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Giles Martin on Remixing The Beatles "LOVE"

Jun 01, 2007

The Beatles producer Sir George Martin and his son Giles Martin worked with the entire archive of Beatles recordings to create the musical component for Cirque De Soleil’s stage production entitled “LOVE.” Using the master tapes at Abbey Road Studios, Sir George and Giles created a unique soundscape for “LOVE.”


“Our first mission was to try and achieve the same intimacy we get when listening to the master tapes at Abbey Road Studios," Giles said. "The songs sound so alive it’s incredible to think that the material is forty years old. The last thing we wanted to create was a retrospective or a tribute show. With the manipulation of the tracks and the huge number of speakers in the theatre, the audience will feel as though they are actually in the room with the boys. A lot of people listen to The Beatles in a conventional way but never in such a sophisticated space. There’s a real sense of drama with the music in the theatre space.”

“LOVE” is the latest in a long history of father-son collaborations between Giles and Sir George. Under this partnership of destiny, Giles has co-produced a multitude of major label albums including "The Beatles Anthology," "The Glory of Gershwin" and Sir George's last project "In My Life," a compilation of Beatles songs performed by an all-star ensemble of pop recording artists.

Giles resides in London and is based at AIR Studios. He has independently earned a reputation as a successful producer far away from the spotlight of his father’s potent audio legacy. His first notable credit came as musical director and producer, developing and inking the multi-million-selling UK band Kula Shaker. Additional Giles Martin production and mixing credits also include efforts with Elvis Costello, Jeff Beck, Celine Dion, INXS, and Kate Bush. In 2004, Giles produced Hayley Westenra's multi-platinum “Pure,” the UK’s fastest-selling classical album of all time. Giles also produced her acclaimed “Odyssey” disc. He also produced the debut album and singles of The Alice Band.

In 2007, Martin produced Kim Richey’s album “Chinese Boxes” for the Vanguard Records label. Previously, with Carl Davis, he produced Willard White’s “My Way.” Giles is slated to produce a flamenco project with renowned guitarist Paco Pena on a record geared for the opening of the South Bank in London.

During his U.S. visit, Giles Martin talked to Harvey Kubernik about “LOVE,” the Beatles’ influential recording catalogue, collaborating with his father, as well as his own recent production and musical endeavors, and the very active roles that Waves products play in his current studio activities as well as integrating Waves into the “LOVE” CD recording as well as the live show at the Mirage Hotel.


Before “LOVE” was formally in motion, you and your dad I heard were going to do something with “Yellow Submarine,” using Sir George’s instrumental compositions.

They (Apple) were talking about “LOVE” for a long time, and my dad at the time was quite keen on doing a thing on “Yellow Submarine.” We were thinking about doing this and asked permission, and eventually, what happened, George (Harrison) at the same time had been talking to Guy Laliberté, the head of Cirque, and it came up that they were going to do a show and use Beatles’ music, and the Beatles were going to be part of it.

And, Cirque went away, and they had ideas about updating the Beatles music, what they did with Elvis (Presley), “A Little Less Conversation.” And this appalled the Beatles. And so then, Neil Aspinall from Apple phoned up my dad, and at the same time, I just had success of my own with a classical thing in the U.K. and Neil phoned my dad, and when Jonathan Clyde from Apple came to see me, my dad said, “I’d like Giles to really get involved in this.”

I was then interviewed by Apple, and I sat down with Neil, and we talked about how he’d like the show to get across, like a Beatles’ performance, since he was the Beatles’ road manager since they were at school. He told me, “I remember they would start with ‘Long Tall Sally’ and we’d finish.” And I said, “Perhaps I can create a live performance of a gig that never happened, starting off with drums, the band tuning up, just out of their tapes. Maybe I can try that.” And he said, “Have a go.” So I said to my dad, “How ‘bout this? And the rule from the Beatles was that you have to use everything on tape.” And that suited us down to ground. And, basically, the way it worked, I would try stuff. I would go in and actually use Logic, since I didn’t know how to use Pro Tools. I did kind of. (laughs). I always had people working for me, but with this I was on my own with my dad.

The most incredible thing about doing this project and working so intensively with Waves over this has been watching, as I’ve learned how to do stuff, is watching how Waves has expanded and gotten so much better. It’s really gotten to the stage where it’s mind blowing what they’ve done.

When I started “LOVE” I sort of had a bug budget to do this. Once the go ahead was given, I was able to buy equipment. It’s funny, but people think that no constraints makes great art, and in some ways, you can channel things. My whole process was auditioning.

