Tape Hunt Notes Part 2
the struggle continues
As you know if you’ve been paying attention to my internet lately, I’ve been working my way through the archive of MTX and Dr Frank mixed masters that I’ve been able to assemble over the past year, trying to assess the state of the material and listening “forensically.” This is in aid of securing the best possible source material for the Mtx forever project as well as getting an idea of what’s available and what might be required for future re-issues.
So far, this investigation only includes the mixed, two-track masters, though the problem of the multi-track masters looms always in the background. Any remixing, obviously, will have to be done from these tapes and, just as obviously, that will require identifying and locating the appropriate ones. And the labelling issues that make this prospect so daunting and confusing apply as well to the two-track tapes. Basically, a great many of these tapes are unlabeled, mislabeled, or cryptically labeled, to the degree that it’s difficult to tell how much of a given project actually survives and which tapes are part of it. Assembling, restoring, and transferring the two-tracks was certainly a challenge, but it was a discrete task; the multi-track tapes, though, are a much bigger, much thornier problem. A lot of stuff is missing, but, worse in a way, for a lot of this material it is impossible to tell whether or not it’s missing.
Anyway, I’ve been concerned, frustrated, and confounded by these labelling mishaps and anomalies and that is reflected in the entries below, which I’ve posted here and there, in scattered, Web 2.0 fashion, on various platforms over the past few months. I’m aggregating them here so they may be found (by me, and anyone else who may be interested) in the future. Part 1 of this aggregation may be found here.
How did it happen? Well, it was a combination of everybody involved — producer, label, band, storage facilities, me — not quite doing their job all the way and, quite understandably I suppose, not imagining that it would ever matter all that much. We lived in the moment. These were disposable recordings. I certainly never thought of leaving explanatory notes for my future self to find thirty years on. No one did, evidently. This slovenly approach, which encompassed the poor labelling as well as, apparently, just leaving tapes all over the place at various studios around the Bay Area, was then worsened by several phases of transporting dozens of bins filled with the tapes of various bands (all with similar labelling problems I’m sure) to various storage facilities and garages, during and after which they were re-jumbled and disordered anew. As I’ve said before, it’s really a miracle that so much has survived in the end. Well, we’ve got what we’ve got, and and we haven’t got what we haven’t.
Everybody’s Entitled to Their Own Opinion DR-001 / LK-39
— From the mixed-up files of Dr Frank E. Basilweiler: there are no fewer than six tapes labeled “Everyone’s Entitled…” in the MTX tape archive, the contents of none of which actually are Everybody’s Entitled to Their Own Opinion (DR-001 / LK 39.) e.g., the tapes pictured which comprise side A and B of LK 49 Milk Milk Lemonade. (The actual EEtTOO tape is labeled: “MRT REEL 1 LP #1 KEVIN ARMY”.)
Fortunately this mislabelling was easy to sort out, as the contents of the tapes in question were easily determined based on other notations, labels, clues. That is, it’s funny rather than… tragic.
As to how it happened, I suppose it was done by a Lookout intern or somesuch, apparently under the impression that every 1/4" reel was (probably) EEtTOO. When in doubt….
(Original post is here.)
Our Bodies Our Selves LK-180
— God I hate the drums. Mainly the snare, but also how the drum mix is so loud that it almost sounds like it exists in its own universe only distantly related to the band playing in a different room, in a different reality. Yet, you still can’t quite feel the bottom end for all that. It’s worst on the first two songs, then begins to mellow a bit, and by the time we get to track four or so things get more rational. Or not — maybe it’s just, you can get used to anything. But by the time we get to the instrumental (which I like, sonically) we’re mostly back to reality.
Of all the misfires in a “career” full of them, “Somebody Who Cares” is probably the one song I’d most like to rescue. It’s a good song, largely handicapped. If we could re-mix that and “Love Manifesto” alone it’d improve this thing approximately 1000%. Only one of the master reels of this survive, as far as I can tell, and it’s so cryptically labelled that it’s impossible to know whether or not these tracks are on it. (Also the mix to tape is missing and we’re stuck with a digital copy of the mastered-for-vinyl version, which could be part of the problem.) We’re probably stuck with what’s there, practically speaking. Well, remedial mastering will help at least if we ever get to that point.
Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood, Rough US 68 / LK 145
— Julie Andrews: Here’s some more “tape lore”, if lore is the word I want. The Ampex 456 1" tape reel in center is labelled “MT HH Reel 2”. “Reel 2” is self-explanatory, and “MT” obviously = “MT(X).” But what the heck is “HH”?
Well, it’s lucky I am the archivist, because I’m not sure anyone would know this but me. When we would start a new project, our producer-engineer Kevin Army would always ask for a title, and usually there wasn’t one yet. So I would just say whatever popped into my head, and in this case what popped into my head was: “Henrietta Hippo.” i.e. “HH.” This often became a kind of “code name” for the project, till the real title could be assigned, which was usually long after recording. And the record that wound up being cut from the Henrietta Hippo tapes was the 1989 Rough Trade US 12" e.p. Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood.
