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Last on

Thu 29 Apr 2010 11:30 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 29 April 2010

Sara Mohr-Pietsch explores digital re-mastering: is it the art of restoring music to its original glory; or just another way of selling us music we already own?

The whole of the Beatles back catalogue has recently been re-released in re-mastered form; a quick search of any record store or online shop will reveal that a large number of recordings have been re-mastered, from very old crackly recordings to very recent releases. But what do the words 'digitally re-mastered' on a cd actually mean?

Sara Mohr-Pietsch visits London's iconic Abbey Road Studios (recently awarded Grade II listed status) to meet some of the engineers who re-master recordings there. She asks them and others from the music industry what re-mastering actually means. She learns that sometimes re-mastering can be as much about what to leave in as what to leave out. And is it an advantage to have the original artist involved in the process?

Sara also considers the consumer's point of view; we've already bought these recordings on vinyl and cd (and possibly cassette as well) so why do we need to buy them again? Can the average listener hear any difference between the original version of (for instance) a pop song from the 1960s and the re-mastered version?

Sara looks at the technology that is used to clean up very old recordings, where the music is often buried almost completely beneath noise and the sonic distortions caused by very primitive recording equipment.

Whatever your view is of the value of re-mastering, what is clear is that the re-mastering engineers Sara meets treat the work they do with great care and reverence - they are often uncovering moments in history.


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