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Author Topic: Carl Wilson and Smile  (Read 6222 times)
Micha
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« Reply #25 on: February 17, 2014, 10:15:16 AM »

BWPS shows that just about every Smile song was finished, bar a couple of master vocals on a few songs. Some people say Brian didn't know how to finish Smile but I'd say the opposite - the guy was practically done and realised that the finished article just wasn't that much to his liking anymore.

BWPS worked with everything which had been created before Brian abandoned SMiLE, without having to face any formal limitations or internal struggles. I absolutely agree that it wasn't the technology that prevented Brian from finishing SMiLE, although it was more difficult without the aid of computers to keep track of all those tapes. But I stick with the opinion that it wasn't only pure dislike of the results of the recordings that prevented Brian from finishing SMiLE but the deterioration of his mental state. This deterioration is well documented. That he sounds secure during the sessions is no contradiction, as the studio was where he felt most at home. I mean, if Brian was able to pull off something complex like Pet Sounds, I see no reason why he should not succeed with the SMiLE material if his mind was still sound.
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Dr. Tim
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« Reply #26 on: February 17, 2014, 11:01:01 AM »

I join with this consenus and add the following as a garnish:  In making Smile, Brian deliberately created each module such that any one piece could conceivably be pasted with any other piece and the results could be somewhat coherent.  The various edits of H&V and Vegetables show the possibilities of this.  Plus - and I am suprised no BB insider has commented on this - Brian refused to ask for any help from anyone, or to delegate, during this process by which he was supposedly "overwhelmed".  Maybe due to his breakdown state he was stymied, but it wasn't due to the Smile project.  He could have given some dub reels to people and told them to cut them together so he could hear what sequences he liked.  They would do the scut work and he could approve it and take the credit. He didn't; he wouldn't.    Hanging on to his Ego?  Maybe.  Also, maybe, his seemingly offhand remark in 2004's "Beautiful Dreamer" was the honest truth after all: he didn't finish assembling Smile because "I got tired of it."

Granted, the advances in digital editing made this process a lot less arduous in 2003-04 and after, where you could try things out and do new assemblies in a few mouse moves as opposed to a few minutes to get out the razor and splicing tape for each edit.

PS:  Besides Frank Zappa and the musique concrete guys, other musicians using tape editing as a compositional tool were the German band Can (whose stuff sounded like the future in 1969 and still does today), and Miles Davis, with his producer Teo Macero (from "In A Silent Way" through "Bitches Brew" and the "On The Corner" sessions).
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« Reply #27 on: February 17, 2014, 02:57:32 PM »

BWPS shows that just about every Smile song was finished, bar a couple of master vocals on a few songs. Some people say Brian didn't know how to finish Smile but I'd say the opposite - the guy was practically done and realised that the finished article just wasn't that much to his liking anymore.

BWPS worked with everything which had been created before Brian abandoned SMiLE, without having to face any formal limitations or internal struggles. I absolutely agree that it wasn't the technology that prevented Brian from finishing SMiLE, although it was more difficult without the aid of computers to keep track of all those tapes. But I stick with the opinion that it wasn't only pure dislike of the results of the recordings that prevented Brian from finishing SMiLE but the deterioration of his mental state. This deterioration is well documented. That he sounds secure during the sessions is no contradiction, as the studio was where he felt most at home. I mean, if Brian was able to pull off something complex like Pet Sounds, I see no reason why he should not succeed with the SMiLE material if his mind was still sound.
Ok, but that brings us round again to the thread topic. If the only reason Brian was unable to finish SMiLE was because of mental illness -- or, as folks elsewhere in the thread opine, he just grew tired of the project, or he outgrew the material -- why then were Carl and Stephen Desper unable to complete it?

Surely mental illness is no explanation for their failure?
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« Reply #28 on: February 17, 2014, 03:05:02 PM »

Well, as we all know, Smile was Brian's album. He knew what he wanted and what do with all the pieces.

Steve and Carl probably couldn't make heads or tails of most of the recordings or what to do with them.
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« Reply #29 on: February 17, 2014, 10:48:22 PM »

The argument that Brian was pushing studio limits too far, and that the technology to pull off Smile wasn't available yet and wouldn't be until computers is, frankly, absurd.

