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The Scope of The 2008 Universal Music Group Fire Finally Revealed

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  • #16
    Originally posted by regnaD kciN View Post
    I had heard rumors of this sort of disaster over the years at the Steve Hoffman forums, but there was always the assumption that high-quality safety copies or high-res digital backups had been made of all this material, when it appears only a fraction of this material had been so archived.

    It's a disaster for popular music of the past seventy or eighty years, but it also raises a major question for ethics in the audiophile community. There have been many reissues in recent years of material touted to be "from the original analog master tapes," which we now know to have been destroyed many years before these reissues. I'm thinking, in particular, of the 2017 reissue of Buddy Holly ("...this reissue sourced from the original analog tapes still in superb condition and cut by Kevin Gray is by far the best sounding edition ever." -- Michael Fremer), but there have been a number of other "audiophile" reissues, particularly of material from Impulse and Chess, long after the fire. I'd be really curious to find out the provenance of these sources -- were they from "master" safety copies, did the UMG vault contain backups in these cases, or what? (I will note that there have been unsubstantiated rumors, over the years, of certain reissue engineers who would make a point of creating a safety copy before beginning work on cutting or transfer, and who might then be "careless" and "accidentally" ship the safety back to the vault instead of the master; I have no idea if this is true but, if so, it may now be considered an inadvertent work of public service by any such engineers, especially if they had reason to suspect Universal's care of these tapes.)
    What Mikey had to say at bottom in case didn’t scroll down in provided link:

    “Many masters were lost, but much was also saved, ironically because they were out being re-mastered, many for vinyl reissues. Analogue Productions announced the Impulse! series in 2009 by which time many of the tapes had already been pulled and were off the lot—at least that's what I have been told.

    Also it's my understanding that a great deal of it had been moved but UMG is not forthcoming with what was lost and what was saved.

    It's also fairly common knowledge that many Impulse! masters 'went missing' years ago and much of what's been issued on CD is from copies of masters, some procured from the U.K. and other overseas sources.”

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    • #17
      There are many albums where safety masters were created for reissues, creating CD's, etc. However, they almost never are copies of the multitrack tapes, original session tapes, etc. So those lost in the fire would be lost forever.

      Interestingly some master tapes were used and reused to the point where the tapes are worn out. So safety masters may be the closest to the originals as one can get. In some cases, it may be that early dubs from production masters may still be around. One such famous case is the Solti Ring cycle done by Decca from the late '50's to mid '60's. The master tapes are shot and Decca has been doing reissues from digital copies made IIRC in the late '90's, so not super hirez. Last year I was fortunate to be able to buy a 15ips 2 track tape (26 reels) of the complete Solti Ring made in the Soviet Union in the '60's or '70's. It is on Russian Svema tape. I haven't yet told Decca Universal about my purchase, but when I was meeting with them in London in 2013-5 during the research phase of my Decca book, they lamented the loss of the Ring tapes. BTW, the classical tapes from Universal (Decca, Philips, DG, etc) are stored in Germany AFAIK. That also applies to the many great RCA albums which were engineered by Decca.

      Concerning one pass tape, I have bought around 100 reels of such tape (all BASF or EMTEC SM468). It isn't quite as simple is saying one should never erase session tapes. For many recordings made in the analogue era, there might be 30,40,50 reels of tape (15ips 2 track or multitrack) used for the different takes for an album. Say there were thirty takes for a song. It would be wonderful to find outtakes for Kind of Blue (some of which were included in the Classics reiissue a few years ago) but what about takes 8 through 25 of some deservedly unappreciated artist from the late '70's. Who would keep the 50 reels of tape generated by the recording session for that album, including not just storage at such places as Iron Mountain , but also all the curation needed to find the exact place on which tape a particular take was located. I would liken it to finding all the drafts that Charles Dickens wrote of David Copperfield - to see the evolution of his writing but also keeping all the drafts of every essay that any English major has written, just in case that English major is the next Dickens in a hundred years. Would anyone pay for the warehouses to store all of those papers from the millions of English majors through the

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      • #18
        Great post Larry! In addition to what you’ve said - for anything where the original recording was multitrack, to truly go back to the source tape and remaster a new recording will by definition require remixing it, and while it is possible to create a new mix that is close to the original, getting it exact would be tough. For some albums, any change in the mix could be seen as quite controversial, even if the resulting sound quality is much better. This was exactly the case of the Steven Wilson remix of King Crimson’s Court of the Crimson King. SW’s reissue was the first to use the original multitrack master and directly transfer that to hi-res digital and the resulting sound was a massive improvement. But he did make a few changes to the mix that while I liked the end result, some people didn’t want ANY change.
        TAPE: Studer A807, A810; Revox B77 MkII; Tascam BR-20; Technics RS-1700; Pioneer RT-707, RT-909
        VINYL: Pioneer PL-50LII/Benz LP-S MR/ModWright PH 9.0; Denon DP59-L/Dynavector 20xH
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        • #19
          And here come the lawsuits!

          TAPE: Studer A807, A810; Revox B77 MkII; Tascam BR-20; Technics RS-1700; Pioneer RT-707, RT-909
          VINYL: Pioneer PL-50LII/Benz LP-S MR/ModWright PH 9.0; Denon DP59-L/Dynavector 20xH
          DIGITAL: Bryston SP-3, MacMini > Oppo Sonica/Pioneer N-50
          SPEAKERS: B&W Nautilus 800, Pioneer DSS-9
          AMPS: Cary SLP-05/Sunfire Signature 600, Pioneer SX-1980


          • #20
            An interesting point for us in the audiophile community: it is reported that most if not all of the Chess masters were destroyed -- that would, of course, include Muddy Waters' Folk Singer. Indeed, I've heard others confirm that this was one of the victims. Further confirmation might come from reading between the lines at Acoustic Sounds; while the vinyl releases (which came out before 2008) bear the ad copy "From the original 1964 Chess analog masters!," the SACD, which was released in 2011, merely says "Mastered by Kevin Gray," without any further details on the source.

            So, if this is the case, and the masters are no longer in existence...anyone wonder what is the source for the recent open-reel release? (The Acoustic Sounds website does say "Sourced from original master tapes" -- note the plural -- the bolded part of the copy that contains that seems to be boilerplate included on all of their UltraTape listings, just as their DSD downloads of Impulse titles claim to have come from the original master tapes, whereas the SACDs from which they were derived make no such claim, suggesting that it was just something cut-and-pasted into all the titles uncritically.)


            • Slowgeezr
              Slowgeezr commented
              Editing a comment
              That IS interesting. Thank you. It gives me hope that even though the master tapes have been destroyed, that re-issues can still be incredible, as the Folk Singer album is.