nato a Hollywood, è figlio d'arte, infatti sua madre era la
pop Sue Thompson
e suo padre Hank Penny,
musicista, cantautore e produttore. All'apice della fama come produttore,
comparso nella carriera di Elton John con l'album Duets,
dove coordinava tutto il lavoro e produceva qualche
Con grande enfasi fu scelto per produrre il successivo Made
In England, con lo scopo dichiarato di ritornare ai suoni (e
del periodo d'oro, ma il risultato, a parte la splendida Believe
e il ritorno di Paul Buckmaster,
fu un po'
discontinuo e successivamente venne messo da parte per ritornare al fido,
ma ancora per poco, Chris
Peccato perchè c'erano tutte le premesse per un ottimo
che Greg Penny aveva raggiunto il successo soprattutto producendo la
canadese K.D. Lang,
presente anche in Duets con Teardrops.
Particolare veramente curioso è, che il giovane Greg,
in gita premio, aveva assistito nel 1973 alla registrazione di Goodbye
Yellow Brick Road nel castello di Herouville, in Francia, e
conosceva direttamente l'Elton dei tempi d'oro. E' lui che ha
la masterizzazione della versione SACD (i nuovi DVD audio) di Goodbye
Brick Road, in occasione del 30° anniversario della
questo album storico e che si sta occupando attivamente anche degli
album da realizzare in questo formato.
a Greg Penny su Resolution
di gennaio/febbraio 2004
di George Shilling
the entire Gus Dudgeon-era
Elton John catalogue and prepare to remix it in 5.1.
Penny is on the case
and talks technique and philosophy to GEORGE SHILLING
REG PENNY comes from a musical
family — his father was a guitar player and his mother is a
his youth, Greg met Elton John when he was touring in Vegas, and it
out Elton was a fan of his mother. As a young Anglophile with an eye on
coming to England, he struck up a friendship, and when he told Elton of
to come to Europe,
he was invited to drop in at the sessions for Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
[henceforth referred to as GYBR or YBR] taking place in France, where
witnessed Gus Dudgeon producing the later stages of
in the US, he gradually carved out a career as a producer, scoring
with his collaborations with KD Lang. His friendship with Elton was
when he recorded Teardrops with Lang for the Duets album, and Elton
him to produce his Made In England album. More recently, Greg had the
of remixing that album for 5.1, and started to investigate the whole
of multichannel. Elton and the powers-
loved the idea,
but suggested instead that he tackle GYBR as it was celebrating its
anniversary. Penny set about tracking down the 16-track
and got to work transferring them to Pro Tools at AIR Studios, London.
He then took the files home to mix in California. This has now been
and released on SACD, and Penny is continuing with the mammoth task of
remixing all of Elton’s albums from the Gus Dudgeon era, from
up to Blue Moves, in 5.1. Resolution met him at Sphere Studios, London,
where he was making further transfers. (Pictures by
Did you listen to other 5.1 mixes before starting this?
listened to hundreds,
I did my homework and asked a thousand stupid questions. I learned
all the codecs involved, and the different systems, divergence and all
the things you could do. I got a lot of help from the guys at DTS, and
later in the completion stages of YBR I got a lot of personal attention
from Gus Skinas who is basically the embodiment of SACD in the US and
for Sony. And being able to talk to other people, I’ve become
with Elliot Scheiner, Al Schmidt, and my favourite of all these guys is
Nathaniel Kunkel, I love his work.
did you equip your 5.1 studio?
use a Pro Tools HD system,
a TC System 6000. I went through a lot of monitors, I’ve
always been a
Dynaudio fan from years ago. I also used Meyer HD-1s for stereo
and I decided to
go with Dynaudio Acoustic Air 6. I was looking for something that would
not be so high-end that it would put me in an area where I
reality. I have a small room, any kind of self-powered smaller monitor,
you’re going to get a better spacial image in a small room,
find it will translate better into a big room later.
was the philosophy with this project?
you get into 5.1 you’ve
got to establish your artistic criteria of what you want to do. Push
envelope and make it as artistic as you can, but also remember that
Uncle Bob comes and sits on the end of the couch, you don’t
want to lose
him completely. Especially something that’s sold 5 million
YBR has. And that’s the challenge with repurposing these
masters — how do you do them in a way that thrills the
listener who knows
them already, that lights them up a bit? And somebody who
it, they don’t lose the plot or go, where’s the
vocal, because they’re
sitting at the other end of the room. So it’s not really a
just a logical approach.
accurately do you match to the original mixes?
referenced David Hentschel
and Gus’s original mixes quite a lot.