[edit]

I think anyone who buys this argument must not be acquainted with the whole of Musique concrčte, or what the creators of early popular electronic tape music and library music were doing at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in London and at the Dutch Philips Research Lab close to a decade before Smile. Those methods involved hundreds of tape edits per 1-4 minute song, and this was before multi-tracking (not even 2 track), so they had to sync up several tape machines, sometimes up to eight of them (!), on top of the insane amount of editing that was required. It's a process that would sometimes take weeks to complete just one song.

[edit]


I think the second paragraph is a pretty good refutation of the thesis in the first, if we make an apples-to-apples comparison of the technology available and the effort required.

It would have been a very time intensive, laborious process to do this over the course of an entire album, and the practical aspect nobody is addressing is the logistical challenge of just finding what you want on which tape.  It's not just the amount of time it takes to edit things together and try them out and see if they work.  That's bad enough.  It's locating which part is on which tape, scrolling to the exact spot, then getting the blade out, resplicing, respooling the tape, put it back, find the next tape, etc.  Without having a precise idea of what you're looking for where (and even if you did), the idea of mixing and matching various spots to see where they fit, as opposed to having a preconceived notion of it, over the course of entire album's length of work, would overwhelm all but the best brains.

It's easy to forget in this digital world where you can just put a sound file up on a screen and see exactly where you were at with it, with analog tape you are flying blind other than what's on the tape box.  It doesn't seem like that would make a big difference, but you're talking about a process of about 15 to 20 minutes just to find the exact spot you're looking for on the tape FOR EACH EDIT...whereas now, it takes seconds.

Not to say it is isn't theoretically possible to do it this way but I think it would drive nearly anyone, no matter what their state of mental health is, nearly insane.

Not to say you aren't right that Brian wandered down too many alleys and lost his muse...but had he not made so many starts and made it so impossible to finish, he might well not have lost it.  I know I would have.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2014, 10:51:08 PM by adamghost » Logged
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« Reply #30 on: February 18, 2014, 02:39:21 AM »

Coming back to the topic, it shouldn't be forgotten that Carl and Stephen Desper did so much to ensure the preservation of the Smile tapes, whether or not it was to assemble Smile for a 1972 release under the terms of The Beach Boys' Warners contract. For that alone we should be grateful to them, as without the tapes no bootlegs, no BWPS, no TSS.
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« Reply #31 on: February 18, 2014, 04:28:35 AM »

Finding all of the bits may have been hard for Carl and Stephen, someone should ask him.

For Brian it would have been business as usual. Wouldn't it have been more like for 10 songs there would be two or three tapes all labeled as for what song and on the tapebox and called out on each take and in Brian's head each section would be labeled as to its place in the song. It would be a few pieces of tape and a few edits for at least ten songs. Then even with GV, H&V, and Vt it would still be for any any iteration of the song a few tapes for a particular song again all labeled as to a song and 5 to 8 sections of  tapes labeled and called out as to song and place with a few edits. Once he looks through the tapes for the OMP tape for one section of OMP. I think the mistake is to think that every section of every song was on the desk for each version of each of the songs. The revisions and substitutions are also clearly marked and identified as to song and place in song. I think we have invented a problem for Brian that he actually didn't have.

Again I'll just say, these supposedly difficult to manage/finish songs were the ones which were actually finished and using the available technology and his then-current state of mind and method for working.
« Last Edit: February 18, 2014, 04:41:58 AM by Cam Mott » Logged

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Micha
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« Reply #32 on: February 18, 2014, 08:15:35 AM »

Ok, but that brings us round again to the thread topic. If the only reason Brian was unable to finish SMiLE was because of mental illness -- or, as folks elsewhere in the thread opine, he just grew tired of the project, or he outgrew the material -- why then were Carl and Stephen Desper unable to complete it?

Surely mental illness is no explanation for their failure?

No, in their case the reason is that neither of them were Brian Wilson. Again, it is a misconception to think that all the pieces were there and all they had to do was piece it together in the "right" order. I don't believe that, when Brian abandoned SMiLE, he thought he had recorded all needed parts or even composed it completely.

