying to tweak here and there, and because it's someone else's work. I don't think he had the confidence to screw it up in a more radical way, whereas it's my material - so I have no fear of upsetting someone and will push something hard to make it work in a different way. Sometimes he would be cautious in respectful way, not to overdo stuff, I would always make suggestions and I have particular ideas about EQ, but I was being guided by Tony, and sometimes I would say no - lets have twice as much EQ on this...The second album for instance, was recorded faster than the others and I never really liked the sound of it, but that was the only one that really felt was lacking, so I asked him to push things considerably and I think we delivered more on that than ever before. It's the one that has changed most radically, for me, but in all of them I think there are improvements. In some ways with 5.1 there's the capacity to get more inside the music, and that really is the aim of the musician I think, to place the listener into their world. Actually, for the best part of a year I've been listening in mono. I've got a 5.1 system - but a typical situation - my wife hates the way it looks! It's the battle of the drawing room. And then I walk into Tony Cousin's room at Metropolis, probably one of the best sounding rooms I've ever heard, and you think again - no I want to listen to other people's music like this.

    CB: Your music is quite dense, and there are times when there is an awful lot happening musically with loads of layers; I think the re-masters help in this respect by sounding cleaner and more open.

    PG: I would agree with that. Open is a good word. That's one of the things that Tony has done really well. In many ways that was what we were trying to achieve... and there is much better definition with the re-masters.

    CB: There is definitely more consistency to the sound between the albums...

    PG: ...But without homogenising it; they still have their own life and internal integrity preserved, but they match better as a series. I wasn't that enthusiastic about the whole project in the beginning, although I thought it was a good idea, something to be done at some time in the future.... But the more I got into it the more I felt that this was going to make a real difference. Put the originals alongside the re-masters and you really will hear the difference.

    CB: Are you someone who revisits his music?

    PG: No. I think like a lot of musicians I move pretty swiftly onto the next thing. So actually the re-mastering really was the first time I had heard the body of my music in one lump.

    CB: How did that feel?

    PG: I was just curious really, in a lot of ways, because some of the stuff retains its life for me while other material has fallen by the wayside - maybe not whole albums, but some songs seem to live much better. I remember the intention on all of them, but not all of it was delivered. I think as I've got older I've learnt more about it, and I've also worked with some great people so I think I now have a better chance of getting to where I want to be while avoiding the pitfalls. For example, on some of those occasions when recording you felt each time it goes into transitional stage you lost something, when it goes from composition to band for instance, it sort of died a death and you had to work to build it up; sometimes getting in the studio was like that and sometimes cutting was like that. I think I'm better at it now!

    Back To The Future... (Continued)
    (Re-)Mastering Peter Gabriel

    CB: Was it difficult listening to your past recordings and not wishing to make artistic changes or alterations?

    PG: I find I have that frame of mind maybe three months to a year after the album has gone out and then I can put it to bed, and accept it for what it is - some are not fully realised, or could have been better written, but I'm quite happy to accept that stuff now and just get on with it, and say, well, we can learn from that. For example, on the first album 'Here comes the flood', the arranger of the orchestral part did some beautiful stuff in the verse, but the chorus ended up as one of those rock meets orchestra bombastic things - at the time I was just so excited to be working on my first album, away from a band and in a room where all these wonderful instruments would play my music, and I think I didn't have the self confidence to sit back and make judgements. Robert Fripp, who worked on the first album (and produced the second) had done the original demo of the song with me which was just piano and voice, which he added some Frippertronics to and used on his solo album, and I think it is in some ways a truer version of the song than the one which appeared on my record. He also did this really great guitar solo, and because we were working with sixteen track machines there was a limit, but it ended up mysteriously wiped, and I was absolutely furious because I knew it had been done deliberately. And that seemed amazing to me, because I was very fortunate to grow up in a time where artists were allowed to control their destinies, which didn't happen before that time and has largely been eroded in a lot of ways, for young artists anyway, now. It was sort of shocking to me, and part of the process of getting to find out who I was as a writer, and it took me to the third album, really, to have real confidence and know what I was doing. Which is a long time in someone else's book. But not very long in my book!

    CB: So the more gentle version that appeared on Shaking the tree was an opportunity to redress the balance?

    PG: Yes, I wanted to get that version on there, its much simpler. I'd still like at some point to do songwriter versions of some other tracks; maybe put them on the website - you do hear it in a different way. If you listen to, I don't know, Dylan or Lennon, and you hear the demos or rough versions, you get a completely different interpretation of the song, maybe much more of what they intended...

    CB: So you really were focused on tidying up the sound rather than being distracted creatively?

    PG: In some ways I was tempted to go back and remix things; but its a difficult thing - although its an interesting thing for the artist, almost inevitably audiences are less approving, if you do go back and remix stuff they feel the thing that they liked and remember as being part of their history has been fucked around with, if they have favourite song they want to hear the familiar version.

