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Topic: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

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  1. #1

    The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    Today I made a digital recording of a record I've had since the '60's-- the sound track of "West Side Story" from 1961. I wanted to have the music available on my computer. Amazing in what great shape the vinyl is in, considering that it's something I played a million times as a kid. I did a little bit of cleaning up with audio restoration tools, and I'm very happy with it. But that's not the point of this post.

    Besides the score being great, possibly still the best stage musical ever written, it's such a joy to hear the old school NATURAL sound used in the sound track. Take a listen. This is "Prologue," the opening piece. Symphonic jazz, which was a pretty wild concept at the time. It's still fresh, amazing, beautiful, American music at its best:

    "Prologue" from "West Side Story"

    Besides the superb music, take note of the sound. No artificially huge reverberation like in modern films, but there's still plenty of depth. The horns and percussion are definitely way back there, but they're clearly still in a reasonably sized studio. The clarity, the intimacy and power of this sound is, imho, so far superior to the pumped up gigantic sound which is the modern cliche in film work.

    There are some oddities in the stereo. These were the very early days of stereo, and engineers were prone to doing some things that can sound peculiar to us now. This is Columbia Masterworks featuring what they called "360 Sound." They achieved what they wanted with a very wide stereo field. You'll hear instruments way far to the right and left, perhaps more than we would care to hear now.

    The strings are on the right!-- A bit odd, and percussion is really spread out, like when several xylophones are playing, some are left, others right - well, it does give a big, wide sound.

    AND note starting at 1:41 when there's a section led by the woodwinds. They are So close and dry, and way out of proportion with the rest of the orchestra. I think that works Great. They weren't trying to record the orchestra the way it would sound in a concert hall - an emulation so many follow in their virtual orchestra recordings - instead, they're concerned about making an effective recording. I admire that so much. So the woodwinds are in the lead for that passage - great, bring them up front and center, and then they move back again when they need to blend.

    So this is a combination of things - Extra wide stereo mixing. Selective focus that keeps changing throughout the piece in order to shape it into an exciting recording. I repeat - they were making a recording, and doing everything they knew how to make it sound great.

    But most important to me is my original point - that even with the sophisticated mixing techniques used in this, they kept the ambience natural, so much smaller than is done nowadays. And to me, hearing that in action again is a great breath of fresh air.

    It's a combination of the "unnatural" (since they were producing a record, and not caring about recreating the experience of hearing a concert) with the natural sound of the studio. It's great. I can hardly wait for fashion to change and for the kids in Hollywood to rediscover the more natural sound that was used for many decades before the Super Huge style caught on. And that will happen. All fashions are cyclical. Just give it time.

    Randy

  2. #2

    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    I can't agree more. This (recording style and reverb) is what I grew up with. It is, in one way, in your face and personal and others completely a part of the atmosphere of where the recording is being played (your own home) and the ambience that comes from your stereo and own living space.

    I have had a chance to play this in a pit orchestra at a local college a few years ago. Your track reminds me of the sound I heard in that pit which was under the stage and we as musicians could just go ahead and wail on the piece.

    Thanks for sharing this. It has recalled some excellent memories.
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  3. #3

    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    Quote Originally Posted by RichR View Post
    I can't agree more. This (recording style and reverb) is what I grew up with. It is, in one way, in your face and personal and others completely a part of the atmosphere of where the recording is being played (your own home) and the ambience that comes from your stereo and own living space.

    I have had a chance to play this in a pit orchestra at a local college a few years ago. Your track reminds me of the sound I heard in that pit which was under the stage and we as musicians could just go ahead and wail on the piece.

    Thanks for sharing this. It has recalled some excellent memories.
    I had a feeling you'd like this, Rich, considering what I know of your background. mmMMmmm you got to play in the pit for this - wonderful.

    I too have very special memories surrounding WSS. When I was a young teen, I saw the local university's production, then because I knew the person running props, I got to be back stage for the rest of the run. I would sit there back stage hearing the show, drinking it in. It was a major influence on me - and later in high school, I was in an excellent production of it as one of The Jets.

    I really do think WSS is The Great American Musical. Something very exciting is that there's currently a revival on Broadway which is doing very well, and the dance numbers are based on the original choreography of genius Jerome Robbins who originally directed, choreographed and conceptualized the show.

