Mothers of Invention on Vinyl

An audio treat for those Zappa and Mothers of Invention freaks who have only heard this music via digital CDs, and a bit of nostalgia for freaks like myself, who first got turned onto the incredibly warm analogue sound of the MOI that you will never get with remastered CDs. Take a listen to the following examples – “Nine Types of Industrial Pollution” and “The Dog Breath Variations” from 1969’s ‘Uncle Meat’, and “Who Are the Brain Police (1966 MONO)” from ‘Freak Out’ – and be your own judge:

Tracks from ‘Uncle Meat’ and ‘Freak Out’ were played on:

Sony PS-X5 Turntable

Ortofon 2M Blue

Musical Fidelity V-LPS w/ Radio Shack PSU

Harmon Kardon 330c stereo receiver



Recorded at 24/96 (24-bit, 96kHz) on Audacity

Thanks to gamesDAMNED for recording and posting these archival tracks (And I hope he posts more in the future – it’s been quite a while since I’ve heard Mother’s music in it’s original, prestine form).

56 Responses to “Mothers of Invention on Vinyl”

  1. Thinman says:

    Quote: “… the incredibly warm analogue sound of the MOI that you will never get with remastered CDs. …”

    Once again and again and again … : This has nothing to do with the medium. It’s a problem of the TREATMENT.

    The impression that the vinyl sounds better is because the right people did the right things during recording, production, mastering and manufacturing if you are lucky.

    The impression that some CD remasters sound not as good is because the wrong people did wrong things to the material during remix, mastering and so on.

    You are giving the proof yourself, because what you present here is digital audio anyway.

    Digital audio technology has several advantages over analogue audio. But people in the business hardly make use of these advantages.

    Don’t blame the technology, blame the people who (mis)use it.

    Thanks for reading this.

    Thinman

  2. urbangraffito says:

    Of course, Thinman, there is no way to adequately reproduce the vinyl experience in this digital medium.

    I would have to say, though, albums like ‘Uncle Meat’ and ‘Freak Out’ (and no doubt most, if not all, of Zappa’s catalogue) was recorded, mixed, and meant to be heard via a particular medium: vinyl. The compact disc came late to the party, and we can’t really say than FZ recorded and mixed those albums with digital technology in mind.

    If this post encourages just one fan to buy a vinyl copy and compare the two, then it’s been worthwhile. Album after album, from ‘Freak Out’ to ‘Uncle Meat’ to ‘Roxy & Elsewhere” to ‘Zappa in New York’ will always sound warmer and richer on vinyl (to my ears, at least) than their digital counterparts.

    Was this due to remixing? Perhaps. Then that begs the question: how could FZ have fucked up so damn much? Or wasn’t he aware of what was going on?

  3. Thinman says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    … Then that begs the question: how could FZ have fucked up so damn much? Or wasn’t he aware of what was going on?

    It’s common sense that FZ had lost much of his high frequency hearing ability in earlier years. So this plus the fact that he began to run his own studio and everything was being done inhouse (including remastering of old titles) didn’t always guarantee the best results. Plus a common tendency in those days to rework things that had already been good before to create a bonus for the consumers to make them buy the albums one more time on CD. In my opinion the lack of quality doesn’t come from the technology but from bad marketing decisions. And before FZ had his own studio he had to involve more specialists from the world outside, with well-known results (Kerry McNabb is my hero when it comes to engineers. The albums from Waka/Jawaka up to Bongo Fury are the best sounding in FZ’s canon IMO.)

    It would have been possible even in the early days of digital audio to make transfers from the original master tapes that would just sound identical to the beloved vinyl records (and I have them all, too). And that is not necessarily a question of Bits and kHz.

    BTW, did you compare your Freak-Out vinyl to the MOFO-version, which hopefully is FZ’s plain ’87 digital-transfer?

    Th.

  4. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Thinman:

    It would have been possible even in the early days of digital audio to make transfers from the original master tapes that would just sound identical to the beloved vinyl records (and I have them all, too). And that is not necessarily a question of Bits and kHz.

    BTW, did you compare your Freak-Out vinyl to the MOFO-version, which hopefully is FZ’s plain ’87 digital-transfer?

    Th.

    I find myself in total agreement with you, Thinman.

    The problem seems to lie with the UMRK and FZ’s need to micromanage every aspect of the process in house.

    I agree, in the early days of digital audio, it should have been possible “to make transfers from the original master tapes that would just sound identical to the beloved vinyl records”.

    Album transfer after album transfer, music that was crisp and distinct on vinyl records becomes muddled after CD transfer. Those of us who own both vinyl records and CD know what it is of which I speak (i.e. “Cheepnis”).

