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82 l March 2012 industrytalk

THERE’S VERY little that mastering guru Crispin Murray hasn’t experienced within the pro-audio industry, including recording, OB, studio builds, the handling of every format under the sun and even the creation of – and ultimate departure from – one of the most advanced mastering facilities in the world. Under the auspices of Guilde

Productions Ltd, Murray brings his many triumphs to bear on a more flexible consultancy role. Plus, he’s got a really cool wristwatch…

How did audio find you? The usual nerdy teenage stuff: trying to build a pirate radio station, blowing up TV speakers… Film seemed a likely path: five generations of the family have worked in film or film sound, since about 1908. My grandfather Leslie Murray became head of British Movietone. But ultimately it was the BBC that trained me in sound engineering.

What’s this about persuading the BBC to broadcast Glastonbury? I’d been going for a number of years recreationally, and kept recommending it to the Transcription Unit. Finally one of the producers agreed to a meeting with Michael Eavis, and off we went. It wasn’t live-to-air at that stage; it was a recording to be sent out later via BBC Transcription all around the world. It all grew from that!

At what point did you realise that the future was inescapably digital? I was at The Town House when CD mastering really took over, which meant digital editing. I suppose the Sonic Solutions system was the one that showed me the future – although it was a nightmare to navigate. I could see that the potential was there. We figured that the way to make this work would be to have a workstation in every room, and that’s exactly how we planned Metropolis Mastering.

Did Metropolis represent an opportunity to redefine workflow as well as media? Entirely. We evolved a new way of working. It took a long time for people to realise that they

A master’s

could master first and edit the sequence later, rather than having to settle on the EDL before mastering. It was a complete mindset change. We first applied it to Cobalt Blue, a Michael Brook album, and then a big Elton John compilation. I guess we didn’t change the world, but we led it in a new direction.

How can we best preserve what we think are ‘original’ masters? People are waking up to the fact that they have to archive material, both stereo and

“There’s a scene in Rollerball where the boffin who runs the planet’s big computer has ‘lost’ the 13th century because both the master and the back-up have been wiped! How very prescient…”

Crispin Murray

makes matters worse. Even the mastering engineers might struggle. This especially applies to that early, brave new world of digital files of the ’90s – it’s going to be a bit scary looking after that archive. In a way it hasn’t got much better: although storage is cheap now, quirky things can happen. I’ve been offered a finished mix on MP3 to master, only to be told that was it. There was no higher resolution master! Three different people had deleted their copy because they needed space and assumed somebody else had one. And that was a pretty well-known band…

It’s all so mutable. A real attack of the clones is on it’s way, maybe. There’s a better film precedent. Do you remember Rollerball? There’s a scene in which the boffin who runs the planet’s big computer, played by Ralph Richardson, has quite literally ‘lost’ the 13th Century because both the master and the back-up have been wiped! How very prescient…

Newly freelance following his departure from Metropolis Mastering, Crispin Murray can now build upon the reputation and goodwill embodied in his MPG Unsung Hero

award (and this is him celebrating with it!) Interview by Phil Ward

multitrack, and generally 96kHz/24-bit is the standard. There is 192kHz, but the higher the sample rate the easier it is to mess up. Masters from the ’60s and ’70s have now been played over a thousand times, and they’re not in terribly good condition. We have started to find that we can use untouched safety copies instead: the better physical quality of the tape can actually compensate for the fact that it’s not the first generation. It can be exciting when you’re hunting down the best source.”

Are we still engaged in rescuing the past from tape degradation? We might never finish. Just think of the millions of reels the record companies own; then think it costs about £80 a reel to archive properly... the bill runs to billions. They can’t afford to start at ‘A’ and work their way through to ‘Z’.

Are you convinced that digital masters of today will last? By the time the album gets into the shops, nobody knows which file is the master – and sending things via the internet simply


Have we lost surround? I’m afraid SACD and DVD- Audio have gone away. The world didn’t need another format war, basically – and in the meantime MP3 quietly took over. Everybody was looking the wrong way. Unfortunately, convenience always seems to win out over quality.

What happened at Metropolis, and what’s next? The best way I can put it is that, if there wasn’t piracy, I’m sure I’d still have a job at Metropolis. The economics weren’t working in my favour! But Metropolis is among my clients, on a consultancy basis. I’m also looking at some studio build projects – and maybe a couple of boutique signal processing products will come out of the workshop, too.

And about this watch… It has nixie tubes in it, which are late ’50s numerical indicator valves. There’s a switch-mode power supply, a 3V battery, a microprocessor and an accelerometer, so when you tilt your arm, the tubes light up. I always say it’s just like normal time, but with a fat bottom end…

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Photo: Grace Lightman

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