I came up with this live idea of putting the drums in front of “Get Back” and loved the idea, because we were gonna do it John, Paul, George and Ringo. Just to show what we could do. And I put the tables on “Here Comes the Sun” and a flowing piece, and we actually did “Flying” for Ringo ? four songs that flowed together.

Then I mixed the bass and drums of “Tomorrow Never Knows” with “Within You, Without You.” George’s track as a separate sideline, which my dad was against. He thought it was a bad idea. (laughs). He just thought that it was going too far. I’m very proud of that. It was funny but great with him because when they came in. The commissioners, we played them the four song demo we did with “Get Back,” “Here Comes The Sun,” that went into “I Am The Walrus” and into “Flying.” So that was our piece we did and this shows you how much this has changed. Eventually, I said, “Dad, can we play them Within You, Without You Tomorrow Never Knows?” And that was what kinda got me the gig. They liked that. Suddenly my dad, funny enough, pulled off a layer of constraint that was out upon us. It broke a rule, and therefore it was then the key that unlocked the door. I thought. I’ve said it before, and the whole reason I backed up the Beatles’ catalogue and put them onto Pro Tools was just because I thought I was going to get fired. And I thought I better do something that was worthwhile. It’s the same thing they employ me to work if I’m going to be working I may do something useful. This show is never going to happen because of the respect we have for everything, above anything else, let’s make sure everything is backed up.

It’s one of those things. With the Beatles, and rightfully so, there are rules and regulations, and it’s difficult for someone outside the circle to come in and really say something about it.


In April 2007, you came to Las Vegas to review and reassess your work on “LOVE.”

We are constantly adjusting and tweaking the show. As the performances goes on, things become a little more tighter. Therefore the music has to become tighter. I’ve cut down introductions of songs and outros. That’s what I’m doing.

Since you and your dad produced the music soundtrack and now through seeing the debut of “LOVE” in Las Vegas at the Mirage theater venue, what still strikes you the most about the sound and performance collaboration with Cirque du Soleil?

Cirque du Soleil Show Concept Creator Dominic Champagne had very sort of firm ideas of different scenes for the show and we sort of fitted the music to that or visa-versa. We wanted a dance number for the show and I put in “Lady Madonna.” We did that.

I think the first key was to try and get the show to work as a music piece, and that was the first step in January 2006. I’m so familiar with it after three years of my life with Dominic and my dad kind of overseeing it, really coming up with the heartbeat on how this is going to work, being familiar with the show, there’s not a second where I don’t know what’s going on, because we have to do that. More than anything else that strikes me this time around is the continued energy in the Beatles performances. They are doing this twice a night, five nights a week for 90 minutes. They are young kids with exuberance. It doesn’t seem to tire them in any way. It’s the renewed enthusiasm everyone seems to find for the show. And I think it’s because it’s been so successful.

Can you just enjoy the “LOVE” show and forget your involvement with it?

Yes. What strikes me about the show in Vegas is the feeling that people get from the Beatles, and people leave the show much happier than when they arrived. That’s a great thing. And they think about love and all the good things in life, and it sounds very hippie, but it’s true, because we’re in a place where there’s not much of that going on. So, that’s an achievement and a huge sense of pride. Cirque du Soleil sound designer Jonathan Deans and myself worked together very closely. He came to London to hear what (engineer) Paul Hicks and I were doing. He talked about the design of the theater and how it was going to be, and when I arrived, they were testing the system. We actually used these huge sub woofers in the ceiling and ended up using them in the show. It’s like a rock gig. And we broke the rules in the theater as well. Jonathan, to his credit, went with the flow. Even for me in the theater, it’s really more emotional seeing the show then listening to the album, because it’s much more intimate, even though you’re with 2,000 people.


We’re also seeing “LOVE” in 5.1 Surround Sound. You used Waves 360° Surround Tools and other Waves processors on their 5.1 Surround re-workings of the Beatles’ music.

The funny thing was, I wasn’t really a fan of 5.1, because I remember being at AIR Studios mixing, and someone came in, maybe from Dolby, with a 5.1 demonstration of “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye. And I heard it and it didn’t seem right. What didn’t seem right about it was the fact that it was too 5.1. They had the guitar in your back right, the voice was central, but everything else was flayed around. And I said to them “You never see a band like this.” Marvin Gaye wouldn’t have a band sound like that. Why would you do that?” So, it was interesting doing this 5.1 now that I’ve worked it out. I always keep the main vocal in the center of the speaker, and on occasions, background vocals round the back, like on “Come Together” I did that. In the main, it’s like 5.1 should be seeing a band you love, or hearing the music you love, with reflections going on that envelope you, not being a novelty thing. Because otherwise, you sit in the wrong place and hear the wrong music. So, I think 5.1 is an incredibly valid form now. It’s interesting seeing my dad’s reaction. Even though his hearing is not great, he relishes in the chance of 5.1 and I suggested to Apple and Paul (McCartney) that we have a look about doing some other Beatles 5.1 stuff. Because I think now we have worked out a way of sorting out the four-track situation. It’s a great way of hearing the band. It’s a great way of hearing the performances. And I think part of making records or doing anything is trying to get across the humanity of things.


