Martin Russell is a core member of the Afro Celt Sound System as well as a twice Grammy-nominated engineer and producer and passionate advocate for high-quality sound. He wrote this blog post for us about the re-mastering of Afro Celt Sound System tracks for an exclusive Society of Sound compilation.
Mastering is the final process before music is released for public consumption. Historically this meant adjusting the tone and levels of the musical content to achieve the highest standard of playback on vinyl discs. Disc-cutting and Mastering were interchangeable terms. Even in those days, particularly with 7″ and 12″ 45rpm records there was always a desire for the content to be as loud as possible so as to sound more powerful on radio than anything played before or after. Mastering engineers who could accomplish this feat and deliver the illusion of squeezing a quart into a pint pot were much sought after and became very successful. This was the start of a “volume war”, whose effect has become increasingly noticeable since the transition to digital. These days the tendency is towards an illusion which squeezes a gallon into the same pint pot – and it is an illusion. Every peak, every pluck, strum or drum hit has its initial level reduced so that the rest of the content can be turned up ever louder. At its extreme the end result, after the initial impression of power and impact wears off, can be both fatiguing and unpleasant – and we wonder why “the kids” don’t listen to entire albums any more ….
With this collection of music spanning well over a decade there was a decision to be made about the strategy for the re-mastering which would be needed to bind the tracks into a cohesive journey. Having been subjected to whatever mastering possibilities were available at the time when each successive album was made, and having been increasingly seduced by the implicit mantra that “louder is better”, we decided to take a fresh approach. The music of Afro Celt Sound System is comprised of light and shade, delicacy and power, and we were determined not to have this undermined.
The original mixes from which the collection is sourced were undertaken by a variety of people in different studios, all of whom tried to get as close to the sound of “a bought one” as they could, with exhaustive attention to detail. We needed someone to come at the re-mastering from a different angle, to get a different take on it which was respectful to the original content. The person we entrusted with this was Andy Jackson, a renowned recording engineer who has been a part of the Pink Floyd team for many years, and has an independent mastering suite, Tube Mastering, which features a selection of extremely high-end valve and analog equipment, as well as the expertise of Andy himself. Our collaboration with him has given the music a new warmth and allowed the dynamics to come out as originally intended. No digital limiting has been used. These 24-bit 96kHz tracks are the very best versions available – we hope very much that you’ll enjoy hearing them and that this collection of music will take you on a memorable journey.