“This format is about creation. Okay, I’ve done the Stones and I’ve done INXS and The Beatles in spatial audio… but they’re legacy acts. What’s much more interesting is what’s about to happen!”
Giles Martin is the son of Sir George Martin, the original producer of The Beatles, but he’s an acclaimed producer in his own right.
He’s also played a key role in the various ways the Beatles catalogue has been remastered and updated for new technologies – most recently remixing compilation album ‘1’ into spatial audio for Apple Music.
Martin was interviewed by Apple’s Zane Lowe at a recent online event put on by the company to promote the release. But as his thoughts above show, Martin is keen for new music to be given the spatial treatment as much as heritage catalogue.
“We work in a world where visual has become everything, but the one thing about immersive audio is that it can make you close your eyes and create a world way beyond what you can get on a screen,” said Martin.
“That’s where it gets exciting, and that’s where immersive audio becomes really cool. It’s like a book: you can create layers upon layers upon layers, and people don’t take it for granted any more.”
Still, there are plenty of catalogue classics yet to be given the spatial treatment. Martin was asked what else he’d like to work on after The Beatles.
“From that era, you’d be looking at Pet Sounds,” he said, before turning his attention to more recent fare, and the memory of an amazing concert by The Prodigy in Sydney, and the potential for a spatial version of their ‘Music for the Jilted Generation’ album.
“I want to be in that record! And that’s the thing: what records do you want to be in? That’s the key. Or the Chemical Brothers. That’d be a good one!”
Martin clearly has the trust of the surviving Beatles and the representatives of John Lennon and George Harrison when it comes to updating the band’s music for new technologies, but he stressed that they are fully involved in the process, and enthusiastic about the opportunities.
“Paul says: ‘I don’t want to be stuck in a museum. I don’t want to be under a glass case. I want, you know, people to discover things’,” he said.
“The Beatles don’t want to be on some mount going ‘Don’t touch it’. Some people said to me, why would you go and do this? I go, ‘Because they asked me to’. I don’t do this work because I’m bored and there’s a cupboard of Beatles records I need to go look at.”
He continued on that theme. “It’s like a family and there’s pressure involved, but it’s not as though we have marketing meetings and we sit as a board that sits around, it’s like Paul and Ringo, and then there’s Olivia and Dhani [Harrison], and then there’s Sean [Lennon] and Yoko [Ono],” he said.
“We communicate, we send, we send stuff around, we go, ‘listen to this’ and they’ll make comments and they love the technology, they love the idea of people listening in different ways.”
“There’s so much love and passion and care attached that goes into this. And if I can make them happy, then you know, and then other people listen to it, they can hear the passion that goes into it, then that’s that’s job done.”
We also got the chance to ask Giles some direct questions – our first was about the challenge of applying spatial audio musical experiences to older music. In the early/mid 1960s, a mono mix of recordings was what was anticipated by the original artist, producer, engineer, mastering engineer – and so recordings and mixes were made accordingly, with mono in mind. Often, a stereo mix was then created as a secondary priority. (Sgt Pepper’s is “better” – some audiophiles say – in mono!)
So, we asked Martin, what conceptual and artistic challenges are there when “retro-fitting” a spatial mix onto a legacy recording, and how do you convince listeners of the value in experiencing it in this new format, when it was designed for mono?
Giles Martin: “I don’t believe the records [necessarily were “designed for mono”] – yes they were listened to in mono, but i think they were designed to be – in certain cases – as immersive as possible regardless of how many channels or speakers they were coming out of.
“If you take Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles, off Revolver, for instance, that is a psychedelic recording – I’m sure John Lennon would love to have the tape loops flying around his head [in spatial audio]. However because the restrictions that didn’t happen. I do believe that songs and music can be enjoyed in every single format – I also don’t think there’s a certain limited technique that will make someone enjoy a song more than the other.
“You just have to make sure that when you mix the song has been realised in the best possible way and the right emotions are touched regardless of many channels you have. I think with early recorded things – and especially the mono records – you have to be careful that music isn’t too dispersed. What I mean by that is that it’s not coming out of too many different channels – because in essence it can lose some power if that happens.
“One thing you can do is you can put the listener in the “same room” as the band or, indeed, actually create a greater sense of intimacy with the voice and i think this is what’s appealing about it. Like all technologies I think technology is there to be used as an artistic tool and that technology should be respected. The ultimate goal is the enjoyment of the record – regardless of what format it is.”
We’ve lived in a stereo world since the late-1960s. Audio technology has moved on multiple times since then, but we’ve persisted with stereo as the default listening experience. So we also wanted to know about the changing needs of listeners – and why Martin thought spatial audio the experience that will change that default?
Giles Martin: “I think spatial audio and the enjoyment of spatial has been around for a long time – what’s changed recently is its emergence in the home and the ability of music lovers to enjoy it. New technologies such as Dolby Atmos have helped with this and in fact many of us enjoy spatial audio through watching movies and films and TV on a regular basis.
“I think there’s natural progression for artists to start working in spatial audio – but alongside stereo, to give listeners and fans a different way of experience their work.”