As you know, until mid-way through White Album the Beatles were recording on a 1” 4-track Studer machine which was unique to Abbey Road. Did the fact that their sound got captured with such outstanding fidelity make it easier for reproductions, mastering and mixing?

Absolutely. We’re aware if what we’re doing, and Paul Hicks, is such a great engineer, to work with, my dad and the engineers that recorded at the time. We’re mastering the drums, we’re not mixing the drums, because the drums are all on one track. And quite often with guitars and pianos. More often with bass. The sound of the Beatles is down to what was created in the studio then. And the sound they made obviously that was made in the room. People forget about that. The night before last, I was having a look at “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” for the theater. I was mixing. The kind of great thing about going ‘Where should we put the drums” is a much better question then “Where should we put the bass drum?” If you think about it, it makes a lot more sense. Or, “Where should we stereo the toms?” It’s actually a much better question because you’re putting a person in a visual spectrum opposed to a selection of drums. So, it kind of makes life easier. I think the next question of making decisions earlier on in the recording process is hugely beneficial. We work in Pro Tools nowadays where we have all these limitless number of tracks and it’s getting silly, and I don’t think it makes better sounding records.

Does the use of Waves, particularly seeing sound patterns on screens, aid recording and mixing in your rock productions as well as classical outings?

I don’t think it makes a difference but sometimes it can be distracting, because if you are looking at something, you may not be listening as hard. On the other hand, it’s actually very useful as far as editing goes. I was editing in the beginning of a bit where I “mashed-up” as we say, the end of “Cry Baby Cry,” “Eleanor Rigby” strings, and then “A Day in the Life” come in, before “Revolution.” And I was re-doing that for the theater yesterday. I thought I could make it sound better. One of the problems I had was with Paul’s vocal. If I had the guitar on it’s own, I still had Paul’s vocal leaking, so I was trying to find beats with Paul’s vocals on it. Without question, being able to see the wave is fantastic for that. The pattern really aided me. But when you are just listening and making things sound good, you shouldn’t be looking at the screen.

It was how, I suddenly heard the multi-track masters, I heard “A Day in the Life,” and I realized it was a performance opposed to something which we put on a shelf. It was more human than I imagined. I took that with me, and the excitement of hearing that I then wanted to convey with the show. “A Day in the Life” is one of my favorite songs. It’s interesting,and one of my all around favorite performances. I love John’s voice. The bass. Ringo’s drums. It’s just a great piece of work. On “A Day in the Life,” I would drive Paul Hicks mad about because I would constantly go “We need to make this better.” In the theater as well, I’m now very happy.

I think working in the box is fantastic. I’ve just done an album with Kim Ritchey. I did a band live with no click in three days.. And I took it and did the whole thing in the box using all the Waves stuff, mixed it within Pro Tools, and it sounds like a proper record. I’ve just done an album in a virtual world I like to call it. It’s a nice record and music is about enjoying yourself.

I used MaxxVolume on vocals and the SSL G-Master Buss Compressor on every single channel. You use what you think sounds right. The funny thing with Kim, because I had moved back from Abbey Road to AIR, they were working on an archive project on the room I was using at Abbey Road, I had to rebuild my system and get a new computer and stuff, and so it was Kim, the poor woman, who had to help me build my studio. That was my fee! She had to help me build the studio. So we really just experimented.

It was interesting for Paul Hicks and I as we got the SSL 4000 Collection and the V-Series stuff, which of course we were quite familiar with and to use that in my little room at AIR, and compare them, suddenly I turn around and said, “We are now getting into an approaching world where in the box will be no different.”

This past January, we’re in a situation, where, mix-wise, for me, more than anything else, and doing what I do if I do it on a Beatles project, we’re really going to be in a situation with laptops soon. It really does. I say this as far as mixing goes, it really is the case. I think in the recording world it’s always nice to have a bit of tape hanging around, and to go back to the Abbey Road question, people who really know where to put microphones and the right microphones. You can’t cheat that I don’t think. The most useful thing for me, ass far as in the box goes, the way that I work, is the way you can master and mix the same time. What I mean by that is you can really very quickly fiddle about, you can work on a song, and then go and drive your car, burn a CD. To do this five years ago would be a nightmare. Burn a CD, listen in your car. Go home. Have a think about it. Go in and really tweak very quickly. Go to a session, change the bits, burn another CD. Listen and compare what you do. You can make and experiment and take risks and not be worried.