Outside of MTX archival lore, in case you don’t know (and many don’t, I assume) Henrietta Hippo was a character from the 70s kids’ TV show The New Zoo Revue. You can see her here:
I worked out an arrangement of this theme song for my pre-MTX band to play, by the way, but I don’t think it ever got far enough to be actually played.
Anyway, it occurs to me that some our tape archive problems could stem from this premature give-the-tape-a-humorous-temporary-name practice. And I have to say, a date and a track list would be far, far preferable.
I was thinking of this today because Stanley Donen died, and he directed Bedazzled, one of my favorite films. In it Peter Cook plays the Devil, who gives Dudley Moore’s character a series of ill-fated wishes when he says the magic words: “Julie Andrews.” I guess I’d seen that movie shortly before we began to record what became Our Bodies Our Selves, because when Kevin asked me what to call this project that’s what I said. He duly wrote “Julie Andrews” on the tape, I remember him doing it.
Now, only one of these reels survives — as I’ve mentioned before, I believe, it is labelled only “MTX 6/93 album #6” with no other documentation. I’m not sure how many there were, but one of them that is definitely missing is the one upon which Kevin wrote “Julie Andrews.” That is, I don’t have it. And it’s quite possible it’s not in my archive because when they were sorting out the tapes, I got the ones labelled “MTX” or “Mr T Experience” and not the one(s) labelled Julie Andrews. I’m not sure who would have got those. (But if anyone ever does come across that tape and gets all excited thinking he’s stumbled on some lost Julie Andrews recordings, he’s in for a big surprise. Maybe he’ll do a google search and find this post. If that ever happens, drop me a line. I’d love to take it off your hands.)
p.s.: you’ll notice, if you can make it out from the two-track master of side B of LK 49 (Milk Milk Lemonade) next to it, that the original title (or more accurately the “we-don’t-have-a-title-yet” title) of “See It Now” was “Slow One”.
— MTX NO 99 NO 4: More (deliberate) tape mis-labelling snafus. This is reel 2 (of three) of the Alcatraz mix in sequence though it is actually labelled “reel 3.”
As with the other two reels, it’s pretty confusing that there’s a track list written in sharpie on the reel case, and a different track list on the John Golden label taped to it. I suspected the taped-on label was the accurate one, though there was no way to tell without trying to play the tape. The tape played, and that turned out to be the case. I think someone should have crossed out the sharpie list, but that’s just me maybe.
I wish all the Alcatraz tape confusion was as easy to sort out as this, but the anomalies of this tape do reflect some of the greater problems. The spine of this tape case is labelled “no 3” even though, as I say, in the sequence of the released album this is actually the second part of the program. On the actual reel is written “MTX NO EQ Reel 3”. My first assumption was that this was a reel with “no EQ”, but in fact it is an “EQ reel” and …
… well, remember how I said that we’d often use ridiculous “code names” as working titles that caused confusion later on when trying to divine the contents of the tapes so labelled? (e.g. HH = Henrietta Hippo = Big Black Bugs, Julie Andrews = Our Bodies Our Selves.) This isn’t a case of trying to be ridiculous like that, but it’s the same sort of situation because the original working title of the album that came to be called Alcatraz was: NO!
This was most unfortunate because not only am I pretty much the only person in a position to know that, but also, “no.” is a common abbreviation for “number.” So you have label notations like “MTX no 99 no 4” — in that case, the “99” is the date and the reel # is 4. But you also have labels like “MTX no 2” in which the “no” could be the title NO! or simply “no. 2” of an unspecified session. And worst of all, there’s at least one of the two-inch tapes that simply says “no” on its spine, with no other information.
The multi-track masters of this recording session are a huge mess, since hardly anything is labelled well enough to reflect the contents with any specificity. I may have all the reels. On the other hand, I may not. And if I don’t, a plausible reason could be that, as I speculated with “Julie Andrews” / Our Bodies Our Selves, somewhere along the line in the various times where Lookout bands’ tapes were sorted and attributed, tapes labelled “NO” or “NO 6” or whatever, were not recognized as MTX tapes and were… I don’t know who might have wound up with them, but why would anyone who wasn’t me have given them to me? I don’t think Lookout ever had a band with the name No, but if they did, well, that’s where to look.
Why did we change the name from NO! to Alcatraz? Well, I guess the thinking was that NO! was too… negative. (And in view of the reception of this release, that was probably a smart move — I’m sure a lot of people would have given that one word title as their review, which would have been funny the first time, maybe.) Anyhow, Alcatraz it was renamed, long after any of the tapes were written on, which is why it’s such a mess now.
And so it goes and so it goes and so it goes and so it goes…. I would say: label your tapes, but no one uses tapes anymore. Label your hard drives, though. It couldn’t hurt.
(The original post is here.)
