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Thursday, December 03, 2009

In The Wake of Alternative Takes

When I was writing the KC tome nearly ten years ago whenever I asked a member of Crimso about the existence of alternative takes the standard response, depending on who you were asking, usually went along the following lines:
a) After all this time you can’t possibly expect me to remember
b) there was never any money to be able to afford to do multiple takes
c) you must be joking - the idea was always to get in the studio and out as quickly as was possible!
d) all of the above with a few more exclamation marks thrown in for good measure!!!!

Steven Wilson’s ongoing excavations into the Crimson master tapes have revealed that this isn’t exactly how things were. Today he sent me a clutch of takes of the same track, seeking an extra-pair-of-ears-opinion on what might be the best of the bunch.

What’s interesting about hearing three different takes of the same track in a row is how closely they follow each other, and that although the overall shape remains intact, even little variations within the groove cause shifts in feel and atmosphere. That means each one has its own merits and makes the weeding out process harder than you’d think.

Those little vamps and melodies which flurry up between vocal lines, which have been cast in stone since you first heard the finished album, could so easily have been utterly different or not even there at all.

Listening to these takes highlights the sifting process the team made at the time, choosing one take over another; keeping the entire take but muting a given player at key points; grafting one moment from an unrelated session onto the front or the end of another, and so on.

Sometimes I’ll read a comment on a site where folks talk about the extras and bonus tracks and the feeling is “yeah they’re OK but I’ll only play ‘em once”. But for this listener the value and importance of including such items is that this is the part of the process of working toward the finished album that you never normally get to see.

That’s the real value of rarities.

2 comments:

Hazy Dave said...

Belatedly scouring the recent archives, I must comment that I'm very keen to hear some newly unearthed Crimson studio outtakes. I've certainly enjoyed those that Mr. Stormy & Pals have made available at DGM in recent years.

I find padding out a studio album's re-release with live versions to be less admirable, and very rough demo versions are of limited interest, but alternate takes and mixes can breathe extra life into the appreciation of a classic album - and the young men who gave life to it.

Finally, in my opinion, things like interviews and radio ads tend to be detrimental to the listening experience. I don't mind hearing them once or twice, but being subjected to them every time you put on the CD is an experience to be avoided.

Happy New Year!

Sid Smith said...

Hi there Hazy Dave, I agree with your observations though I think including live versions of a track is fine if they shed light on the album tracks and their compositional processes.

I also prefer a decent amount of silence between the end of the official album and the beginning of the bonus material.

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