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New Gold Dream
- Release Date 06 May 2016
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- Vinyl LP
New Gold Dream is the fifth album by the celebrated Caledonian rockers. Released in 1982, it is widely considered to be a turning point for the band, a bridge between their post punk roots and stadium-filling destiny, and gathered enormous critical acclaim as well as impressive sales. Listed in the estimable tome ‘1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die’ New Gold Dream was a discernible move toward a more a commercial sound and it entered the UK chart at number 3, yielding the hit singles Promised You a Miracle and Glittering Prize.
The latter track and the synth-heavy Someone Somewhere in Summertime in particular represented a shift towards undisguised pop and it’s also worth noting that Hunter and Hunted features a solo by Jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock, a rare distinction for any rock/pop album.
"Every band or artist with a history has an album that's their holy grail," remarked lead singer Jim Kerr. "I suppose New Gold Dream was ours. It was a special time because we were really beginning to break through with that record, both commercially and critically. The people that liked that record connected with it in a special way. There was a depth to it: it created its own mythology. It stood out.”
The artwork caused quite stir due to its religious imagery, so much so that on the version released in Yugoslavia, the cross was removed. Jim Kerr reflected "[During the writing of the album] we often went for walks. Around Perth you find a lot of Celtic crosses, crosses that seem to spring up from the earth. We thought it was a very powerful symbol. They were in the ground which produced the water we drank, so why not?"
The original cut for this record was half speed mastered at Abbey Road Studios.
1.What is ‘Half-Speed Mastering’?
This is an elaborate process whereby the source is played back at half its normal speed and the turntable on the disc cutting lathe is running at 16 2/3 R.P.M. Because both the source and the cut were running at half their “normal” speeds everything plays back at the right speed when the record is played at home.
2.What are the advantages of Half-Speed Mastering?
The vinyl L.P. is an analogue sound carrier. Therefore the size and shape of the groove carrying the music is directly related to whatever the music is doing at any particular point. By reducing the speed by a factor of two the recording stylus has twice as long to carve the intricate groove into the master lacquer. Also, any difficult to cut high-frequency information becomes fairly easy to cut mid-range. The result is a record that is capable of extremely clean and un-forced high-frequency response as well as a detailed and solid stereo image.
3.Are there any disadvantages? Only two, having to listen to music at half-speed for hour after hour can be a little difficult at least until I get to hear back the resulting cut when it all becomes worthwhile. The other dis-advantage is an inability to do any de-essing. De-essing is a form of processing the signal whereby the “sss” and “t” sounds from the vocalist are controlled in order to avoid sibilance and distortion on playback. None of the tools I would ordinarily employ on a real-time cut work at half speed as the frequencies are wrong so the offending “sss” does not trigger the limiter and everything is moving so slowly there is no acceleration as such for the de-esser to look out for. This has always been the Achilles heel of half-speed cutting until now (see 6 below).
4.What was the source for this record?
This album was cut from a high-resolution digital transfer from the original ½” analogue masters. The tapes were re-played on an Ampex ATR-102 fitted with custom extended bass response playback heads. Only minimal sympathetic equalisation was applied to the transfer to keep everything as pure as possible. Also, as this was an analogue, vinyl only high quality release, I did not apply any digital limiting. This is added to almost all digital releases to make them appear to be loud and is responsible for “the loudness war” and in almost every case is anything but natural and pure sounding.
5.Why could it not be cut ‘all analogue’?
The biggest variable when cutting from tape is the replay machine. Every individual roller in the tape’s path will have a direct effect on the quality of the audio emanating from the machine. In addition to this, there is the issue of the sub 30Hz low-frequency roll off on an advance head disc-cutting tape machine which in effect will come into play at 60 Hz when running at half speed. In addition to this, there are also some unpredictable frequency anomalies in the 35-38 Hz region with analogue tape that will double up at half speed. These are all problems if you want to hear as originally intended the lowest register of the bass end on a recording. There is also the lesser potential problem of tape weave that effectively increases at lower speeds and leads to less high frequency stability and the possibility of minor azimuth errors. Even if these problems could be overcome, this is quite a long album and the masters were recorded on ½” tape running at 30 inches per second. The master reels are 14” in diameter and are just too big to fit onto a Studer A80 advance head replay machine. Neither Studer nor anyone else made a machine that could be used to play 14”reels and have an advance head for all analogue disc cutting. Even when this album was originally cut in 1982 it was played on an Ampex ATR-102 feeding into a digital delay. The advantage I have now is that digital converters are greatly improved over what was available 34 years ago. Finally, analogue tape becomes degraded with each pass over the replay heads. These tapes are getting old and it is no longer considered good practice to play and play and play precious old original masters for fear of damage and general wear and tear. Far better, then, to eliminate the variable of the reply machine and to minimise wear of the master by capturing the music digitally at very high resolution using professional converters locked down with stable external word-clocks. I can completely understand the reasons for the concerns that some people have when cutting classic albums from digital sources. Historically, there have been some horrible digital transfers used as a vinyl cutting source. This has absolutely not been the case with this series. Micro-management of the audio and attention to detail has been the order of the day. Abbey Road has striven to eliminate any digital weaknesses from the signal path in all the rooms in the building. Therefore to capture to high resolution digital from a well maintained Ampex ATR-102 with extended bass heads is a far superior working method in my opinion.
6.Are there any advantages to this working method?
Yes, any problems with the tape can be treated far more accurately digitally than they could be by using traditional analogue techniques. For example de-essing. I can, by careful editing, target just the offending “sss” and leave intact the rest of the audio. Therefore high-hats, bright guitars and snare drums are not affected or reduced in impact. Using an analogue scatter-gun de-esser approach would also trigger the limiter in many parts of the audio that do not need to be worked on. The de-esser cannot tell a bright guitar from bright vocal and will smooth everything out leading to dull guitars or soft snare drums and weak hi-hats. Targeting the “sss” sounds in the vocal as I have done in this series is time consuming but is worthwhile in the pursuit of the very best possible sounding record. Also if there was any damage to the analogue tape (drop-outs and clicks for example) this can by and large be restored using modern digital methods in a way that is unobtrusive and this would be impossible using analogue methods. For the record, none of the albums in this series have been de-noised. Only clicks have been removed and drop-outs repaired where possible.
Miles Showell - Mastering Engineer, Abbey Road