    While the 4 disc MOFO audio documentary is an excellent release in it’s own right, Thinman, if I had to choose a quintessential version for a group listening session, I’d chose my original vinyl ‘Freak Out’ (even with it’s occasional clicks and pops). To me, it’s how the album was meant to be heard.

    Can we really say that any of FZ’s digital transfer’s were plain?

  5. Thinman says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    … The problem seems to lie with the UMRK and FZ’s need to micromanage every aspect of the process in house. …

    I like the expression “to micromanage” which describes the control-freak-dilemma rather good.

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    … Can we really say that any of FZ’s digital transfer’s were plain?

    To find out I would have to study the Zappa Patio once again. But out of memory and my own listening experiences there are a few candidates that didn’t suffer from too much treatment: One Size Fits All, Joe’s Garage … come to my mind.

    Th.

  6. steev says:

    It’s really fucking simple. The music is analogue. Your ears and brain are analogue. Stick a digital step inbetween and it’s an approximation (sometimes even quite a good one). And introduces all sorts of opportunities (both intentional and unintentional) to mangle the original sound. Even in the analogue domain there are huge differences between the same album mastered/pressed in different countries.

  7. Thinman says:

    A quote from steev:

    It’s really fucking simple. The music is analogue. Your ears and brain are analogue. Stick a digital step inbetween and it’s an approximation …

    Do you think that a crinkled groove in a wobbling piece of plastic in which a pointed stone jumps around is closer to reality?

    😉

    Th.

  8. Rob says:

    Since each individual’s perception of reality is based on their own pre-conceived notions, no standards for comparison exist. Reality is only one’s opinion. Like Paul Simon said, One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

  9. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from steev:

    It’s really fucking simple. The music is analogue. Your ears and brain are analogue. Stick a digital step inbetween and it’s an approximation (sometimes even quite a good one). And introduces all sorts of opportunities (both intentional and unintentional) to mangle the original sound. Even in the analogue domain there are huge differences between the same album mastered/pressed in different countries.

    You certainly have a point, steev. Recall all those incomplete mixes of ‘Sleep Dirt’ and ‘Orchestral Favorites’ that Warner Brothers released? And how upset some FZ fans were when suddenly a mix of Sleep Dirt appeared later with vocals?

    I think that the main difficulty with Zappa and his colossal body of work, is that a quintessential audio treatment has yet to be done – so, as it stands, a myriad of mixes and conflicting standards remain.

    A quote from Rob:

    Since each individual’s perception of reality is based on their own pre-conceived notions, no standards for comparison exist. Reality is only one’s opinion. Like Paul Simon said, One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

    If that were true, Rob, particularly with Zappa and his recordings,
    it wouldn’t matter how FZ mixed and produced his albums because we’d all be playing them on our kerosene record players. Indeed, not a very efficient device. You know the kind of which I speak, don’t you? You place the record on your head, say, Uncle Meat or Burnt Weeny Sandwich, swallow a glass or two from the sudsy yellow nozzle of the foaming nocturnal parametric digital whole-wheat inter-faith geo-thermal terpsichorean ejectamenta, then crank the handle you’ve stuck in your ear like a mother…

  10. Dark Clothes says:

    I don’t think SD and OF were incomplete mixes, but it’s been said that the equalization is all wrong, because Frank didn’t hand over the Dolby line-up tones to Warner Bros. And yet I still prefer the title cut of Sleep Dirt on the corporate bootleg LP, and find Zappa’s later CD mix and master too trebly and shrill. (While I do appreciate the Hunchentoot songs with lyrics and Thana Harris’ vocals.)

    Generally I prefer Zappa’s vinyl mixes, but there are some exceptions. With Hot Rats you really have two different albums on LP and CD, and I enjoy both.

    On the other hand, I just listened to the Sheik Yerbouti LP, and that is clearly superior in every way to the CD. Vinyl reached a quality peak at that time, and to my ears the LP’s from that era sound much better from a pure sound reproduction point of view than the early Verve LP’s.

    To my ears, the mono Money on Lumpy Money and the Mofo Freak Out! are the best available versions of those, while I do prefer the vinyl of many later albums.

  11. Thinman says:

    It is a good thing to have all those EMI-transfers on CD. Those are the only titles in the catalogue that come as close to the original vinyl releases as possible. From the mid-eighties on the same digital masters had been used for both vinyl and CD-releases likely.

    Where Ryko/Zappa Records/Barking Pumpkin editions are identical in content to those titles, probably the EMI-transfers have been used, as in the case of Joe’s Garage (list may be incomplete or wrong):

    Sheik Yerbouti
    Joe’s Garage
    Tinseltown Rebellion
    Shut Up & Play Yer Guitar (2-CD set)
    You Are What You Is
    Ship Arriving Too Late to Save A Drowning Witch
    The Man From Utopia (SATLTSADW and MFU happened to be a twofer, EMI only.)
    Them Or Us
    Thing Fish
    Meets The Mothers Of Prevention
    Jazz From Hell (MTMOP and JFH came as a twofer, too. EMI only.)