    And thank you also for signing in on the topic of the sound of movie sound tracks. Good heavens it was so much more effective when the sound wasn't blown out of proportion the way it is today.

    Randy

  4. #4

    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post
    ...The clarity, the intimacy and power of this sound is, imho, so far superior to the pumped up gigantic sound which is the modern cliche in film work....
    But therein lies the rub. I had soooo many rejects, not for poor composition, or failure to match the call, or poor musicianship, or even orchestration, but because the orchestral sound I generated didn't match the "now" sound ("pumped-up, gigantic sound"!). "Change your samples!" they cried. "More depth!" "Needs to be bigger!" Serves me right for carefully constructing GPO orchestrations so they sounded real...

    So I gave up on orchestral and stuck with synthetic, which is automatically pumped up. And did (a little) better.

    I note that GIO which I've only just stumbled over, supplies the pumped-up sound the music libraries are demanding, without the pricetags of the market leaders. I guess I should try again. Perhaps.

  5. #5

    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    Quote Originally Posted by flyingtadpole View Post
    But therein lies the rub. I had soooo many rejects, not for poor composition, or failure to match the call, or poor musicianship, or even orchestration, but because the orchestral sound I generated didn't match the "now" sound ("pumped-up, gigantic sound"!). "Change your samples!" they cried. "More depth!" "Needs to be bigger!" Serves me right for carefully constructing GPO orchestrations so they sounded real...

    So I gave up on orchestral and stuck with synthetic, which is automatically pumped up. And did (a little) better.

    I note that GIO which I've only just stumbled over, supplies the pumped-up sound the music libraries are demanding, without the pricetags of the market leaders. I guess I should try again. Perhaps.
    Hi, flyingtadpole - I don't recognize your name, and see this is just your 7th post - so Welcome to the Garritan Forums!

    I sympathize with what you've said here. Keep in mind, as much as Rich and I (and surely others) can wax nostalgic about this sound from 50 years ago (!), and as much as we patiently await the return to a different (return to the old) sound as we do - we all have to acknowledge that we live in the here and now.

    If you honestly want to submit demos that fulfill the expectations of your listeners, then you do indeed need to have your sound be in the currently acceptable mode. Turn up that reverb! Layer those tracks with more layers of sound! It's still the same music, just sounding in a way that the kids who are making the hiring decisions will recognize as being in the pocket of what is currently happening. To give them something else will only confuse them.

    And you're right - Garritan Instant Orchestra is an excellent tool for achieving that goal of sounding more current and HUGE. You need to go for it.

    Thanks for your post!

    Randy

  6. #6

    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post
    ...Turn up that reverb! Layer those tracks with more layers of sound! It's still the same music, just sounding in a way that the kids who are making the hiring decisions will recognize as being in the pocket of what is currently happening. To give them something else will only confuse them.
    Love it! No no, no cynicism here! I'll lay on the layers and reverb with a shovel, no, a Bobcat now until the 5.1 bleeds! and perhaps earn some extra pennies! (rattles current "royalties earned" virtual tin, at least there's something in there to rattle...).

    When I was looking seriously at upgrading to market leader libraries, I realised I had a major equipment upgrade needed to cope as well. $5000 or so for librariy + hardware, which fitted no rational cost/benefit that I could come up with, no matter how big a distorting mirror I used. But listening to the GIO sounds, that's a shoo-in.

    Oh, and I recognise one name prominent amongst the demo composers so nicely illustrating uses of GIO [applause]. Thank you!

    [EDIT] Oh, and video tutorials too...thank you again!
    Last edited by flyingtadpole; 04-12-2012 at 12:15 AM. Reason: adding a minor bit

  7. #7

    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    Hi, I'm new in this forum and was looking around. Your post ist a very interesting one!

    The only thing that I would argue it's you want to point out the "natural sound" but you admit that it's a "odd engineering" of early stereo recording editing.

    We may say it's just a different approach, and maybe a good one for some subjective perspective (and I agree with you about it). Maybe because I'm old...and I educated myself on 33rpm records...

    I think that there's a kind of "time signature" or "time fingerprint", beside a different artistic intention: the will of creating a Jazz vivid sound, instead of the megalo-symphonic xK.1 superdupersurround...

    Probably less suited for Jurassic Park or Transformers oder anything my kids look at today, by the way...

