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Restoring an Ancient Gryphon

by Richard Elen on 20 Aug, 2018

in Audio Production, Music

Restoring an Ancient Gryphon

This month has seen the release of the new album by old friends of mine, Gryphon. The album, ReIn­ven­tion, is their first for 41 years: the band, re-formed and aug­ment­ed, though now with­out the pres­ence of co-founder Richard Har­vey, is poised, at the time of writ­ing, to per­form the new album in the Union Chapel.

In hon­our of the new release I thought it might be inter­est­ing to attempt to res­ur­rect what is the first record­ing I ever made of the band (I was their sound engi­neer in the stu­dio and on the road from 1974–5, cul­mi­nat­ing in the record­ing of the Rain­dance album across Mid­sum­mer 1975, which I engi­neered and co-pro­duced). This was a record­ing of the live per­for­mance giv­en at the Old Vic on 14 July 1974 – the first and, I believe the only, rock con­cert ever to have been held at the Old Vic or host­ed by the Nation­al The­atre. Gryphon had recent­ly been com­mis­sioned to write the music for Peter Hall’s Nation­al The­atre pro­duc­tion of The Tem­pest, which had pre­miered on March 5, and had record­ed their sec­ond album, Mid­night Mushrumps (a ref­er­ence to Prospero’s speech, 5.1.39) includ­ing a suite based on the music for the play, with Dave Grin­st­ed at Chip­ping Nor­ton Stu­dios in the Cotswolds.

The Old Vic per­for­mance was right at the start of my involve­ment with the band and I was yet to be respon­si­ble for their sound live or in the stu­dio. How­ev­er for the occa­sion of the Old Vic per­for­mance I was able to obtain a Teac 3340 4-track recorder and sit­u­at­ed it beside the mix­ing desk on the bal­cony. I had a pair of AKG D-202s, excel­lent all-round dynam­ic mics, arranged in a coin­ci­dent pair as close to the cen­tre of the bal­cony as I could get, and record­ed these on one pair of tracks on the Teac; and in addi­tion I put a stereo feed from the board on the oth­er two tracks. The result­ing 4-track tape gave me a clean feed of the PA mix, with the addi­tion of audi­ence reac­tion and ambi­ence from the room mics – par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive on the per­cus­sion. How­ev­er as we were on the bal­cony there was a delay between the PA feed and the room mics, so when I mixed-down the 4-track to stereo I put a delay on the PA feed tracks to bring them into sync with the room mics. This also gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a lit­tle fun, as I could vary the delay slight­ly to give a slight flang­ing effect on tracks like Estampie, which Richard Har­vey refers to in the intro as “a mediæ­val one-bar blues”, an effect which had been used on the orig­i­nal album record­ing for a sim­i­lar pur­pose.

The dis­ad­van­tage of the PA feed was that it includ­ed a bass DI run at con­sid­er­able lev­el, and as a result, Philip Nestor’s bass-play­ing fea­tures promi­nent­ly in the feed. So much so, in fact, that the bass caus­es some inter­mod­u­la­tion dis­tor­tion with oth­er instru­ments, ren­der­ing some of the pieces sad­ly vir­tu­al­ly unus­able. How­ev­er with some judi­cious use of EQ around the 80–200Hz mark the bass can be qui­etened-down enough for a rea­son­able bal­ance to be achieved in many cas­es.

Sad­ly the orig­i­nal 15in/s mix­down mas­ter of this record­ing is lost, and believed to be in Los Ange­les. How­ev­er I made a cas­sette copy of the three reels which I hung on to. They were BASF Chrome cas­settes and I record­ed them with a Dol­by B char­ac­ter­is­tic on a machine that I had evi­dent­ly been able to set the Dol­by lev­el on cor­rect­ly as the results are quite respectable. For these exper­i­ments I tran­scribed the cas­settes from a Tech­nics M260 kind­ly pro­vid­ed by Dun­can God­dard, who is a high­ly tal­ent­ed restor­er of vin­tage ana­logue recorders, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly sup­plied my trusty ReVox PR99 and A77.

I digi­tised the audio via a Focus­rite Scar­lett inter­face and brought it into Adobe Audi­tion, my DAW of choice for stereo audio pro­duc­tion. I cleaned up the noise floor with Audition’s built-in noise reduc­tion tools and a cou­ple of Wave Arts restora­tion plug-ins, using the Audi­tion para­met­ric EQ to restrain the bass end. Here’s an exam­ple of the results: the mix of Estampie referred to above. And I hope you like it.

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