I dragged in the original
1/4-inch mixes from analogue tape flat, and pulled in and upsampled the
commercial CD versions, which gave me the EQed mastered version. I had
to figure out what was happening emotionally in the mixes, what was
And try to achieve that, and then make it something else without losing
that. And that’s not always easy. I think there are a number
of 5.1 mixes
that from purely a subjective standpoint you could put on and go, no,
ruins the record for me. I never want to hear the 5.1, I just want to
the stereo version of that. Because there are certain things in 5.1
a lot of the energy goes out of the window, it’s coming at
you from too
many different directions. Pop music, a lot of the time, is a lot more
powerful right up the middle.
you mixed within Pro Tools?
did, but on certain tracks,
I went out to some analogue pieces of gear. One thing that was
humble and simple, was this little TL Audio M3 eight channel desk with
Sovtek tubes. And I don’t completely buy into the idea that
it’s an analogue vintage album that you need to mix it
through an analogue
desk. I think all the warmth and the quality that you would want out of
that record is there already on the tapes. And it was transferred and
retained that quality once we got it into the digital world. But
I helped it out with a little analogue EQ and a little analogue
format were your master mixes?
files as my masters.
And in the case of the SACD I played out analogue into the Sonoma.
mixing was bounced down in real-time?
real-time into the
DSD system, and the 24/96 files too. There will be a DVD-A release too
after the first year. And now, Universal has opted to give the consumer
the MLP codec, which is in theory a lossless codec, so it’s
mostly by the batch-processing that goes into creating the files, and
the convertors on the way out of whichever playeryou choose to use. The
Dolby Digital, which is the default lossy codec, I’ll get
involved in that,
that uses the 24/96 files, and then the DTS 5.1 files can now be 24/96
as well. I think it’s pretty well planned out.
Although, I love tape
at the end of the day. And it becomes more and more apparent as we put
multitracks up. Tape
rules. Put Rocket Man up on the original 16-track tape and
your hat in a creek, it’s amazing.
do you decide where to pan things?
album is very simply
recorded, so my blueprint was to try to keep it simple. And I always
to go from the vocal back, and I do that in all my productions.
everything static once you’ve decided a place?
necessarily. I didn’t
move anything for the sake of moving something. There’s
things moving around,
but I didn’t cheapen YBR by flying stuff around the
out from the vocal, you’ve got lead vocal, up front, centre.
the centre speaker?
use the centre monitor,
and here was my mindset with Elton: the die-hard fans would love to be
able to hear this guy’s vocals without anything else in the
mix, so when
you listen to YBR the lead vocal is in a phantom centre position, and
is also discrete in the centre monitor. It is then joined by doubled
vocals that are in the centre monitor but not in the phantom, and then
accompanied occasionally by Elton doing his own harmonies. But the
vocals are generally kept out of the centre monitor. An
lead instrument, like the lead guitar or Elton playing organ, is kept
the centre monitor. And then there’s a considerable amount of
used, so that Uncle Bob sitting on the couch in the back of the room
still hear the lead vocals and the drums and stuff. But
built outwards from the lead vocals in the centre of the room at the
This guy happens to play piano, so the piano is physically near him,
not in the left surround speaker. Then drums always sound good up
bass sits in a bowl that’s front and rear, and heavily
subbed. Then the
guitars, by virtue of the piano taking up a lot of the front field, the
guitars, mandolins, banjos, tons of electric guitars, have lots of room
to breathe in the rear speakers. Background vocals are generally in the
surround speakers, but there’s
used to get them
up to the front occasionally. I keep them out of the middle. And for
I generally used a System 6000, using two reverbs that I tried to model
after what would have been the original plates that they were using at
Trident, I’m not really sure what they were, but I tried to
as well as I could.
