History of CBS Records 30th Street Studio NYC (many pictures)

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by DMortensen, Oct 21, 2014.

  1. DMortensen

    DMortensen Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Seattle, WA USA
    As mentioned upthread a little, I am Co-Chair of the Historical Track* at the upcoming virtual AES Convention in October, and was sent a link to this video today.

    It is an overview of the process behind the recently remastered collection of the Complete Columbia Recordings of Bruno Walter, made by the engineers behind it, Andreas Meyer and Jennifer Nulsen. There is a lot of history in it and a fair amount of technical detail, both musical and restoration. I think that if you are reading here you will enjoy seeing it and will get something out of its half-hour that is out of proportion to the time spent watching.

    One question for those here: Hulsen says a couple of times that 30th St. had a sound more akin to a scoring stage than a performance space. Can anyone describe the differences for someone not acquainted with those terms except in the most general sense? TIA.

    *A position I occupy as a very direct result of this thread and the activities around it, for which I am most grateful. It's been real interesting, to say the least.
     
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  2. GLouie

    GLouie Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle
    I watched the video. There were several places where they referred to the NAB curve for cutting and playback of the disc, and I think they meant the RIAA curve (or even its predecessors). NAB would be for tape EQ.

    My interpretation of the scoring stage comments is that 30th street was similar in size and sound to a scoring stage. A performance hall is much larger and different reverb/room sound.
     
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  3. GLouie

    GLouie Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle
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  4. GLouie

    GLouie Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle
    I'm listening to a few of the audio engineers oral history interviews by Susan Schmidt Horning as previously mentioned in this thread. I happened upon one of William Savory, who talks about the early days of 30th street, and acoustic treatments for maybe 10 minutes. Susan mentions Fred Plaut's photo book, then wonders aloud what happened to the rest of his photos...:laugh:

    Interview with Bill Savory, October 2, 1999
     
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  5. ~dave~~wave~

    ~dave~~wave~ Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lincoln, NE
    I'm late to this long thread, not sure how to jump in, so I'll reply to this post and let you folks put it in context.

    The Pennebaker film is streaming on the Criterion Channel.
    Watching it now, holy smokes, what a piece of history.
    Dean Jones: "Sing? I can't spit this time of the morning!"

    New subscribers should be able to get a 14-day free trial.
    Original Cast Album: “Company” - The Criterion Channel

    Original Cast Album: “Company”
    Directed by D. A. Pennebaker • 1970 • United States
    Starring Stephen Sondheim, Elaine Stritch, Donna McKechnie

    This legendary, long-unavailable documentary from Direct Cinema pioneer D. A. Pennebaker captures the behind-the-scenes drama that went into the making of a classic Broadway recording.
    When Stephen Sondheim’s groundbreaking concept musical “Company” opened on Broadway in 1970, it was an immediate triumph.

    Shortly thereafter, the actors, musicians, and Sondheim assembled to record the original cast album in a grueling, nearly nineteen-hour session that tested the talents of all involved—including Elaine Stritch, who pushed herself to the limit to record what would become her iconic version of “The Ladies Who Lunch.”

    With raw immediacy, Pennebaker and his crew document the explosive energy and creative intensity that go into capturing the lightning-in-a-bottle magic of live performance
    .

    There's also a commentary version:

    This commentary, recorded in 2001, features director D. A. Pennebaker; Harold Prince, producer of the original Broadway production; and actor Elaine Stritch.

    A review in the New Yorker:
    The Unstrung Power of Elaine Stritch in “Original Cast Album: Company”

    The Unstrung Power of Elaine Stritch in “Original Cast Album: Company”
    Richard Brody
    July 10, 2020

    D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary “Original Cast Album: Company,” which is now streaming on the Criterion Channel, has long been as widely revered as it was hard to find. As proof of its fame, the 1970 film was parodied in the 2019 season of “Documentary Now!,” although it wasn’t available to stream at the time; used DVDs of it were selling for nearly a hundred dollars. “Company,” with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by George Furth, has of course retained its centrality to modern musical theatre. (For example, Adam Driver’s performance of the climactic number, “Being Alive,” is one of the emotional tentpoles of Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.”) But the cinematic transformation of “Company”—or, rather, of its songs—in Pennebaker’s documentary is an exhilaration. Staking out the jammed-up intersection of theatre, audio recording, and cinema, “Original Cast Album: Company” illuminates all three art forms simultaneously and thrillingly—and at the center of the movie and its thematic network is the singular artistry of Elaine Stritch.