What about other Waves processors?

We started using Waves because Waves always made some of the best virtual EQ’s and compressors in Pro Tools so I bought them. And we were using them. And the “LOVE” show had to have good sound. I had to say to everyone, “I don’t care what anyone says, this has to be the best sounding show in the world.” For a start, we have the huge advantage of playing great source material through to begin with. It’s not although you have singers who have to sing twice a night. We should be able to make this sound better than anything in the world, even though we are in the round. So, we’re mixing off Pro Tools in the box for the theater. No way we’re gonna move Abbey Road to Las Vegas. So I wanted the best stuff, and Waves made the best stuff, and what’s been interesting is since we started is how Waves are now making stuff that is beyond the just being a compromise of not having a big studio. They are now making material, like MaxxVolume, which compresses in a different way to how compressors usually work. So, it’s been interesting, and when we started doing this we were using Waves, and last year we were in the theater using stuff, and as they’ve updated their stuff, we’ve actually gone back and heard noise and things. Since those came out, we went back and de-noised a few things we hadn’t done previously because Waves have got better. Waves becomes a companion. Waves compression an EQ are what we use in the theater. With the Waves stuff ,we used for the record were many audio restoration tools, occasionally the 360° Surround Reverb. It’s funny actually, because I was concerned we were going a bit too bright and dry. Paul Hicks at one stage was going very bright with it and we played around using Waves stuff in the theater and I was concerned. But he was right, as usual, upstart. (laughs). That dry brightness suits the Beatles sound. And we didn’t want to go too lush in a way. My dad has great voicings and you need to hear them. I have speakers I always use and I like to compare stuff. And I couldn’t listen to the album on any other speakers because I couldn’t take anything out of the room. It sounds all right.

And your usage of Waves GTR?

The great thing about the GTR is that the hardest guitar sound to get virtually is the not too distorted yet not too clean and that’s what the GTR seems to have cracked for me. That thing where you are putting it through something but it doesn’t necessarily sound like a computer. Because, quite often, to begin with, across the board, what Waves has managed to do is to create subtlety, which is what you need, because you should always start with good sounding material, opposed to getting the computer to do the work for you. And, when we were first starting out, quite often effects would over color the sound. And the GTR doesn’t do that.


Can we discuss the working relationship and father and son dynamics between you and your dad especially on the “LOVE” album?

That’s a complex question, but the key is we are father and son. It’s a big thing. And what that means, it doesn’t matter what is said, we have a bond with each other, and I have enormous respect for him and he has pride in what I do. So, that’s a good starting point. And, in the Beatles projects, really the roles were… I was trying to impress him. He’s done it. It’s the ultimate thing for someone who made the most successful recordings of all time. And, it one of those things with the way he works. Even at age 37, I was trying to prove to him I could do it, and that was a great challenge. And the way that we would work I would do something, play it to him, and then we would discuss it. And it was a fun thing and I would spend a lot of time on my own doing things away from him for two months, being in Montreal with Dominic of Cirque and I was in Las Vegas on my own for a large part of it, and he’s age 80. Why does he want to be in Vegas for longer than six months? And I did the intro of “Here Comes the Sun” while in Vegas and I added the bass and backwards vocals from “Oh Darling” I think. And it was funny, because I was under huge demands from Dominic to go and rehearse this. I liked it, but unless my dad liked it, they weren’t having it, so that’s the way it was done. He was my brain to a certain extent. It was that thing where I would get carried away, and he would rein me back in and say things. He’s a very intelligent man, despite his deficiencies in hearing which he has now, at age 81, that’s fine, he has a great brain, a great musical brain, and he’d be able to say to me, “Maybe we should try this,” or “What are you doing? I don’t think that works.” In the choice of archiving all the material we listened to everything together. I would log and build a database of everything. I would find things and it reminded him of their genius.

During the production of “LOVE,” your father was asked to write a string score for an early take of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from a demo.