    CB: Was it nostalgic?

    PG: Very. You remember the studio, the smell of the room, the games you were playing - while recording the second album Risk and Scrabble were the in thing. And of course the people, the arguments about music - all the details, a bit like looking at an old photo album. When I did some of the Genesis stuff again it was just like being back in the band and the relationships were the same, and the humour. It's funny, people know this from leaving home, you go and do a thousand things and you come back and its like you never left.

    CB: But it was basically an enjoyable process?

    PG: Yes, and quite constructive in a funny sort of way, a certain amount of it coincided with working on the new album, and I felt that it was good in that I have learned something and I have moved on.... I think I am a lot better at recognising and capturing the magic of subtlety and emotion and putting onto record.

    CB: What are your feelings about re - releasing material on vinyl?

    PG: As soon as CD came in, like a lot of artists I lost all enthusiasm for vinyl. Suddenly there was this dynamic possibility, I always like to have a big bottom end - I like to feel the bass movement. In vinyl days this was difficult and presented problems, with CD I could get 'more' on to a disc. But now im older and wiser and I do think that there's elements of vinyl that I prefer...I think that part of that is to do with the way the brain functions - with analogue systems, right at the edge of the periphiary say, there is a tendency to airbrush details, whereas digital is generally cut, hard slices. With the airbrushed edge the brain will fill in the higher harmonics and do a lot of interpretation, like a pattern recognition tool - comparing that information against a history of what has been heard in the past, while with digital there is not a lot of imagining to do.

    CB: There are interesting connections here. The audio community has a current fascination with frequencies above human hearing - ultrasonics, which according to current theory should make no difference. But you can hear a change...

    Back To The Future... (Continued)
    (Re-)Mastering Peter Gabriel

    PG: I think that is very interesting - you feel stuff instinctively maybe, that you may not actually sense or register as being sound and there's something at work here, and resonance is enormously important.

    CB: So you don't regard the whole vinyl revival as a bit of an anacrophiliac pastime?

    PG: No, I think it's a very real alternative now, I suppose kept alive by the DJ culture. Whereas a lot of kids used to grow up wanting to be a guitarist, they now want to be a DJ - that's the team model, but when we listen to it I really do see the strengths and the warmth as a really musical format.

    CB: and of course you've got Mike Large (A member of the Real World management team) down as a vinyl enthusiast.

    PG: Oh yes, he's lobbying hard...but in the end I always trust my ears, and I am wary of making any comments until I've done some blind tests. We had one just recently when we were talking about some of the copy protection stuff; we were told by the record company that you will not be able to tell the difference - in fact it was very obvious, particularly with some pieces of music, and to say that it wasn't audible was ridiculous.

    CB: And what about new formats?

    PG: There are so many possibilities ahead, the only thing I feel sad about is the acceptance of MP3 as the standard, particularly for young people - it is a giant step back and away...musicians struggle so hard to bring people into their world in a visceral way and MP3 is a removal, a step back from that. Its all related to delivery, when broadband is in most homes and downloading is quicker with higher resolution, I hope there will be a much better format. And of course cost of storage is coming down all the time, so I think this is a temporary aberration.

    CB: and your view on the copy protection issue?

    PG: I'm on two sides of the fence, maybe three, as an artist, but I've also got involved in OD2, which is a digital distribution network, so I've spent a lot of time discussing the issue. In some ways we are the canary down the mine, the first battle ground, but behind us goes anyone who creates anything that can be turned into data whether its software, films pictures or music. Do people who create material have entitlement to get royalties? That's a bigger question for society. I would argue that you would get better range, better quality and better choice if you do pay the creator something. We live in the luxury of the in between world at the moment where some people pay for the records while others get it for free. It is the part of it that is the market stall, and at a certain point there will be less fruit on the stall if there's no money coming in. It's strange for me to see some artists saying 'yeah I'm all for file sharing and free down-loading' and at the same time they take multi-million pound contracts from record companies. In the case of our record label, Real World, many of the artists get sixty or seventy percent of their income from record royalties. If that is taken away, a lot of them will not be able to continue as working musicians - the same applies to young bands, anyone outside of the mainstream. The other side of the coin is what is it people would be prepared to pay for? I think were it me, I would look for convenience and speed with all the range of musical possibilities on offer - while the key for me would be that it was well filtered, because I know that in twenty hours of watching TV or listening to music, I know that there is better stuff than I am currently getting but I don't have the time or energy to wade through it. That is something that I would pay for. I read a few years ago that the average record is played 1.3 times, and at first that depressed me a lot until I thought about it and looked at my own record collection and realised that it was probably about right; while there maybe twenty or so discs that you play regularly, there is a ton of stuff that has just been casual purchases - maybe you liked the cover - and you played it once and never went back to it. This should be reflected in the price one pays for the download, if you try and charge what you would pay in a record store it's never going to work.

