1975-2015: 40 years of error... and bravely beyond!
What are bugs?
In this context, 'bugs' are errors in the post-studio mastering or manufacture of albums. You would be shocked at how weird it can all get once an album mix leaves the recording studio. At least we own up to it.
What is the mastering process?
In the days of vinyl production a mastering (or cutting) engineer would apply compression and equalization to analog mix tapes. He then used a cutting lathe to produce a lacquer from which the metal parts used to stamp albums were produced. Mastering was required to covercome the limitations of the vinyl medium. Part of his remit was to do his best to insure that the producer/artist's intentions translated to the medium.
In the early days of Compact Discs many thought that transfers to the digital medium should be flat, i.e. no compression or equalization applied. As time went on it became clear that flat transfers often did a disservice to audio produced for the vinyl medium. As well, the resolution of digital audio for cd production was limited to 44.1khz / 16 bits, each second of sound being sliced into 44,100 frames and each of those frames being described with 16 bits of information. The analog sine wave of a sound is thus mapped. As a strip of movie film convinces the eye that it is seeing real motion so the frames of digital sound convinces the ear that it is hearing real sound.
The sampling process of digital sound generates junk noise, like a steel mill produces smoke and pollution. That junk noise had to be placed somewhere in the audio spectrum where it coudn't be heard. That placement was crudely managed in the early days, leading to complaints that 'something doesn't feel right.' The dogs at Suma Studio would bolt from the Control Room. They were hearing digital sound shredding up in the realms beyond human hearing.
Technology and technique improved over the years. Currently sample rates of up to 192khz at a 24 bit resolution allow for greater depth and detailing to survive the digitization process. Methods of down-sampling to arrive at download audio and cd audio have improved. There are a handful of men referred to as the Golden Ears who have made great strides in the 'black arts' of managing the algorithms that govern digital sound in the realms beyond human hearing.
Why does Ubu Projex mess with frequent re-mastering / re-transfering?
Technology improves. Why not take advantage of that? There is no such thing as a definitive master of a recording, especially one produced in the vinyl era. The only time a mix can be considered to be definitive is the point at which it goes to tape in the Control Room. That's the last time it sounds 'good.' Then it enters the real world of manufacture, and consumer electronics, and you can only hope that enough of it survives the battering that it will take from that point.
What is the 'baking process'?
Magnetic tape absorbs moisture over decades of storage. The Suma solution is to bake them in an oven for a week at roughly 110° F.
Catalog of Error and Redemption
THE MODERN DANCE The closest thing to a 'definitive' version, before the release of the Elitism For The People box set, is the Silverline double-sided release. One side of the disk is a DVD and the other side is a CD. The DVD side features a 5.1 surround sound remix which is the only accurate representation of what we were hearing in the studio in 1977. Do not be put off by the 'remix' label. Every effort was made to duplicate the original Suma mixes. Two things were 'fixed:' (1) The tape splice click in 'Chinese Radiation;' and (2) the end of 'Sentimental Journey' was extended to get more of the sound of the broom dropping to the floor. Paul Hamann digitally transferred the 2-inch multi-track session tapes from 1976-77 at 192khz / 24 bits. Silverline engineer Chris Haynes slaved manfully to be faithful. It sounds exactly like we heard it in the studio in 1977.
Also on the DVD side of the disc is a DVD audio 96khz / 24 bit transfer and master of the 2-track analog mix tape from 1977. On the cd side of the disc is the cd audio '2005 Master' of the 2-track analog mix tape from 1977. It was produced from the re-digitization process described above.
Note: In April-ish 2008 a batch of defective 'The Modern Dance' cds (COOK CD 141) got past Cooking Vinyl quality control. They were recalled in June 2008. This turned out to be the last of the 1994 Master.
DUB HOUSING Chrysalis Records CHR 1207 (UK) Nov 1978 lp. Chrysalis Records CHR 1207 (US) April 1979 lp. During the 1994 digital transfer and eq session at Suma, Paul Hamann discovered that the second side of the original Chrysalis vinyl release was distorted. It is subtle. So much for the glories of vinyl... The Rough Trade and Cooking Vinyl cd releases are fine.
Cooking Vinyl released a re-mastered issue of 'Dub Housing' on November 17 2008. The original 2-track quarter-inch analog mix tape was baked in an oven to dry it out and re-digitized at 192hz / 24 bit resolution, the best quality resolution available. The detailing is improved. The result was then mastered for cd audio in the control room in which it was recorded and mixed in 1978. The text '2008 Master' located on the tray card identifies the reissue.
THE ART OF WALKING Rough Trade Records Rough 14 (UK) 6/80 lp. Two versions of this record came out in 1980. 'Arabia' was recorded as an instrumental. After complaints from the record company about too many such tracks, an irritated David Thomas quickly improvised vocals and the track was remixed. 'Tribute To Miles (Young Miles In The Basement)' was remixed and vocals were added. A second master was cut but a mixup at the pressing plant meant that the original master was used, after all, for the first production run. The corrected pressing followed in August.
