I have nearly finished remastering Gigapus some 15 years after the album was first released. I say ‘some 15 years’ because it was recorded and rejected several times in the period 1993-1995 and so the timing is a bit loose. Probably I should also not say remaster, as most of the album was never mastered in the first place.
Each time I do a remaster I get a fair few people falling out of trees about how I should never retouch the past and how it was fine as it was and so on. They’re wrong, and I hope I can explain why in this entry. It also is a lot more interesting than just announcing the re-issue.
Gigapus was first demo’ed in 1993 to a disinterested Nettwerk Records who said that it was time I got a drummer and a bass player and then not much useful past that. What they should have said was they were changing their style and just cut the umbilical cord right there and then. As it was it dragged over three versions and a lot of disheartening conversations with Canadians that had just discovered their inner Joni Mitchell.
Version one was done on a Fostex B16 tape recorder with Dolby C. This had been state of the art for The Big Bigot in about 1986, by this time it was a wheezy old relic. You could get a signal up to about 17KHz on a sunny day. All the snap and sparkle would disappear in the Dolby haze. At least I’d managed to get it fixed so it ran at a constant speed – unlike most of Rotund For Success where it wobbles noticeably.
Versions from the following year were done by running all my equipment straight through a mixing desk to DAT. The vocals were part of the sample bank on a ASR-10, along with everything else that wasn’t the Roland Super Jupiter, ESQ-M, Xpander or SY77. That got rid of the tape machine, but keep in mind all those samples fit into 10Mb which is less than a Sound Blaster, and made by the same company. The ASR-10 was a decent machine but not top notch. The rest of the stuff was great analogue gear but not the same as having real multi-track. I’ll give you an example: In Snow, the Super Jupiter was needed to create a certain sound, it could no longer be used for the bass, and the Xpander had to fill in. That was a great machine but it didn’t do basses very well. It also liked to go off key if you looked at it. These keyboards were distinctive, they had a range and they were limited in what they could achieve in one pass.
When the second version got rejected I started to piece together old and new – some of the original tape songs which I thought were OK, and some of the new ones. I also had to quickly rework Dollarex to remove all the samples that might be legal trouble. That album went back to Nettwerk to snub. Around the same time Volition Records had Robert Racic rework Dead Eyes Opened which was never a favourite of mine but certainly paid a lot of bills. They also commissioned Boxcar to rework Heart of The Party, which they did very well.
That track was mastered, but when you load it up in a modern editor you can see that it’s not really quite right. The kick drum is peaking only on one side of the wave form – there’s a constant ‘DC offset’ that is just filling up bandwidth inaudibly. No-one could have done much about that at the time (and no one noticed for over a decade!) but it’s exactly the kind of thing that I should fix now. I also compressed that kick so it’s now more inside the mix than before.
Just turning up the treble can’t bring back the sound that was lost to tape – there’s nothing there. What I did was use an exciter to create harmonics on the existing sounds, which makes waves that are sinusoidal more triangular, brighter and so snares are snappier and strings have more bite. High hats that were buried can be heard more clearly and vocal samples are clearer.
On the other side I added bass to the tracks where the Xpander was used by synthesising lower octaves underneath. That means I can actually turn down the bass because it’s not struggling against the rest of the mix. It’s a bit quieter but you hear it more clearly.
In some cases more precise work was needed. The snare in Tiny Wounded Bird was too loud, a de-esser at just the right spot tamed it back a little bit.
The final step was a multiband compressor/limiter. This catches the frequencies where the sound is too shrill or booming, without harming other parts of the mix that don’t need it. One particular trick I like to do is set a low threshold and a slow attack below 80Hz on the kick drum which lets the snap though but compresses the boom – makes the kick tighter and less likely to confuse the bass.
The original CD never went above -6dB which was standard for the time, but noticeably soft for the last decade. I’ve allowed it up to -1.5dB. More psychological than anything else.
I should mention that Carlos Peron did a remaster of the German version of the album in the mid 90’s which I listened to exactly once. It seems that everyone in Germany had no bass speakers at all, the solution was to turn up the bass ’til it hurt. With all due respect, please no.
For a second disc I’m compiling tracks that were on the original demos, most of them are well known to anyone on the old Sevcom mailing lists. Right now I’m listening through that horrible period after 1996 when the band was dumped and desperate. Mostly live tapes and sketches for live shows, probably best forgotten since the best of it survived as 1998’s Haul Ass.
One thing you will never hear is the appalling 12″ version of Heart Of The Party that was commissioned by Volition in their final moments. At the time the UK was going through a fashion for ‘4 on the floor’ gay anthems. We invited a UK record promoter over to my place to hear the album – his comment was bluntly ‘I really hate this kind of shit’ – simply meaning that it didn’t have a constant kick drum and trance gates that were the fashion. Some unmentionable was hired to create this foulness and may it rest on the bottom of the ocean along with the opinion of that great twat.
Giga++ will be ready soon.