    CB: Do you not feel that people still want to physically own music in the shape of an artefact? PG: I think it's partly an anal instinct in us that we want to collect artefacts and show them off. There is a display mechanism at work too, like peacock feathers on a date, and part of who you are is what you are wearing, what you read, and of course what you are listening to; these are flags that you use to identify yourself within your tribe... (CB goes very quiet at this point)

    CB: The writing process - you have always had a unique method of putting songs together. Do you still use rhythms as a starting point?

    PG: I still love working from a rhythm; there are still times when I will pick a harmonic idea and develop that out into a rhythm, but I would say that 70 % of the time its rhythm first. As a writer its fantastic that you can take your hands of the keyboard and something continues, in the old days if you weren't generating it, it would stop, but at the same time that can trap you into mono tempo, you then have to work harder to open it up and develop the idea.

    CB: The Fairlight sampler - you were probably more responsible than anyone else in pioneering its use. Has there been any subsequent technology that has been as influential on your writing?

    PG: I don't think there has been anything as fundamental as the Fairlight. In many ways that was like a dream come true; you could grab bits of sound and suddenly make music with them. Now the leaps that technology makes for the music maker are perhaps more incremental, but they're still quite considerable, for example the stuff on software that you can now get to manipulate sound is very interesting. The midi world - the control you have to manipulate is a wonderful tool for a composer, but there is a certain element of life and breath that you can take out of music once you go through that door. The technology can lead you sometimes. Its been said (I think it was Robert Fripp) that there are three parts to the relationship of learning and expertise; the first being ignorant exploration, where the naivety can sometimes be a real strength, the second stage of struggling with technique is the least interesting to any one else, and the third part wherein the technique can disappear, so once again you can have the emotion and the ideas. I'm never very patient or disciplined so I rarely get that far, I think I'm more of a jack of all trades when it comes to putting my work together.

    CB: The record label, Real World, has done a lot to expose music of different cultures, although there appear to be more mainstream artists emerging such as Joseph Arthur. Are you still active in casting the net and finding new artists? PG: Very much so. I still have a lot to do with areas like A&R and artwork, but not so much with the day to day running. I'm glad you mentioned Joseph Arthur - I think he's a major talent, lyrically and musically, and I really feel he's on another level. I've always hoped that Real World would be not just about world music but also about interesting experiments and collaborations and good song writing, because that's a sometimes neglected tradition that I would like to play a part in helping to preserve. But unfortunately the 'world music' tag can work against us sometimes when we're trying to sign more traditional song writing talent...

    CB: Does it still provide you with opportunities to make contact with people who you would like to contribute to your albums?

    PG: Oh yeah, its like a railway station here, all sorts of people come through and I hear interesting noises and say oh can I have some of that please! That often happens, and you get exposed to all these wonderful colours and it's a fantastic gift for a composer to have this palette available.

    CB: You've done a number of film soundtracks. Do you find it a different process from writing material for a Peter Gabriel album?

    PG: There's less responsibility, as you're working for some-body else. And you don't have to worry about words, yet you can still realise parts of your own musical hunger that may not come so easily within a song. I think I'm a more natural melody and rhythm writer, and much as I love words, there's a freedom that comes with having an empty page. I've also been lucky enough to work with directors who are musical, and respect that part of it so it feels collaborative rather dictatorial. So they've always been good experiences. Sometimes I'm able to recycle stuff, which can be productive, I think in classical music you have themes that are explored in all sorts of ways, but with rock music there is generally just one version, and then it's gone, its history.

    CB: I feel bad asking this, but there was a long wait for Up; is it going to be another ten years before the next album?

    PG: I hope not! No, I hope it's a bit like buses, you wait a long time and then there are three of them. I have got quite a lot of stuff started, but I'm probably not going to look at it till October as I'm touring now until early July, and then I'm going to take some time in the summer to be with my family.

    Reproduced from an original article in Hifi+ Magazine
     
  2. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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  3. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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  4. Darren Pillans

    Darren Pillans Second Unit

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    Thanks for the article Joe, I really enjoyed it.

    I totally agree with PG's view on MP3. It sucks how it takes us further away from the music, when now more than ever there's the technology to do the reverse.
     
  5. Joe Casey

    Joe Casey Stunt Coordinator

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    I was actually surprised at his views on MP3 and vinyl. Sorta puts him in that rare class of 'audiophile musician'.
     
  6. LarryDavenport

    LarryDavenport Cinematographer

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    Good interview and I think that PGs respect for the audience in regards to his choice not to remix bodes well. I just wish that the interviewer would have asked if PG was going to be hands on in regards to the 5.1 mixes for the old Genesis catalog (a 5.1 mix of the Lamb would be sweet).
     
  7. Ricardo C

    Ricardo C Producer

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    Great interview, and it was hilarious to find out even Peter Gabriel has to deal with the dreaded WAF [​IMG]
     

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