I guess Carl and Desper could have done an album using the SMiLE fragments, but it was wise by them not to do that behind Brian's back. Essentially that's what Brian and Van Dyke Parks did with BWPS, taking the amassed fragments and designing a completed album out of what was there. But only those two had the authority to do that.
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Cam Mott
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« Reply #33 on: February 18, 2014, 09:20:48 AM »

I'm curious, who has worked this way? Has anyone recorded a dozen or so songs to tape, songs with 4 or 5 sections, 2 or 3 tapeboxes per song, all sections idenitified on the tape and/or tape box as to place in assembly, edited together the way Brian and Britz would have. How many man hours per song would it take on average? One or two hours? I have no idea, I've only edited silent movie film this way.
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« Reply #34 on: February 18, 2014, 05:03:08 PM »

Coming back to the topic, it shouldn't be forgotten that Carl and Stephen Desper did so much to ensure the preservation of the Smile tapes, whether or not it was to assemble Smile for a 1972 release under the terms of The Beach Boys' Warners contract. For that alone we should be grateful to them, as without the tapes no bootlegs, no BWPS, no TSS.

I shudder at the thought.

How could Brian be so careless with the tapes of his best work, he really didn't care it those songs never saw the light of day. What was he thinking.
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« Reply #35 on: February 19, 2014, 12:42:30 AM »

He was thinking it wasn't his best work.
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« Reply #36 on: February 20, 2014, 02:19:06 PM »

The argument that Brian was pushing studio limits too far, and that the technology to pull off Smile wasn't available yet and wouldn't be until computers is, frankly, absurd.

[edit]

I think anyone who buys this argument must not be acquainted with the whole of Musique concrčte, or what the creators of early popular electronic tape music and library music were doing at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in London and at the Dutch Philips Research Lab close to a decade before Smile. Those methods involved hundreds of tape edits per 1-4 minute song, and this was before multi-tracking (not even 2 track), so they had to sync up several tape machines, sometimes up to eight of them (!), on top of the insane amount of editing that was required. It's a process that would sometimes take weeks to complete just one song.

[edit]


I think the second paragraph is a pretty good refutation of the thesis in the first, if we make an apples-to-apples comparison of the technology available and the effort required.

It would have been a very time intensive, laborious process to do this over the course of an entire album, and the practical aspect nobody is addressing is the logistical challenge of just finding what you want on which tape.  It's not just the amount of time it takes to edit things together and try them out and see if they work.  That's bad enough.  It's locating which part is on which tape, scrolling to the exact spot, then getting the blade out, resplicing, respooling the tape, put it back, find the next tape, etc.  Without having a precise idea of what you're looking for where (and even if you did), the idea of mixing and matching various spots to see where they fit, as opposed to having a preconceived notion of it, over the course of entire album's length of work, would overwhelm all but the best brains.

It's easy to forget in this digital world where you can just put a sound file up on a screen and see exactly where you were at with it, with analog tape you are flying blind other than what's on the tape box.  It doesn't seem like that would make a big difference, but you're talking about a process of about 15 to 20 minutes just to find the exact spot you're looking for on the tape FOR EACH EDIT...whereas now, it takes seconds.

Not to say it is isn't theoretically possible to do it this way but I think it would drive nearly anyone, no matter what their state of mental health is, nearly insane.

Not to say you aren't right that Brian wandered down too many alleys and lost his muse...but had he not made so many starts and made it so impossible to finish, he might well not have lost it.  I know I would have.


If i did so, i didn’t mean to suggest that finishing Smile wouldn’t have been a time consuming, overwhelming process -- i did, as you pointed out, stress how laborious that kind of heavy editing work can get -- and i have no doubt that the Smile tapes have looked like a complete mess to people who have gone through them over the decades, but i don’t think anything in my post refutes itself because what i’m saying is that that early electronic popular music that i cited was significantly more complicated/involved in terms of editing than what Brian was doing with Smile, even though it was to be (nearly) an entire album’s worth of modular recordings. So, while it would’ve taken BW longer to edit together Smile than anything he had done before, my point was simply that i don’t think it’s accurate to say that it was an impossible task due to the technology not being available yet, as has been suggested more and more in recent arguments about why Smile collapsed. People use GV and its 6 month recording time as a yardstick to determine how long it would’ve taken to do a whole album like that, but there wasn’t anything inherent to the technology of the day that made it take that long to finish the song. That was down to Brian and his idiosyncratic methods at that time. He kept rethinking what he wanted to do, is all. Remember, this is the guy who would cancel sessions at the last minute because of bad vibes. The guy who would go back and rerecord already completed sections, often with inferior results. If one wants to use GV to argue the impossibility of a whole album of songs like that, citing Bran's perfectionism and the level of artistry he was attempting to achieve, fine, but the inadequate technology argument doesn't hold water.  