It came from Dominic, where he wanted to use this version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and I didn’t because I couldn’t do anything with it….Like “Yesterday,” it’s been done before. There was nothing I could do that was slightly smart. And, “Guitar” was an unfinished demo and it’s such a great George song. We had a meeting actually, Domenic, myself, Olivia Harrison and Dhani Harrison, at Abbey Road. My dad wasn’t there. I was always the person to say, “OK. Let’s finally make a decision on this.” (laughs). I played “Back In The U.S.S.R.” into one version of the original “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and then the take 1, the acoustic version from the anthology, from the first time he ever recorded it at Abbey Road. It’s not really a demo, more of a take. And, Dominic convinced all of us. We said it’s more tender and shows George off more in a way as his song. So they looked at me and said, “Right. What can you do?” And it wasn’t finished, it’s a demo. That was my concern. Can you combine the two versions? Start with one, like “Strawberry Fields.” No, sadly. The acoustic guitar version is faster and lower so you can’t do it with vari-speed. It’s much faster than the original. It’s a sensitive song and it would sound like a mash-up if I did it. I said. “I know it goes against all of our rules…but why don’t I get my dad to do a string arrangement?” And Olivia said, “Do you think he’d be willing to do it?” And, I said, it makes sense to me. He is the Beatles producer and George isn’t around, and he can finish it. It may be what dad would have done anyway with this acoustic version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’” She agreed, I phoned up my dad.

He said,“Well. What do the others feel about it?” I had to speak to Paul, so I phoned up Paul and he was happy with it. My dad was deeply nervous about it. He hadn’t done a string arrangement in about five years. It was amazing to be reminded ‘cause I had been running around trying to get stuff finalized. He’s very cool at string arrangements. That’s the thing, He never over-flourishes stuff. He is brilliant at doing a string arrangement that you don’t have to listen to. Olivia came in half way through. We did it at AIR, not Abbey Road. I knew the string arrangement ‘cause we went through it on a piano together. In the show it starts out with a string pulse, which I actually put in. Because we needed an introduction to his introduction. It was very useful. We needed a bit. It was amazing how he weaves around a song that changes tempo dramatically. You may not notice it. He speeds up and slows down. Just him and the guitar. It was an incredible experience. Olivia was there. I turned around and saw her face and I knew she was moved by it. It’s a wonderful capping of my dad’s last string arrangement. Never say no with my dad. He’s done last things loads of times. (laughs). I think for me, it’s amazing and slightly humbling to realize he’s just as good as he was years ago. Like you hear “Helter Skelter” vocals and all this kind of stuff going on, and then he gets the simplicity of his string arrangement, and then you go, “Oh well. That’s the real deal.” You know what I mean?

I saw Terry Gilliam, the director, in London before I came out here, and he’d seen the show and came up to me afterwards, and he said that was his favorite moment. It really shook him, actually. It comes at a great point. On it’s own it’s fantastic, but in the show it’s like someone is blowing air across it. You know what I mean? ‘Cause it’s fairly concise the record and the show is as well, packed in, there’s a lot of stuff going on, and then suddenly there’s this simplicity of George’s vocal and guitar and my dad’s strings and it sorta clears the air.

You had constant involvement with the remaining Beatles, Paul and Ringo, and Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono as the recording developed and produced.

The Beatles were very encouraging. After the initial demo thing they made me feel part of the process. And that sounds like a stupid thing to say but it’s difficult with being there working with a legacy that is 40 years old, and having to make creative decisions. And they allowed me to do that and they were incredibly kind. And enthusiastic about hearing stuff. That was the thing. When they came around to the studio I was always very nervous. ‘Cause a lot of work goes into each thing. Their attitude was that they were really looking forward to hearing it. OK. It wasn’t like an A&R guy coming down. It was really with bare-faced enthusiasm for their own music. So that enthusiasm brushed off.

Like Paul, “Cool. What’s this?” “That’s great.” I remember sitting down at the theater actually listening to the Waves mixes with Paul and he’d go “My voice in ‘Lady Madonna’ is less middly. It’s different.”

The thing about them is that they are all very bright, it’s not like they’re kind of hippies going “Cool. Let’s go to the pub.” (laughs). They know their stuff. The same with Yoko (Ono). She came to Vegas a few times. I would go to New York, It was always one on ones and I spent a lot of time flying with drives in my pocket. I had a secure drive that had a key and I’d go and see Yoko, or Olivia would come to Abbey Road. Paul came to Vegas and he came to Abbey Road. And Ringo came to both as well. So it was really a question of being one on one. There was never a CD approval.

With both Ringo and Paul, my main memory, my biggest fondest moment, of the whole thing, was nothing to do with me. Both Paul and Ringo said to me that I had been so sensitive with our material and really taken it in, and that means a great deal, but the thing that struck me was when we were at Abbey Road, listening to “Come Together” with them both and individually, they weren’t together at the time, they said, “God, we were really good on this day. I remember this day. We really nailed this.” For them to appreciate their own craft, without any of the politics, or any of the hyperbole, or the other stuff that goes on, it’s four guys in the room listening by two mates themselves, and really just remembering what a great time they had.