  8. #8

    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    Quote Originally Posted by flyingtadpole View Post
    ...Oh, and I recognise one name prominent amongst the demo
    composers so nicely illustrating uses of GIO [applause]. Thank you!
    [EDIT] Oh, and video tutorials too...thank you again!
    Thank you very much, flyingtadpole. Hope you stick around - Take a look in The Listening Room also. It's the next Forum under General Discussion in the pop-up menu. Not "Listening Area," but "The Listening Room." We need to get that page more active again! So go have a listen at some music the Forum members are posting there.



    Quote Originally Posted by chormeister View Post
    Hi, I'm new in this forum and was looking around. Your post ist a very interesting one!


    The only thing that I would argue it's you want to point out the "natural sound" but you admit that it's a
    "odd engineering" of early stereo recording editing.


    We may say it's just a different approach, and maybe a good one for some subjective perspective (and I agree with you about it). Maybe because I'm old...and I educated myself on 33rpm records...


    I think that there's a kind of "time signature" or "time fingerprint", beside a different artistic
    intention: the will of creating a Jazz vivid sound, instead of the megalo-symphonic xK.1
    superdupersurround...


    Probably less suited for Jurassic Park or Transformers oder anything my kids look at today, by the way...
    Another newcomer! Hello, Chormeister and welcome to the Garritan Forums.



    This is just great, two new people on this thread. I certainly hope you stick around also. This General
    Discussion area has threads that range from music theory, interesting music news, to off topic silliness.
    It's where Forum members come most often, so please both of you feel free to post questions, comments, things to discuss etc.


    Specifically to your post, Chormeister: I tried to cover several things in my post, pointing out the
    combination of "unnatural" engineering and natural studio ambience. For simplicity I just referred to
    "the great natural sound" in my subject line, since the main thing I wanted people to hear was the natural reverberation. I almost said "the natural use of reverb in old movie sound tracks" - but of course they weren't purposely "using" reverb quite in the sense we mean. They were just recording in a studio and allowing its natural room acoustics be on the recording. So, I simplified my subject line.


    So yes, it's not as if these sound tracks were "pure" in some theoretical sense where the music was left completely alone, and the engineer simply recorded the orchestra without doing any work with the tracks. That kind of purity really doesn't exist. Engineers have always manipulated sound in recordings, trying to get the most effective recording possible.


    And so on. I'm agreeing, I know that my original post was talking about some natural elements in the

    recording as well as some "unnatural" ones. After working on the post's text awhile, and seeing that it
    was still a bit convoluted, I went ahead and posted it anyway. But the "Sound" I was referring to was
    specifically the room ambience.


    Good point about how the nature of this particular piece was best served by this more intimate, natural
    sound. I knew as I was posting this that there would actually be many other better examples of the old
    school recording style, since the music in WSS isn't at all typical of sound tracks from any era. But it was the record I'd been getting immersed in again as I digitalized it, so wanted to share the great music as well as bring up the topic about how old sound tracks were produced. Yes, most any other sound track from past decades would probably make the point I was making even more clearly.


    Ah, but I disagree when you say the old school style would be "less suited for Jurassic Park etc."


    It's probably impossible for us to imagine what these more current sound tracks would sound like with less reverb. That's the way sound tracks are done now, and our ears expect it. But if we were in an era when this kind of production wasn't done, then of course we wouldn't expect anything but the natural sound.


    Listen to sound tracks from the past that feature big epic scores, "Ben Hur," "The Ten Commandments," they have a big, full sound, recorded with large orchestras. But they aren't artificially pumped up with additional reverb. If "Jurassic Park" had been produced back then, that's the way the music would sound, and we wouldn't think anything of it. When a film has a sound track nowadays that doesn't have this huge inflation of reverb, it's unusual. Big adventure films now Must have the current "Hollywood sound" because of precedence.


    But all I know is I much prefer the older more natural sound, and feel that eventually, we'll return to it!


    Randy

  9. #9

    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    Quote Originally Posted by flyingtadpole View Post
    ...Oh, and I recognise one name prominent amongst the demo

    composers so nicely illustrating uses of GIO [applause]. Thank you!
    [EDIT] Oh, and video tutorials too...thank you again!
    Thank you very much, flyingtadpole. Hope you stick around - Take a look in The Listening Room also. It's the next Forum under General Discussion in the pop-up menu. Not "Listening Area," but "The Listening Room." We need to get that page more active again! So go have a listen at some music the Forum members are posting there.