    I don’t know who was involved in the transfers (Frank or not). Later vinyl issues also did say: Digitally remastered.

  12. Fabienne Shine says:

    I have all the EMI CDs. I love them. I much prefer the vinyl/EMI CD mix of Man From Utopia. Zappa may not have liked the EMI transfers but they have a “No-Frills” freshness about them that i really like.

  13. Jeroen says:

    I still can’t believe people on the one hand searching for all these details to be offended by them, and on the other hand listening to bootlegs (I can’t listen to the mixtapes for too long).

    Why these immens double standards?

    I like my cd’s, I’m glad the vinyl-hiss-era is over.

    Jeroen

  14. Thinman says:

    “Bit of nostalgia for the old folks!”
    (Spider, Lumpy Gravy)

  15. Dark Clothes says:

    A quote from Jeroen:

    Why these immens double standards?

    Official releases and field recordings are different kettles of fish, so double standards are absolutely necessary 🙂

  16. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Jeroen:

    I still can’t believe people on the one hand searching for all these details to be offended by them, and on the other hand listening to bootlegs (I can’t listen to the mixtapes for too long).

    Why these immens double standards?

    I like my cd’s, I’m glad the vinyl-hiss-era is over.

    Jeroen

    Interesting comment, Jeroen. Dark Clothes is correct, “Official releases and field recordings are different kettles of fish, so double standards are absolutely necessary.” Firstly, the former was recorded and larged mixed, and later transfered by Zappa, himself, while the latter was not. Secondly, field recordings and mixtapes aren’t meant to replace official recordings, rather supplement them for education purposes.

    Indeed, most who have followed Zappa and the Mothers throughout their career – through not only the vinyl and CD era technologies, but all kinds of and sorts of audio recording mediums in between (I own Zappa and the Mothers in a myriad of formats, some immensely superior to both vinyl and CD but entirely too cumbersome to be worthwhile [reel-to-reel]).

    Still, while CD’s are the most convenient, the “vinyl-hiss-era” of which you speak has more to do with the stereo you played your Zappa and Mothers records on. If you used a crappy stereo (like many of us did initially) not only did we damage the vinyl, but each successive playing was consequently distorted. I remember the first time I actually heard Zappa and the Mothers on vinyl on a state of the art stereo system – it was as though I were hearing the band altogether the the first time once again. I was fucking giddy. I suggest you get yourself a pristine vinyl copy of your favorite FZ/Mothers album and play it on a state of the art stereo, then talk about the “vinyl-hiss-era”. My guess is you’ll be a vinyl convert.

  17. Deepinder says:

    The Vinyl format lasted a longer time when it was still the dominant format than CD or other digital has done to date. In that period it was continuously developed by large electric corporations and smaller (like Nimbus in Monmouth UK) for listening pleasure. That is my case for paying respect to the vinyl format.

  18. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Thinman:

    I don’t know who was involved in the transfers (Frank or not). Later vinyl issues also did say: Digitally remastered.

    I have learned that the term “Digitally Remastered” is no guarantee of audio quality, like the term “Fat Free” has nothing to do with the actually amount of fat in a product. It’s a marketing term that says very little while promising a lot.

  19. Thinman says:

    “Later vinyl issues also did say: Digitally remastered.” I meant, that the same masters have likely been used for the CD editions and the vinyl editions with this hint.

    In many cases “remastered” means: “treated for the worst/destroyed original music”. And it doesn’t matter if this mistreatment was done digitally or analogue.

    Generally care must be taken about all those remastered editions of any artist. Today they usually compress the shit out of everything to compete in today’s loudness war. I wonder how long we will have to wait until somebody comes up with a remastered version of Ravel’s Bolero where the level of the beginning is brought up to the same level as the big ending.

    I’m sure there will be enough stupid people saying: “Great remaster! Now finally I can hear all the details that got burried in the too soft beginning in the old version. Now I can have this music side by side with the latest Metallica on my iPod. And everything is normalized and compressed to the same level.”

    This again reminds me of that Dweezil Zappa interview where he talks about finding the latest mastering studio that is able to squeeze the last possible bit of loudness out of any mix to make it as loud as possible. Having read this (I can’t remember the source) and listening to the latest ZFT releases makes me think that these people are most likely the wrong people to care for FZ’s legacy.

    Th.

  20. metafunj says:

    I never noticed how “stucco homes” sounds like “9 types of industrial pollution.” I think the lick at 5:46 might have been used in “stucco homes.” I’ll have to listen and see if its just my mind playing tricks on me.

  21. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from metafunj:

    I never noticed how “stucco homes” sounds like “9 types of industrial pollution.” I think the lick at 5:46 might have been used in “stucco homes.” I’ll have to listen and see if its just my mind playing tricks on me.