In order to make manageable the process you mention of locating specific spots on different tape reels, it requires detailed note taking and a highly organized, often personal, system. Again, i will point to the work of those at the Philips Research Lab and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (by the way, i should point out that these were mostly analytic minds, science and math people) --if you look at the pictures of their notes and labeling system, you can see how well mapped out, if idiosyncratic, their ideas were. You have to know what you want, and be organized enough to keep all the parts accounted for (and not doubt yourself!) Still, it takes time of course, just like so many things did before computers. That said, i actually think, based on all the evidence, that Brian was fairly organized and knew (at one point) where he was going with the project, but, the thing is, having a highly organized system doesn’t count for anything if you are constantly second-guessing yourself, which clearly caused him to keep going back and changing things around, complicating the whole process along the way. I think this is where you and i agree. To give an analogy for the point i was trying to make in my first post: imagine that you have all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle in front of you, and you already know exactly where they go, you just have to actually put them down on the table in order. But as you’re getting closer to piecing the puzzle together, you keep flipping the table over, thus having to start over, and each time you become less certain of yourself. And then you have people say that you couldn’t finish the puzzle because tables weren’t flat enough back then when you were working on your puzzle.  

I also think people make the editing aspect of Smile out to be more complicated than it really was. Take H&V, a song that i think everyone can agree was one of the more, if not the most, involved pieces of Smile. The February ’67 cantina version only has 7 edits. The completed Smiley 45 single has 6 edits. The revisionist, everything but the kitchen sink version on TSS has 10. Then there’s H&V Part 2, as heard on TSS, which has 7 or 8. GV had 8 edits. The TSS version of Vega-Tables has 7. DYLW has 6. The rest of the songs break down like this:  


Our Prayer: a few edits only because they were learning it in sections and recording the sections as they learned them, just as they did with "And Your Dream Comes True"
Cabin Essence: 4
Look: I’m not sure about this one -- wasn’t the backing track recorded in one shot? The master used for TSS has edits from different takes though. Don’t know if Brian would’ve just used one take or edited different takes together. I forget if there’s a vintage Brian mix of Look. Either way, since all the parts were recorded in one session with the same musicians, this would've been more like the kind of editing on a Pet Sounds song.
CIFOTM: Don’t recall the sequence of Brian’s acetate mix, but i imagine the final sequence would not have had more than 4 or 5 edits.
Wind Chimes original arrangement: I thought this one was recorded as one piece straight through, but the TSS sessionography says the master is edited together.  
Wind Chimes TSS version: 3?
Wind Chimes GV box sequence: 2
Surf’s Up: 2?
Fire: 2 (if you want to count the H&V intro as part of it), if not, 1
Dada: 2 (if you want to count the water chant as part of it), if not, 1
Holidays: 1
IWBA: 1
OMP/YAMS: 1
Wonderful: 0
Barnyard: 0 (although, of course, it it was to be part of H&V, then...)
He Gives Speeches: 0
You’re Welcome: 0


So, as you can see, the most amount of edits any of these songs had contemporaneously was 8. I understand that it's not just about how many edits a final song has, that the amount of parts that are considered as contenders for inclusion in the final mix is more relevant to the issue, in the way that a movie that has tons of outtakes is going to take longer to edit, but this brings us back to the idea that if Brian had known what he wanted and stuck to it, the editing of the album becomes infinitely more manageable. Sure, this was to be an album much more reliant on editing than the average pop album of that time, but i think Smile is only this crazy, elusive jigsaw puzzle to us because none of us are the creator of the work, thus we have no idea what the (ever changing) master plan was. I think if Brian hadn’t doubted himself as much as he did, gone back and changed things around as much as he did, constantly made revisions to the structure of some of these songs, added and dropped sections to songs, taken sections from one song to instead use for another song, spent time rerecording sections and adding to the stack of tape boxes, Smile wouldn’t have been this monumental undertaking. That it was had more to do with stuff like Brian’s mental/emotional state, or his personality, or his feelings about the project, or the fact that he was composing in a new, experimental way for him that was very open-ended, than it did with the technology that he was supposedly pushing past its limits.

And we can’t forget that the completed Smiley Smile album has its fair share of edits too. Not quite as much as Smile, but then consider how quickly they arranged, recorded, mixed, edited, and put out that album. Wild Honey is also pretty modular. So, the technology wasn’t available at the time to complete Smile yet Brian Wilson completed two modular albums within a half a year after abandoning Smile?  Brow
« Last Edit: February 20, 2014, 02:33:08 PM by monicker » Logged

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