Steve Desper "Recording The Beach Boys" Book - Interesting Stuff

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by audiodrome, Dec 11, 2002.

  1. audiodrome

    audiodrome Well-Known Member

    Location:
    North Of Boston
    I found this thread over at the Smile Shop Forum.

    Just wanted to report on the Stephen Desper book, "Recording the Beach Boys." Two thumbs up! First, the soft cover publication, which is 46 pages long, should be thought of as an essay or monograph, rather than a full-blown reference book. It focuses on Stephen Desper's engineering of two albums, Sunflower and Surf's Up. The author provides both "mixer's memoirs" and "mixer's notes" for each album. The memoirs set the scene providing both a general "State of the Beach Boys" at the time, as well as information on the state of their "Bellagio" home recording studio, the equipment used, instruments, construction of the echo chamber, etc. Truly fascinating! The "notes" sections provide a song by song description of how the songs were developed sonically; which microphones were used, which voices sing which parts, how different affects were applied and why. Once again, to the hard core fan, absolutely fascinating, particularly for those with a technical bent.
    The price of the publication is a bit steep at $100.00. But included with the book is Stephen Desper's "360 Surround" hardware device based on his "Spatializer" concept. The 360 device is provided because, hidden within each recording is a wealth of "matrixed" sound information that can be decoded and heard by inserting the "360" device between the cd player and amplifier. Of course, as we all know, the regular stereo mixes of those two albums are fabulous. But having played both albums through the device (and having a/b'd between standard stereo and the "360") I can confirm that the device really "opens up" the stereo spectrum. In fact, the device provides a "psychoacoustic" surround effect using just two speakers. The effect is more dramatic with some songs and less with others. But it is quite fun to listen to these recordings the way the author intended them to be heard. (The author includes some passionate commentary against current efforts to re-mix Surf's Up to 5.1 surround...a very interesting situation.
    Smile tidbits? Yes, there are a couple. For example, confirmation that the "Child is Father" ending to Surf's Up was a vocal fragment taken from the Smile era 4 track multi track. Various overdubs were added after the 4 track material was bounced over to the 16 track, as described in the publication. And the beautiful a cappella ending to "Don't Go Near the Water" is not of the Smile era...Daryl Dragon came up with the idea. Al played the banjo part. There is a lot of neat information here.
    However, readers looking for an absolute "chronological" account should be cautioned- this book is not a historical blow by blow account of the Beach Boys' lives. For example, the author writes a good deal on how the studio was originally set up in Brian's home. Of course, this occurred for Smiley Smile. But if one did not know this, one may come away with the impression that the home studio was put together for Sunflower, because the topic of the book is Sunflower, etc. But this book is about the recording process, not history, and if recording is what you are looking for, this book delivers the goods! Mr. Desper is truly passionate about his craft and his enthusiasm and recollection of the recording sessions is remarkable. (And Beach Boys historian Alan Boyd provides a nice Foreword.)
    For more info on the book check out: http://community-2.webtv.net/askswd/bookorderinginfo/
  2. pauljones

    pauljones Forum Chef

    Location:
    columbia, sc
    Paul,
    I do agree that Steve Desper added a lot to the Beach Boys' sound. The sonics on Sunflower and Surf's up are great!
    I first noticed his craft on 20/20. He is responsible for the beautiful sound on many of the tracks, such as Time To Get Alone and I Can Hear Music.
    He also engineered most of the tracks for the unreleased album which was supposed to be delivered to Capitol after 20/20 and prior to Sunflower. It would have been great. Most of the tracks are on the Beach Boys box set.

    Paul
  3. Vivaldinization

    Vivaldinization Active Member

    Location:
    .
    Really? I find Sunflower and Surf's Up to be somewhat "clouded" fidelity-wise, especially when compared with the immediately-preceeding Friends/20-20 material...

    -D
  4. Gardo

    Gardo Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Virginia
    Quick thoughts:

    We owe Mr. Desper a great deal for preserving the long version of "'Til I Die."

    100.00 for a pamphlet and the spatializer is pretty steep!

    How is the spatializer different from an ordinary "Hafler" hookup in which the surrounds are oop with the mains? My Denon 3802 even has a "matrix" surround setting that does this automatically, and I hear lots of quad effects on "Surf's Up." (Haven't tried "Sunflower" yet--was it also "quad compatible"?)

    I suspect the quad-compatible engineering would make the albums sound a little different in stereo-only rigs. I don't hear them as "cloudy," exactly, but they do sound different from other LPs. Particularly "Surf's Up."
  5. audiodrome

    audiodrome Well-Known Member

    Location:
    North Of Boston
    Supposedly "Surf's Up" is being released in DVD-A using the "quad version" as a basis. The new remasters of "Sunflower" and "Surf's Up" don't sound cloudy to me at all. The original Caribou CDs sounded a little cloudy, especially "Surf's Up."
  6. sgraham

    sgraham New Member

    Location:
    Michigan
    The original "Surf's Up" LP was issued in EV-quad (Dynaquad). Was the two-track master encoded this way, or was it mixed to a four-channel tape which was then matrix encoded for quad?

    Was the CD version also in matrix quad?

    I find the album fun to listen to, but definitely dull and sometimes hissy. You do get good psychoachoustic surround effects just listening on a normal stereo system - those sirens really fly all around the room on Student Demonstration Time! And Feel Flows just fills the room with sound - it's a little undefined, but after it a normal stereo record sounds very flat.
  7. pauljones

    pauljones Forum Chef

    Location:
    columbia, sc
    The original Caribou CD's were an unfortunate situation. According to Joe Gastwirt, he was given literally no budget to work with on the reissue series. Some of the masters are wrong takes (most of the M.I.U. CD) and others may not be absolute first masters.
    Kind of like the first Simon and Garfunkel box set where Roy Halee was given a shopping cart of tapes and told, "use these"!

    Paul
  8. Vivaldinization

    Vivaldinization Active Member

    Location:
    .
    I don't mean cloudy, per se...they've just never sounded very "clean." That spatialized information might explain it, actually, as the few outtakes from the sessions I've heard don't have the same kind of odd phase information I seem to be hearing in the regular releases.

    -D
  9. Gardo

    Gardo Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Virginia


    Does EV-quad mean surround OOP, a la Hafler? I don't know how the quad encoding was done.

    I hear big surround action (not discrete events so much as a very enveloping and ambient sound field, more pronounced than usual on Hafler-type hookups) on the LP. Far less so on the CD. The CD effects could be accounted for by the typical Hafler effect.

    Big agreement on "Feel Flows"--lovely song, very trippy and trance-y and also oddly whimsical on the little bwap-bwapbwap synth solo after the psychedelic instrumental section. LOVE that song. When Almost Famous worked it into the soundtrack twice, I was in heaven.
  10. JWB

    JWB New Member

    Really?

    I've always thought that 20/20 (and the unreleased last Capitol album) was a sonic mess.

    Tons of hiss and just weird, flat mixing.

    "San Miguel" is a good example. What the hell is up with that song? It sounds sooooo terrible. Such a great, great song...ruined by a nasty recording.

    When I first heard Sunflower and Surf's Up, I thought they were a major step forward sonically...compared to the previous few (except perhaps "Friends").

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