The following releases are cut from the corrected, second master:
Rough Trade Records Rough US 4 (US) 1980 lp. Rough Trade/Barclay Records 200171 (France) 1980 lp and mc. Rough Trade Records Rough CD 14 (UK) 1989 cd. Rough Trade Records Rough US 4 (US) 1989 cd.
The following releases are cut from the 'original' master:
Base Records Rough 14 Y5 (Italy) 1980 lp.
The 'Datapanik In The Year Zero' (1994 Master) box set restored the album to its 'original' form, using the vocal-less 'Arabia' and the longer, rambling 'Tribute To Miles' (aka 'Young Miles In The Basement'). During the reconstruction process a jew's harp version of 'Misery Goats' was discovered and substituted.
The 1999 Cooking Vinyl cd release was identical to the DIYZ 1994 release (the 1994 Master) and included both 'Arabia' and 'Arabian Nights,' and the longer, original 'Tribute To Miles' (aka 'Young Miles In The Basement').
The Datapanik In The Year Zero (2009 reissue) uses 'Arabia,' the shorter 'Young Miles In The Basement,' and the original 'Misery Goats.' It is the 2008 Master of the album. The 2-track quarter-inch analog mix tape was baked in an oven at Suma in 2008 to dry it out and then digitally transferred at 192hz / 24 bit resolution. It was remastered by Paul Hamann in the original control room, referencing with the speakers it was originally mixed on.
The Director's Cut includes everything. It is the 2008 Master except for 'Tribute To Miles,' which is the 1994 Master.
TERMINAL TOWER Rough Trade Records Rough 83 (UK) 1985 lp. Twin/Tone Records TTR8561 (US)1985 lp. Twin/Tone Records TTRCD8561 (US)1985 cd. The left and right channels are reversed and the tape transfer left all songs running at a slower speed. All Rough Trade / Twin Tone cd and vinyl releases are affected. These faults were corrected by the 1994 digital transfer and eq. The 1998 Cooking Vinyl cd reissue is correct and features the Mayo Thompson / Geoff Travis mixes of 'Not Happy' and 'Lonesome Cowboy Dave' as released on the 1981 Rough Trade single. The 1985 Twin Tone / Rough Trade releases use the David Thomas mixes from Suma.
'Terminal Tower' was never released on cd by Rough Trade, evidently. There was certainly an intention to do so and the release as a cd is noted in the booklets that accompany other Ubu cd reissues on Rough Trade, but there is no evidence such a release ever occurred.
SONG OF THE BAILING MAN Rough Trade Records Rough 33 (UK) 1982 lp. Rough Trade Records Rough US 21 (US) June 1982 lp. This Rough Trade lp was probably the best vinyl sound we ever had in those years. It was cut at 45 RPM by Nimbus. When it came out critics, retailers and fans, as with one voice, whined, "It's not an lp, it's a 45!" Like we were trying to pull a fast one. And we replied, patiently, "No, it's a full length record, an lp, a long-player, but you get better sound at 45. It's state of the art technology!" To which, inevitably, the reply came, "Yes, but it's not an lp, is it? It's a 45."
CLOUDLAND We ran across this report of disk rot on the Fontana release on the internet:
I'm not sure whether the problem you describe is the same one that I've found because the sound quality is still fine. But, on Pere Ubu's Cloudland the label has become quite tacky and has started to stick inside the player.
THE ROUGH TRADE CD RELEASES OF THE 80s These were flat transfers from the early days of digital sound and are not satisfactory when compared to later digital releases.
RANKING & SKANKING, The Best of Punky Reggae. Rhino Records R2 71818 (USA) cd & mc. The entire right channel is missing. A fixed pressing should have been on sale by the summer of 1995. The chorus is misquoted in the liner notes. The chorus was "It feels like heaven. It's such a problem."
DATAPANIK IN THE YEAR ZERO On the first run there is a momentary dropout in the left channel of 'Street Waves' on Disk 1 at approximately 1:27. It was spotted with headphones. It is corrected on subsequent pressings. The individual cd reissues are fine.
Folly of Youth seedee + We had a report of the FOY seedee + causing crashes on Macs running System 8.5. There's a workaround. The B each B oys seedee + runs fine under 8.5 and there's no problem with System 8.1.
Notes on sound and vinyl pressings
Pere Ubu doesn't care about sounding good.
Stop. Wait. Read that again. Let it sink in.
Music is a language - it has a vocabulary, a syntax, and a grammar. Musical activity provides the grammar and syntax of the language - melody, rhythm, harmony, etc. The sound of musical activity, however, supplies the vocabulary - and that is where meaning resides. I can jumble vocabulary willy-nilly and meaning will survive. These words ordered in any syntax, in any tense, according to any grammar, will still have meaning: "Dog," "Street," "Walk," "I," "To," "Go." You can, conversely, repeat "Noun," "Verb," "Subject" all day long and not be able to communicate a thing.