    As a writer/editor, metafunj, I was quite excited to find post-modernist examples of musical recycling in Zappa’s music (much akin to literary recycling in literature – take Burroughs, for example). I’m sure many musicians did this, yet FZ was the most consistent (and creative) recycler I knew of (i.e. Lumpy Gravy). That Zappa fans think they hear licks they might have heard before, well, don’t be too surprised…I received that very same feeling when I first heard Uncle Meat…

  22. Dark Clothes says:

    Stucco Homes… Loose, melancholy, inspired improvisation – very far from anything as theoretical as post-modernism, I think… If it’s a little similar to Nine Types of Industrial Pollution, it’s more because purely musical elements and personality than anything else. Nine Types id more of an artifact, but both solos are wonderful examples of Zappa’s ability to dive deep into the music, oblivious of anything else, which is another aspect of his creativity than the obvious cultural borrowings.

  23. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Dark Clothes:

    Stucco Homes… Loose, melancholy, inspired improvisation – very far from anything as theoretical as post-modernism, I think… If it’s a little similar to Nine Types of Industrial Pollution, it’s more because purely musical elements and personality than anything else. Nine Types id more of an artifact, but both solos are wonderful examples of Zappa’s ability to dive deep into the music, oblivious of anything else, which is another aspect of his creativity than the obvious cultural borrowings.

    Interesting Dark Clothes, I offer specific examples of Zappa’s post-modernist recycling of his own work – for instance, the elements which make up Lumpy Gravy, as well as recurrent themes and melodies in Uncle Meat (often at various tempos and rhythms) – yet still you refuse to bite.

    Too big a fish?

  24. Thinman says:

    Just two randomly found interesting different opinions on the “glorious age of vinyl” to be added to the discussion:

    … some Gary Horowitz: “One of the reasons Zappa so fondly welcomed and embraced the digital medium was because of its promise of a broad dynamic range, which extended to +96 db. So now his albums, freed from the constrictions of vinyl, no longer needed to have the life squeezed out of them by compression.
    Compression was used heavily to squash dynamic range on LPs, especially in 1966. Stereo was relatively new and the mastering engineers simply did (not) know how, or did not want to deal with rock and roll, so they just set the disk cutters on “auto-pilot” and walk away until the album side was finished. All bass frequencies below 100 Hz were channeled into the center becuase it would otherwise make the stylus (phonograph needle) jump out of the groove. Ask anyone who has put months of hard work into perfecting the sound of an album, only to be horrified when they hear how the final pressing had butchered and mangled the glorious sounds they had recorded into a thin, lifeless and muddy sounding piece of garbage!
    I guess that the record companies didn’t mind either because they figured the records would be heavily compressed anyway when played over the air for radio broadcast. This was done to prevent over-modulation in the transmitters. But go figure how often Zappa’s records would be played on the radio in the first place! [Ed: Ironically, Zappa seemed all too fond of compression during the later stages of his reissue programmes…] …” (Source: http://www.lukpac.org/~handmade/patio/vinylvscds/freakout.html)

    “I know when you’re standing in the studio and you’ve got a whole bunch of mixes on analog and you’ve got a whole bunch of mixes on digital which one are you going to use? Digital. So analog’s become a sort of safety backup which is not what it was intended to. But it’s just such a tiresome question, tiresome in the sense in that it’s been argued ever since CDs came out, and I don’t really want to say much more about it because you got to either take or leave CDs. That goes for the other end; in a way what’s the point of recording in analog if it’s going to go on a CD? One could argue the other way around you see, so it’s quite arguable, that what’s the point of going to all the trouble recording it on analog, thinking that somehow that in itself is enough when in fact it’s going to a digital medium anyway? I wax and wane on it; sometimes, yeah, I once played somebody in my studio the tape of THE YES ALBUM and they couldn’t believe it was the thing they’d been listening to on a record, it had a much more hi-fi sound about it. So I regret records destroying the tape sound; the records, in my book, wrecked the sound that we made in the studio. So along comes CD, and I’m in seventh heaven, there’s no hiss anymore, I can multitrack guitars with out all that schroosh going on, so I like digital. I miss a little softness, a little mellowness, but you can get the better dynamics. When you play quietly in digital there’s no increase of noise.”
    (Steve Howe about THE YES ALBUM, source: http://stevehowe.com/archives/archives4.html

  25. Thinman says:

    Also read this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonograph_record#Shortcomings

    and this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analog_recording_vs._digital_recording

    And always remember: The best available technology can be used to ruin anything.

    Th.

  26. Dark Clothes says:

    Postmodernism and Zappa? Yes. Stucco Homes? Something else, a spontaneous and pure musical expression, I feel.

  27. jonnybutter says: