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SFP: Woodstock (Re-)Generation


Jimi Hendrix performing at Woodstock

Photo: ©1970 Barry Z Levine. Courtesy Warner Home Video

In June, the acclaimed film Woodstock was re-released in a 40th-anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition featuring the Director’ Cut, a 5.1 surround sound mix, new bonus features and 13 previously unreleased performances. The possibilities of such a project first emerged when audio mixer Eddie Kramer, who recorded the original festival, and John McDermott went into the Warners vaults four years ago to find material for the Jimi Hendrix: Live at Woodstock 5.1 surround DVD reissue. Working with vaultmaster Bill Rush, they ultimately discovered 10 hours of unreleased Woodstock live footage.

From there, Kramer and Rush spent two years researching and assembling everything. At this point, Robert J. Corti — supervisor, audio mastering and restoration for Warner Bros., and sound supervisor for Woodstock — came onboard to handle the technical issues. Once legal hurdles were out of the way, they knew they were going to have a special package featuring unreleased performances by The Who, Janis Joplin, Mountain, the Gratefeul Dead and others.

The original 8-track tapes recorded at the festival were still in great shape and were transferred directly into Pro Tools through a 24-bit, 96k A/D converter made by Burl, without noise reduction. Once digitized, Corti and sound editor Colin Mitchell cleaned up the tracks, removing any hums, buzzes and clicks, then synched it up so Kramer could sink his teeth into the new mixes at Capitol Records’ Studio C, where most of the work was done (except for three tracks done at The Village). The DVD’s final mix was done by Greg Watkins at Dub 12 on the Warners’ lot.

“As you can imagine, Woodstock was recorded under very primitive circumstances,” says Kramer, who recorded the three-day event through a custom 12-channel console and two 4-track Shure mixers onto two Scully 8-tracks. “I had virtually no communication with the stage, so the first song for most of the bands was a little bit of an experiment because we were trying to identify where the mics were. The fact that we were able to record for three days and three nights straight through was pretty amazing, plus getting some of the stuff that we did. Some of the performances are a little raggedy, and some of the performances are absolutely stunning and gorgeous.”

The issue of mixing live on the fly reared its ugly head during the restoration process. “Some tracks were married together,” says Corti. “Sometimes drums were married together; sometimes you would have a separate snare drum and a separate kick drum. More times than not, things were comp’d on one track. There would be a vocal and a guitar, or a keyboard and a guitar. Sometimes you would have bass on one track, and then halfway through the song it would be on another track. They would bounce around. This was being repatched as they played.”

At the original festival, Kramer had to cram the multiple instrumentalists from groups onto just seven tracks, but his more recent challenge was to then break those tracks out for his 5.1 surround mix. He was, of course, limited by how instruments were ganged together on tracks, but he had many tools at his disposal to add depth and dimensionality to the sound, and, of course, he wasn’t about to start putting all sorts of instruments in the rears. During the remix process, Kramer used what he thought was the best of the analog world — Pultecs, LA-2As, 1176s, a rack of 1081 Neves and the Neve console at Capitol’s Studio C — as well as the latest Waves plug-ins to get a wide palette of sounds from which to choose. He used an EMT plate for tape delay, and Lexicon 960 and TC Electronic reverbs.

In deciding which bonus tracks to focus on for the reissue, Kramer and Rush’s initial task was to identify which bands and performances had not been used and why. In some cases, the issue was technical, as was the case with Santana’s “Evil Ways.” Throughout the first half of the song, the guitarist “was so out of tune that he was on another planet and the leakage was on everything,” Kramer says with a laugh. His solution was to hire a session player in L.A. to replace the rhythm guitar bar by bar, and then send the demo to Santana. The legendary musician was so excited by it that he agreed to re-record the problematic rhythm track himself.

Actually, more work was put into the 10-minute Santana track than the 37-minute Grateful Dead song “Turn On Your Love Light,” which had small parts missing here and there that were patched up through cutting and pasting in Pro Tools. “It’s long, but it is basically a lot of the same thing over and over, so it’s not like it was constantly changing,” remarks Corti. “You could find a bass line that may have been repeated later or earlier, maybe you could steal a note or two here or there, so it worked out pretty well. You had a lot to choose from.”

“I did a lot of work to it — a lot of massaging and a lot of fixing,” adds Kramer. “There was a lot of retouching there to make it sound full again.”