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Unknown Mystery 60's Group

AN INTERVIEW WITH TIMOTHY CORN

How did you get involved with the mixing and mastering of the Unknown Mystery 60's group third album ?
Well actually my involvement goes back to the first CD in 1997. I did some mixes on Volume I and on Volume II. I am a huge fan of the group obviously. Things were quiet for a while, due to the whole shakeup in the corporate boardroom. I had a lot of correspondence with David Plum during this time when he was running Octopus Recordings. This was before he got his Phd in self actualization. So he was kind of different back then. I had also submitted a CD to Octopus of my own work. Unfortunately he and Henry Renzell were unimpressed with the work, but liked the production. Anyway, through the correspondence, we found a lot of common ground, and when the additional tapes that would become Volume III showed up from Spain, he mentioned it to me in an email. I of course was extremely excited and offered my services to remix and master the songs. David was a little hesitant at first. He and Henry decided to let me take a shot at what would become the first song on the album, Fileroom. After hearing what I did with that, the tapes just kept flowing.
What can you tell us about the whole digital transfer/mixing/mastering process ?
 

Well, our philosophy has always been to try and remain as true to the original recordings as possible. That said, certain liberties were taken thanks to new technologies which were unavailable at the time of the original recordings. There were extensive notes in some of the tape boxes which helped to identify the vision of each song. In some situations, the original multi track tapes were available, and in others, only a stereo mix on a cassette tape which must have been dubbed by the archivist in Spain. I had to use what was available. The saddest part of the whole process was the condition of some of the tapes. Several unbelievable songs had to be left out of the third collection due to the poor condition of the tapes. Some of them looked like they had spent 30 years in a hamster cage. I was willing to include several of these technologically flawed songs despite their inferior sound quality. In particular, an early song called "Baby I'm New" is a masterpiece of early rock and roll. And two others, "Christine" and "Where Are You?" which I believe were sung by the drummer had to be left off. I keep pushing David and Henry to release a collection of rare outtakes so these might be included at some time in the future.

That said, I was amazed at the pristine condition of some of the other tapes. As anyone who has listened to the band can tell, there seems to be two lead singers. I can only assume that whoever was the lead singer on each song was also responsible for taking care of the tapes, because all of the tapes with the one lead singer were in great condition, and the other singer's tapes all were in terrible condition. I was literally worried that the tapes might fall apart if I played those too much, so I had one or two shots at best to get the tape threaded, and transfer them to hard disk for further processing.

So the tapes were transferred to digital, and then further processed ?
  Oh yeah, that's pretty standard nowadays. Some of the digital restoration software I used was developed by David Plum himself in some arcane software code but it is absolutely amazing. It has some intense audio algorithms going on. He calls the software The Plummer. Here, listen to this section of a song before digital processing (play sample here). Now listen to it after applying The Plummer (play the sample here).
That's amazing!
  I'll say. It made my job a lot easier at any rate.
Some of the songs on this album contain orchestrations not on the previous two volumes. What is your take on that ?
  I know! That was a complete surprise to me as well. By reading the handwritten notes in the box of tapes, it seems that the bass player was the one who did the orchestrations. Apparently at the beginning of the group, the two lead singers retained creative control of the band. These songs must be from a different period. Unfortunately, there are no session notes as to who the players were or where they were recorded. The thing that I can't figure is how they were able to even afford hiring session musicians. Obviously, the band had limited access to decent recording equipment. Some of the microphones used sound terrible. And whoever engineered a few of the sessions should be horsewhipped. But those are just technical details. The songs are so well written that they can survive as great pieces of art despite the technical flaws.
What are your future plans ?
  Well David and Henry both seemed pleased with my work on Volume III. I was pressing them to let me continue on with some rare outtakes, but that is to be decided. Renzell keeps talking about a project involving some old tapes of Connie Francis and Jonnie Ray - unreleased live concerts. So that could be interesting. And they keep hinting at a possible Volume IV, which again, we will have to see about. I can't imagine the band having even more great hits laying around in some box in Spain, but I never thought that there would be a Volume III either! In the meantime, I am hoping the excitement over the release of Love Songs will get me some other work. I need the money.
Any advice for budding sound engineers ?
  An engineer should be there to capture the moment, like a documentary film maker. What is ruining music is that the process of recording & engineering is taking precedence over musicianship. All that matters is to have a good song and a good performance. Who cares if there are a few mistakes? Always try to record the band live. Never use a click track. It is the death of music. Think of all the greatest songs in the world. Do you think they were sitting in the studio with a metronome and a computer grid?