The Mr T Experience …and the Women Who Love Them LK 106CD
— MTX “THE WARRIORS OF ROCK”: a.k.a. LK 106 / 106CD. This is the 16 track 1" master of what was eventually released as The Mr T Experience …and the Women Who Love Them CD ep and the “Tapin’ Up My Heart” 7". “The Warriors of Rock” was evidently one of those jokey, place holding titles I’ve discussed before, though I have no recollection of that one beyond what I see here. Fortunately, someone came back later and added “THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM” to it. That’s how I know what it is: there are no track sheets, track lists or other documentation beyond this label.
What I don’t know is whether this tape includes the two acoustic songs “How’d the Date End?” and “Now that You Are Gone.” The six electric songs were recorded at Sound and Vision in San Francsico in 1993 or 1994. The acoustic ones were recorded at a later date, at Dancing Dog in Emeryville. They may well have been recorded on this tape, but possibly not. (And if not, they were probably tacked on to the end of another tape, either one of ours or of some other band: they are not noted anywhere on the tapes in my archive.)
The mix of this release exists solely on a single DAT safety copy. Fortunately this includes all six songs that were on the e.p., plus the three songs on the 7" so nothing is missing. Also fortunately, it played okay and we were able to capture the audio. If there ever was an analog reel tape mix of this material it has disappeared, but I think it’s likely that this stuff was mixed to DAT.
I’ve written elsewhere of the trials and tribulations of this release (see the liner notes of the …and the Women Who Love Them “Special Addition” compilation CD.) It was in many ways the lowest point I and my band had ever reached, and it captured a band, a label relationship, and a doctor in a state of multifarious disintegration. So demoralizing was the experience that I pretty much let it drop without listening to it for many months, expecting the worst and concentrating on the far-fetched project of trying to figure out something else to do with my life. (There’s a lot more to that story, which maybe I’ll tell sometime.)
But the songs, many of them scribbled in the margins of the Plato text I was using to teach myself Greek during that crazy mixed up time, were good. And one of the biggest surprises of my life was finally hearing the tape and discovering, wow it actually sounds good. Something was captured. We summoned what resources we had to finish it up, adding the acoustic songs to put out another“one last” record. It’s still my favorite release, probably. Listening to it now, it still has that certain weird “something”. I’d like a crack at re-mixing of course. I always do. Maybe it’s in the cards, maybe not. The mix as it exists is okay enough that maybe we should just leave it alone, focus the remixing efforts on some release that genuinely needs it. We shall see.
(Original post is here.)
Yesterday Rules LK 299CD
— Dr. Frank’s Drive: The 2004 MTX album Yesterday Rules is on this hard drive. At least, I believe it is. It turns out I don’t have the proper cable/dongle combination at the moment to examine the contents, though I have one on order. I do remember once long ago I did manage to copy the files for the song “London” for a guy who wanted to do some kind of fancy re-mix many years ago. This remix didn’t ever happen, as far as I know, but the fact that I have this hard drive at all is largely the result of that request. In that old naive way I used to have, I figured all I had to do was ask Kevin Army for the files. In fact, though, the hard drive was, as far as he knew, still at Shark Bite studios where the album was recorded, and Shark Bite was going through a bit of a transition period at the time. The old owner was hard to locate and not super responsive and it was in fact well over a year before I finally managed to take possession of it. This would have been in 2007 or so, I believe.
Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was a harbinger of things to come much later down the road. Even after this, I still had this naive idea that someone, somehow, somewhere was keeping track of all our tapes and that if I ever wanted to access them for re-mixes or re-issues, or simply for preservation, all I’d have to do was put in a request to whomever it was (and that someone I could ask would know who that was.) In fact, had I not been asked for those “London” files by some dude on the internet, and left it till this past year when I began the project of trying to locate and assemble all of our recordings, I’m sure this thing would turn out to be lost forever, like the other now missing tapes that (I speculate) must have been left in various studios around the Bay Area.
This album and recording is rather unusual compared to the others, reflected in the fact that it’s on a hard drive at all. It’s the first one substantially recorded digitally to disk and mixed using Pro-Tools, but even that process was a little weird. We recorded the drums and some of the bass and possibly other basic tracks to tape (2" 24 track) and then transferred those tracks “to computer” for overdubs and mixing. For some songs we also used some of the tracks I’d recorded as demos at home, so that involved having Jim play along to my ADAT demos, while the tape rolled. For some reason, we had to sync up the ADAT deck to the tape deck and run them both while this was happening rather than simply bounce the tracks at that time, and that was rather awkward and prone to glitches. (We’d done this before with Miracle of Shame, but in that case it was all over-dubbed and mixed to tape once that process was done.)
Those tapes have disappeared along with any other ones that may have disappeared in the same “batch”, but in this case, at least, assuming no mechanical failure of the hard drive, all the “information” should theoretically be there so that’s no great loss. I do think, though, that if someone had thought to take care of and properly label and archive those tapes at the time, some of the others that are more important might well have been saved. But it was not to be.
I’ll probably post an update on what I find when I have a chance to examine the contents. I know there was one out-take, a song called “Disaster’s Recipe,” that I’d like to mix and incorporate into a future Yesterday Rules re-issue. There might well be some other interesting stuff on there, too, we’ll see. Fingers crossed that it still spins.
(Original post is here.)