    Quote Originally Posted by chormeister View Post
    Hi, I'm new in this forum and was looking around. Your post ist a very interesting one!

    The only thing that I would argue it's you want to point out the "natural sound" but you admit that it's a
    "odd engineering" of early stereo recording editing.


    We may say it's just a different approach, and maybe a good one for some subjective perspective (and I agree with you about it). Maybe because I'm old...and I educated myself on 33rpm records...

    I think that there's a kind of "time signature" or "time fingerprint", beside a different artistic
    intention: the will of creating a Jazz vivid sound, instead of the megalo-symphonic xK.1
    superdupersurround...

    Probably less suited for Jurassic Park or Transformers oder anything my kids look at today, by the way...
    Another newcomer! Hello, Chormeister and welcome to the Garritan Forums.

    This is just great, two new people on this thread. I certainly hope you stick around also. This General
    Discussion area has threads that range from music theory, interesting music news, to off topic silliness.
    It's where Forum members come most often, so please both of you feel free to post questions, comments, things to discuss etc.

    Specifically to your post, Chormeister: I tried to cover several things in my post, pointing out the
    combination of "unnatural" engineering and natural studio ambience. For simplicity I just referred to
    "the great natural sound" in my subject line, since the main thing I wanted people to hear was the natural reverberation. I almost said "the natural use of reverb in old movie sound tracks" - but of course they weren't purposely "using" reverb quite in the sense we mean. They were just recording in a studio and allowing its natural room acoustics be on the recording. So, I simplified my subject line.

    So yes, it's not as if these sound tracks were "pure" in some theoretical sense where the music was left completely alone, and the engineer simply recorded the orchestra without doing any work with the tracks. That kind of purity really doesn't exist. Engineers have always manipulated sound in recordings, trying to get the most effective recording possible.

    And so on. I'm agreeing, I know that my original post was talking about some natural elements in the recording as well as some "unnatural" ones. After working on the post's text awhile, and seeing that it was still a bit convoluted, I went ahead and posted it anyway. But the "Sound" I was referring to was specifically the room ambience.

    Good point about how the nature of this particular piece was best served by this more intimate, natural sound. I knew as I was posting this that there would actually be many other better examples of the old school recording style, since the music in WSS isn't at all typical of sound tracks from any era. But it was the record I'd been getting immersed in again as I digitalized it, so wanted to share the great music as well as bring up the topic about how old sound tracks were produced. Yes, most any other sound track from past decades would probably make the point I was making even more clearly.

    Ah, but I disagree when you say the old school style would be "less suited for Jurassic Park etc."

    It's probably impossible for us to imagine what these more current sound tracks would sound like with less reverb. That's the way sound tracks are done now, and our ears expect it. But if we were in an era when this kind of production wasn't done, then of course we wouldn't expect anything but the natural sound.

    Listen to sound tracks from the past that feature big epic scores, "Ben Hur," "The Ten Commandments," they have a big, full sound, recorded with large orchestras. But they aren't artificially pumped up with additional reverb. If "Jurassic Park" had been produced back then, that's the way the music would sound, and we wouldn't think anything of it. When a film has a sound track nowadays that doesn't have this huge inflation of reverb, it's unusual. Big adventure films now Must have the current "Hollywood sound" because of precedence.

    But all I know is I much prefer the older more natural sound, and feel that eventually, we'll return to it!


    Randy

  10. #10
    Senior Member Silh's Avatar
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    Re: The great natural sound of old movie sound tracks

    I haven't been around that long (born late 70's), but have always appreciated soundtracks, though as I have alluded before in a thread about how we listen to music, I tend to pay a lot more attention to composition than the performance and resultant sound. Always did like Miklos Rosza's works. John Williams would have been more my time I suppose (I still remember watching the Los Angeles olympics opening ceremony as a kid and going wow...).

    That said, the sound has definitely changed over the years. I was just listening to Poledouris' 1982 Conan soundtrack (Radio Symphony of Rome) and comparing with the 2010 rerecording of the score (City of Prague Philharmonic). While the former's performance was somewhat lacking, and the newer performance improved on it in some ways, in many ways I prefer the former. The 'big' and 'grand' sound just... lacks punch, it seems. Details get blurred too much.

    Oh, and one more personal gripe with modern soundtracks... four bars of notes does not a melody make...
    -- Matt Wong

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