quite simple on the
original album, and I tried to keep it as simple as I could. However, I
set up a series of presets for each song on the album, so when I wanted
to do recalls they would pop up with the files.
would you suggest a novice approaches 5.1?
think you’ve just got
to find your own way, everybody’s got their own way of doing
are no rules, my only thing was to make sure I made a more enhanced
of the original experience, and try to keep to Gus’s original
sure if Gus was around, he would have been flying stuff around and
with it, because he loved the tricks you can do — he loved
the stuff to
are the pitfalls?
would say, learn very
early on what your delivery format is going to be — if
you’re going to
mix to 8-track analogue tape, or within Pro Tools 24/96, or
to play into the Sonoma. They all have different characteristics. Just
in the same way you would have made an album to optimise the delivery
— know your delivery medium, and optimise what
you’re doing during the
process for that medium. And don’t give it to some authoring
guy at a video
cutting room to work out for you later. Because we do different gigs.
I approached YBR like making a record. I didn’t approach it
like an audiophile
thing, or the way a guy in an authoring house would, I approached it
the way I want to hear it coming out of my sound system at home as a
record. That’s why it’s loud, it’s got
some rough edges on it, I wanted
be fairly aggressive.
and The Jets
the slap-back delay on Benny And The Jets which is on almost
what Gus always referred
to as ‘Flap-back’!
that was a 1/4-inch, how did you do that?
did it digitally, I’ll
admit it, but I oscillated it so that it has a bit of tone-shift.
did you make the atmosphere work in 5.1?
heard it when it didn’t
have an audience on it. Gus’s gimmick was brilliant, because
it made more
out of something that was just a dead simple track. So what I tried to
do was follow the gimmick. What you want to do is make the listener
like they’re sitting in the middle of Hammersmith Odeon or
Civic or something like that, and they’re hearing this funky
I think that’s what you get out of it, you get more of a
you get the same kind of flap-back happening, you get the same kind of
flam on the kit, you get the vocal moving past you, but you definitely
get the sense of space now out of the new mix.
Was it a stereo audience?
brought the tapes back
to London and decided to go with this concept of making the gimmick,
one of the
things he did is that
he put an audience milling around loop into the multitrack. And then he
went out, probably
David Hentschel and
maybe one of the teaboys at Trident, sat out in the room and stomped
out of time, and
he maybe had the band, when they did the backgrounds do the things on
B-section of the song, they’re like boot-heels flaming. And
then in the
mix, they flew in the audience stuff. And of course, I went into severe
panic mode at AIR when I put it up — because I had heard the
track, I was always really aware of the crowd, so I’m waiting
for the moment
when I can put the audience faders up and go, there’s those
there’s that ‘Whaaaah!’ right after the
solo — it wasn’t on the multitrack.
It wasn’t only not on the multitrack — it was not
to be found, anywhere.
flew it in at the mix?
flew it in at the mix.
And that’s how David and Gus would mix. So I ended up
pressing my case
more and more, and within about a week, a very oddly labelled roll of
FX reel showed up. So I put it in my multitrack Pro Tools session, and
did a bit of lining-up, as you do, a phase thing to find the parts. But
they were radically different audience bits done at different times,
those audience tracks didn’t particularly have any rhyme or
they were not in real time, it was simply, play one until I tell you to
stop or I fade it out, then cue to the next one... So I had to line
up in the track, and I initially thought about unwrapping them, because
I wanted to hear what everyone was talking about with unwrapping. I put
it on and I hated it.
You mean automatic repurposing algorithms?
way too much phasing in the original tracks anyway, because it was a
blend of a
of microphones at a
live gig, so you’ve got combing stuff happening anyway. And
accentuating that when you try to do an unwrap. It doesn’t
algorithm you use, or what sort of math you want to use, it’s
to work. So I painstakingly just rebuilt all the audience tracks and
of the things that make up the effect that you’re in a live
room, by actually
putting discrete stuff in each speaker, building it and moving it
cutting and pasting so that it doesn’t phase, so that it
feels really live
from the fade-up to the fade-out.