    Stritch played a supporting role in the Broadway show, yet she dominates the documentary of the cast album’s recording nearly from start to finish. Pennebaker and the crew made nearly the entire film in the confines of a recording studio; Columbia (now Sony) was recording the album under the aegis of the record producer Thomas Z. Shepard, joined by Sondheim himself. (There are only a pair of documentary sequences filmed elsewhere—one a lunch break midway through, the other showing the sunrise that the filmmakers found waiting for them after the recording session, which ran eighteen-plus hours and ended at 5:30 A.M.) The weighty technical apparatus and the administrative infrastructure that goes into recording the album are sketched lightly in the course of the action, giving rise to a brief prelude in which studio cables are plugged in, control-booth decisions are quickly made, members of the orchestra tune up, and the singers rehearse some passages. This elaborate context establishes, from the start, the special criteria that distinguish the singers’ artistry, as shown in the film, from an onstage performance of the songs.

    Then Pennebaker leaps straight into the musical action. He films the ensemble title tune, “Company,” in a succession of extreme closeups of singers in front of dangling microphones—and the first shot is of Stritch. She launches into the song with ferocious energy and focussed intention, seen in her sharp nods of the head and possessed gazes, and her performance cuts through the crowd of singers like a spotlight. Her voice is no more prominent than any other singer’s, but, with her fierce concentration and starkly etched determination, she grabs and holds the camera’s eye.

    That’s no knock on the other singers. In the next scene, a recording of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy,” featuring a trio (Susan Browning, Pamela Myers, and Donna McKechnie), all three actresses—also seen mostly in closeups, which the filmmakers choreograph deftly in pan shots, zooms, and shifts in focus—blend passion and precision. Here, as throughout the film, the documentary shifts perspectives, from the performers at their microphones to the glassed-in and soundproofed control booth, where Shepard and Sondheim evaluate the performances (in unstinting terms that the actors don’t hear) and make decisions. This trio sequence gives rise to a comedic moment in which Myers, singing the phrase “Bobby bubi,” has trouble with the Yiddish word; Sondheim comes into the studio and works with her to pronounce the “u” as in “goody.” It also leads to a brief interview (several are lightly scattered through the film) with Browning, who drolly sets out the underlying stress of the occasion, saying that singing is easier onstage, because she’s dancing at the same time, so “everything goes together” and “the moment passes by,” whereas “this is the definitive, it’s the end-all and the be-all of this song, and, God, that could drive a person crazy.”

    During a lunch break over mugs of beer, Shepard comes by and tells Sondheim, Stritch, and the director, Harold Prince, “I think we’ll finish roughly at four in the morning.” He proved optimistic. One of the songs recorded after the break, a rendition of “The Little Things You Do Together,” in which Stritch has the lead role among a host of others, again features her decisive, angular, precise gestures, which dominate the ensemble and possess the camera. The cinematography throughout is both agile and probing: the cameras keep physical distance from the performers, zooming in for closeups of a skin-tight proximity. (In Dean Jones’s performance of “Being Alive,” each time he launches into the latter word, the extreme closeups show off the details of his dental work.) The camera also pans deftly, refocussing on the fly without embarrassment. (The technical difficulty is built into the texture and the substance of the documentary.) The cinematographers even offer some smoothly roving shots that prowl around the singers with a feline grace. “Original Cast Album: Company” is a symphony of faces, a grand harmony of dramatic expressions and creative energy. When the image zooms out to reveal Stritch’s place among her fellow-singers, it’s clear that she’s the dramatic center even of numbers in which she doesn’t solo. The dominance of her gestures has both an expressive and a practical aspect—from within the chorus, she’s conducting.

    Stritch’s solo number, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” is saved for last. All the other singers are done for the night—and, some time after three in the morning, they head out, leaving Stritch and the orchestra behind, along with Shepard, Sondheim, and the technicians. Sondheim is concerned: Stritch’s voice, he knows, is tired, and he wants to transpose the song down a half tone. Stritch is reluctant: she dismisses her fatigue and, though willing to try a take his way, asks to be allowed two additional takes in the original key. She keeps her radiantly acerbic good humor, joking with Hastings as well as with Sondheim, who casually raises the tension, warning her that “this is the permanent recording, therefore it’s important.” Stritch’s first rendition is filmed in a single, uninterrupted four-and-a-half-minute take, and its intensity is almost unbearably great. Her fatigue is palpable, yet she blasts through it with a reckless power that fuses with her interpretation of the song. She’s hardly singing—rather, she’s declaiming the lyrics in a sort of sprechstimme. Her precise gestures grow unstrung, wild, possessed, and her voice turns raucous and furious, breaking with an astounding sob-like laugh on the word “surviving.” The camera work, so carefully attuned to her interpretive energies, is harrowingly intense: when the frame expands for her flailing outbursts, the image at times loses its own composure, lurching and shuddering along with them.