What is the value of finely crafted musical syntax if the meaning encoded by the sound is bankrupt? Which is not to say that every song, every book, must be serious. Simple thoughts expressed well can also be a joy. But the first obligation of sound is to convey meaning, to pursue truth and to be honorable - not to serve as a consumerist narcotic.
Pere Ubu is a product of the window allowed to stereo sound. Between the mid-60s and the mid-70s, stereo flourished briefly before being choked out by the monophonism demanded by FM radio and tv. Stereo and its stillborn brother, quadraphonics, emphasized that sound is a voicing of space distinguishable from the musical activity encoded by it, and that the scale of the sound of the musical activity can be manipulated, enhanced or fractured, with powerful poetic consequences. It is our misfortune to be an irredeemable product of those times, and it is our misfortune that we were schooled in the art of sound by Ken Hamann, an engineer who stressed, above all other qualities, performance, passion and vision - a sufi teacher who believed that the making of music should be a pursuit of truth.
Stereo was a technology crippled fatally by the vinyl medium. We, therefore, resented vinyl. We had two ratings for the quality of vinyl pressings:
Okay, I suppose, but why bother?
The analog versus digital, vinyl versus cd, debate can be so emotive it blinkers reason. Our position has always been that every medium has strengths and weaknesses. A good vinyl master and pressing is a wonderful thing. A bad one is humiliating. Our view of vinyl was colored by the experiences we had. When we sent off our first record, the '30 Seconds Over Tokyo' / 'Heart Of Darkness' single, the pressing plant called questioning "all the noise" on it. We listened in a panic. "No," we replied. "That's supposed to be there." It was always depressing to get back vinyl test pressings and hear synthesizer decay muddied by surface noise. We weren't 'allowed' to pan left to right as radically as we wanted because, if we didn't follow the rules, the needle was going to jump out of the record grooves. Etc. Etc.
When Ken Hamann first told us about a wonderful new technology coming, digital sound, he talked about the plans to use it for surround sound, or you could have four tracks that could be mixed to taste by the consumer. We were excited. At last, freedom from the vinyl tyrranical hegemony! Things didn't turn out that good. The cool stuff was abandoned by the record companies. The sound had flaws. But at least you could follow the synthesizer decay all the way to glorious silence. Silence! You could hear silence in the songs! And you could pan the foot drum anywhere you wanted! And maybe someday they'd fix the tediously low sample rate of 44.1khz... Oh, well.
Some of the issues:
Discreet use of phasing enhances the spatial image of a recording. Phasing is transparent with digital technology. Not so with vinyl. Phasing is a definite Bad Thing on vinyl pressings.
On a vinyl pressing there can never be more than a 36db spread between left and right channels. The stereo image or breadth of a vinyl pressing will always be narrower than what can be achieved with a digital medium. Bass guitar and the bass drum must always be placed close to center pan, to do otherwise is to risk bouncing the needle out of the groove... which is fun but a Bad Thing commercially.
With digital technology silence becomes a powerful tool. The dynamic range is extended not only in terms of technical spec but also in dramatic possibilities.
With digital technology you can hear a sound fade nearer to zero. On vinyl it disappears in a murk of surface noise. The detailing lost is significant. Compare the 1994 digital transfer and eq to any vinyl pressing. There is significant synthesizer detailing that the vinyl simply wiped away.
The one thing apologists for vinyl hang onto with bleeding fingernails is its putative 'warmth.' There is actually a technical audio term for it - 'distortion.' What a vinyl-phile describes as 'warmth' might be nothing more mystical than distortion in low frequencies caused by the limitations of the vinyl medium and lathe technology. Now, there's nothing wrong with distortion - Pere Ubu depends on its expressive qualities - but unwanted / undesirable distortion is not a Good Thing.
DJs love vinyl like vampire bats love mammals.
Vinyl as a medium is flawed. The digital cd as a medium is also flawed but still has strengths that, on balance, make it a reasonable choice. Much of the nostalgia for vinyl has more to do with the fragile nature of the medium. Because it can be so easily damaged, both the vinyl and the cardboard sleeve, it must be cared for more intensely. The medium must be treasured therefore that which is encoded in the medium comes to have more value.
In re consumerist narcotic Following a brief conversation with our grocery police liaison officer, Johnny Dromette, we would like the make the following clarifications:
(1) As has been noted in various articles and openly confessed by us, we have a deep affection for the consumerist society. We are proud to say that More Is Always Better. There is a difference, however, in liking a beer from time to time and being an alcoholic.
(2) America as a consumerist society is a recent transformation. Social engineers would have us believe otherwise. They are liars. As young men we had known the last days of the golden age firsthand. No amount of Orwellian history modification can alter that. As recently as the early 70s the middle class of America was routinely raised & encouraged to pursue spiritual and artistic goals ahead of other considerations.