Recording - October 2015 - 80

The Making Of West Side Story

-an excellent documentary
about the recording of a less-than-excellent record

Guest editorial by Scott Dorsey
Back in 1984 the audio world was
changing. Record labels were starting to
turn into CD labels, and the first direct
digital recordings were beginning to
show up here and there. There was a
huge interest in back catalogue recordings; many record labels were working
hard to get them out on CD.
It's in that context that Leonard
Bernstein went into the studio with a
pickup orchestra, the engineering team
from Deutsche Grammophon, and his
choice of some of the finest opera performers in the world, to conduct and
record a brand-new version of his
famed opera West Side Story.
This is the first time Bernstein had
actually conducted the piece himself,
and he made some very different
choices in emphasis and tempo than
previous interpreters of the work. It
was coming out on CD, and that alone
made it exciting in 1984. To put the
icing on the technological cake, it was
being recorded entirely digitally, using
the 3M 32-track digital recorder.
I am going to say up front that I didn't like this recording when it came out.
Upon relistening, I find that I still don't.
A lot of things don't work for me,
beginning with the rather more formal
and operatic performances, and ending with José Carreras' supposedly allAmerican Tony sounding more
Spanish-inflected
than
Kiri
Te
Kanawa's supposedly Puerto Rican
Maria. It just doesn't feel right.
On top of that are the technological
artifacts of the era. The opera soundtrack
suffers heavily from its aggressive multitrack production and from the 3M
recorder's somewhat harsh early digital
sound. The result is that all the instruments
and performers sound very close and in
your face. The performances and recording both just grate on my nerves.
So what makes this take on West Side
Story interesting, and why am I writing
about it rather than just relegating this
recording to the vast dustbin of poor
releases? Because the recording sessions
were filmed by the BBC, and an edit of
80

RECORDING October 2015

that film was released in the US on PBS'
Great Performances series. That film is
available today as the DVD The Making
of West Side Story, Universal Classics
B0004666-09. Ironically enough, in contrast to the less-than-thrilling record that it
documents, the film itself is brilliant-a
very well-done look into some of the decisions that went into the recording, and of
some of the practices and procedures of
the day.
There wasn't a lot in the film about the
equipment itself; you can only briefly see
glimpses of the 3M digital recorder and the
custom console Deutsche Grammophon
used. But you can see a lot of the behindthe-scenes setup, the choices that transcended the gear.

For example, the film shows how all of
the vocal soloists were close-miked with
U87s. Some of the mics are shown above
the performer's mouth, some below, some
with foam balls and some without. It's
interesting to note how they picked very
different setups for the different vocalists.
It's also very interesting to note the
degree to which they tried to reduce leakage. Not to anything like the degree that
was common in rock or pop recordings,
but a degree of separation that is quite
unusual for classical recordings. Soloists
and sections were miked with very little
contribution from overall room pickups.

That's why, among other things, we hear
a discussion with Bernstein being unhappy about how the baritone saxes are not
being picked up well; all the balances
are coming from the console and not the
room, so Bernstein gets a surprise every
time he hears a playback!
As I watched the DVD, I came to a realization of what went into the recording,
how it got that way, and I developed an
appreciation for the things I disliked
about the recording. I didn't like the
recording any more after watching the
film than I did before, but now I understood a bit more about why I didn't like it.
The 1980s were sort of the height of
excess for classical recording in general.
Technology had advanced to the point
where close-miking of orchestras was
possible... and people hadn't yet quite
realized how bad an idea this really
was. There were also large budgets
available to hire topnotch performers
and give them time to practice and
concentrate on the pieces. As you
might expect, this had a combination
of good and bad consequences.
At about the same time, von Karajan
re-recorded the complete Beethoven
symphonies for Deutsche Grammophon,
going over the work he had recorded
for them in 1977 and 1963.
Comparing the 1963 and 1985 recordings is very enlightening. The 1985
recording sounds like fifty top-grade
musicians all playing the same piece in
different rooms at the same time; the
1963 recording, however, sounds
(insert gasps of shock here) like an
orchestra.
You will never hear recordings made
in this way again. Mostly that's to our
benefit, but there are a few areas where
we see techniques we probably shouldn't lose-and that, in short, is why you
should watch this DVD. It is very much a
view into a technique, a procedure, and a
sort of session that no longer exists, and I
think we can learn things from watching
this sort of work-good things, bad things,
and things like not having an operatic
tenor playing a hoodlum on Broadway. It's
a fascinating bit of education... and
besides, you're going to love the cool
microphone stands.
Scott Dorsey (dorsey@recordingmag.com)
is an audio engineer, electrical engineer, software engineer, and probably several other
kinds of engineer as well. We wouldn't be
too surprised if he knew how to drive a train.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - October 2015