    Bewilderingly, after this take, Shepard tells her, through the control-booth mike, that the performance lacks “tension” and is “flaccid.” Though Stritch and Sondheim agreed that they’d do two more, the count goes up to eight, leaving Sondheim shaking his head in dismay and burying it in his arms in despair. They listen to a playback with Stritch, and she reacts to herself with self-scourging fury, hearing her overtaxed voice and her now slapdash overemphasis, and roaring at herself, “Wrong!” and “Oh, shut up!” After yet another take, Sondheim suggests to Shepard that they call it a night—that they send Stritch home, record the orchestra backing (the cost of bringing the musicians in for another day would have been prohibitive), and bring Stritch back another day to record the song when her voice is fresh. Shepard conveys the request to her, and she agrees.
     
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  6. GLouie

    GLouie Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle
    Thanks for posting that, ~Dave~~wave~. I see there's a few more paragraphs to finish the review if you go to the New Yorker site. Such a dramatic review! Of course, he is incorrect about it all taking place in the same studio, since we know from this thread that the final take is at Columbia's Studio E at 49 East 52nd St.

    Be sure to see the director's commentary version, IIRC Elaine Stritch says she did have a few drinks during the session, which was also noted by Tom Z. Shepard in his commentary track heard only at the AES 2018 convention in NY.
     
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  7. ~dave~~wave~

    ~dave~~wave~ Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lincoln, NE
    Thanks for the heads up, pilot error on the missing paragraphs.
    Here's the rest of the story:

    That retake, which Pennebaker also films, finds her in suave voice, hitting the notes of the song with a light precision and raising her voice to a raucous shred at the dramatic climaxes. It’s the performance that was released on the album, and it provides something drastically different from the first take: a faithful sonic image of the song as composed by Sondheim, perhaps even a performance that closely resembles the ones that she gave nightly onstage. What it lacks is the terrifying power, the abandon, of the first studio effort; the precision and the finesse came at a high price.

    Pennebaker himself must have wondered. In the movie’s opening text crawl, which serves as his preface, he writes, “When it was all over, at five thirty in the morning, I was amazed that what I had watched through my camera and what the recording engineers heard through their microphones could be so different. A performance that seemed dramatic and wonderful on film was often for them simply a bad take.” I was reminded, upon seeing the documentary, of an incident involving the great classical pianist Artur Schnabel, whose technique was occasionally fallible but never spoiled his audacious and insightful interpretations. As the magazine Gramophone recounts, while recording Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, in 1938, Schnabel was “confronted by his producer’s plea for greater precision in the first movement’s massive octave outburst.” He responded, “I could play it more accurately‚ but I couldn’t play it better.” So it is with Stritch’s performance of “The Ladies Who Lunch”: the released version is more accurate but not better. (I’ve performed an experiment, rewatching Stritch’s first take with my eyes closed, as if listening to it on a record, and its raggedness is a little more conspicuous, but its shocks and thrills are just as strong.)

    The essence of theatre is the fear factor—an anxious astonishment at being in the very same place as a performance so extreme that one dreads it spilling offstage, even as, in its emotional power, it’s already doing so. That’s the feeling that movies have trouble capturing—the essence of the cinema isn’t what’s given by the performer but what the camera takes of the actor’s very being. Often, a performance of great intensity, when filmed, seems merely to be recorded, neutralizing both its cinematic essence and its theatrical one. Only rarely does the opposite happen—that a performance of hypnotic cinematic allure also seems as if it’s bursting through the screen. That’s what some of the greatest actors do: it’s the height of expression achieved by such performers as Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Gena Rowlands, and John Cassavetes, in duets with their most inspired directors. And it’s what Stritch, in connection with Pennebaker, achieves here, in one of the greatest of all outtakes.
     
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  8. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
    Almost. What we're seeing in the film seems to be a single take, but the audio for both the film and the soundtrack is comprised of at least 2 different takes edited together, and the two edit at slightly different places:

    Film:
    The dinosaurs surviving the crunch
    Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch
    [edit]
    Everybody rise!

    Soundtrack:
    The dinosaurs surviving the crunch
    [edit]
    Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch
    Everybody rise!

    That is, the line "Let's hear it for the ladies who lunch" differs in the film and soundtrack.
     
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  9. ~dave~~wave~

    ~dave~~wave~ Forum Resident

    Location:
    Lincoln, NE
    Dutton-Vocalion have just released a hybrid SACD with the Columbia Masterworks quad mix that was released on SQ vinyl and 8-track tape in 1972.
    Includes hi-res stereo and redbook CD layers.
    I've not heard it, but early reports are that the quad is especially good.
    These Dutton re-issues are impeccably mastered and quite affordable.

    https://www.duttonvocalion.co.uk/proddetail.php?prod=CDLK4638



    [​IMG]
     
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