Contents
Recording - October 2015 - Intro
Recording - October 2015 - Cover1
Recording - October 2015 - Cover2
Recording - October 2015 - 1
Recording - October 2015 - 2
Recording - October 2015 - 3
Recording - October 2015 - 4
Recording - October 2015 - 5
Recording - October 2015 - Contents
Recording - October 2015 - 7
Recording - October 2015 - 8
Recording - October 2015 - 9
Recording - October 2015 - 10
Recording - October 2015 - 11
Recording - October 2015 - 12
Recording - October 2015 - 13
Recording - October 2015 - 14
Recording - October 2015 - 15
Recording - October 2015 - 16
Recording - October 2015 - 17
Recording - October 2015 - 18
Recording - October 2015 - 19
Recording - October 2015 - 20
Recording - October 2015 - 21
Recording - October 2015 - 22
Recording - October 2015 - 23
Recording - October 2015 - 24
Recording - October 2015 - 25
Recording - October 2015 - 26
Recording - October 2015 - 27
Recording - October 2015 - 28
Recording - October 2015 - 29
Recording - October 2015 - 30
Recording - October 2015 - 31
Recording - October 2015 - 32
Recording - October 2015 - 33
Recording - October 2015 - 34
Recording - October 2015 - 35
Recording - October 2015 - 36
Recording - October 2015 - 37
Recording - October 2015 - 38
Recording - October 2015 - 39
Recording - October 2015 - 40
Recording - October 2015 - 41
Recording - October 2015 - 42
Recording - October 2015 - 43
Recording - October 2015 - 44
Recording - October 2015 - 45
Recording - October 2015 - 46
Recording - October 2015 - 47
Recording - October 2015 - 48
Recording - October 2015 - 49
Recording - October 2015 - 50
Recording - October 2015 - 51
Recording - October 2015 - 52
Recording - October 2015 - 53
Recording - October 2015 - 54
Recording - October 2015 - 55
Recording - October 2015 - 56
Recording - October 2015 - 57
Recording - October 2015 - 58
Recording - October 2015 - 59
Recording - October 2015 - 60
Recording - October 2015 - 61
Recording - October 2015 - 62
Recording - October 2015 - 63
Recording - October 2015 - 64
Recording - October 2015 - 65
Recording - October 2015 - 66
Recording - October 2015 - 67
Recording - October 2015 - 68
Recording - October 2015 - 69
Recording - October 2015 - 70
Recording - October 2015 - 71
Recording - October 2015 - 72
Recording - October 2015 - 73
Recording - October 2015 - 74
Recording - October 2015 - 75
Recording - October 2015 - 76
Recording - October 2015 - 77
Recording - October 2015 - 78
Recording - October 2015 - 79
Recording - October 2015 - 80
Recording - October 2015 - Cover3
Recording - October 2015 - Cover4
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202108
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202107
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202106
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202105
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202104
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202103
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202102
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202101
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202012
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202011
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202010
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202009
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202008
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202007
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202006
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_20205
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202004
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202003
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202002
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_202001
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201912
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201911
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201910
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201909
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201908
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201907
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201906
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201905
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201904
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201903
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201902
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201901
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201812
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201811
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201810
https://www.nxtbook.com/musicmaker/musicmaker/recording_201809
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201808
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201807
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201806
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201805
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201804
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201803
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201802
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201801
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201712
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201711
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201710
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201709
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201707
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201706
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201705
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201704
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201703
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201702
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201701
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201612
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201611
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201610
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201609
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201608
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201607
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201606
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201605
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201604
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201603
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201602
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201601
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201512
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201511
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201510
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201509
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201508
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201507
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201505
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201504
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201503
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201502
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201501
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201412
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201411
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201410
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201409
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201408
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201407
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201406
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201405
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201404
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201403
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201402
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201401
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201312
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201311
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201310
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201309
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201308
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201307
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201306
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201305
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201303
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201302
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201301
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201212
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201211
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201210
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201209
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201208
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201207
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201206
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201205
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201204
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201203
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201202
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201201
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201111
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201110
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201109
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201108
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201107
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201106
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201105
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201104
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201103
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201101
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201012
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201011
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201010
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201009
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201008
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201007
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201006
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201005
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201004
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201003
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201002
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_201001
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_200912
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_200911
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/recording_200910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/musicmaker/nxtd
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com