October 3, 2018

RIP: GEOFF EMERICK, BEATLES CHIEF RECORDING ENGINEER, DIES AT 72.

Other than George Martin, Emerick was the behind-the-scenes brains that helped shape the Beatles sound. When John Lennon asked Emerick to make him sound like “the Dalai Lama singing on a mountain” for “Tomorrow Never Knows” on “Revolver,” one of the effects Emerick used was to put Lennon’s voice through a spinning Leslie speaker. As Andy Babiuk describes in the book “Beatles Gear,” Emerick’s “open-minded approach and willingness to ignore standard recording practices and techniques when necessary was exactly what the group was looking for.”

Speaking to Variety in July 2017, Emerick cited “A Day in the Life” as a high point of his time with the Beatles. “The night we put the orchestra on it, the whole world went from black and white to color,” he said.

Emerick practically invented the close miking of individual instruments for a tight crisp sound with plenty of separation, along with heavy compression on Ringo’s drum kit, which are some of the reasons why Revolver sounds so different from the Beatles albums that preceded it. Emerick was a young man in the right place and time — he arrived in Studio 2 just as the Beatles and Martin were as eager to experiment with sound as he was. As the BBC notes in their obituary:

Over the years he pushed studio technology to its limits, inventing new techniques for manipulating and layering sounds with the limited technology available in the 1960s.

But his experiments did not always meet with approval. One trick, of positioning microphones right next to the drums to capture the energy and immediacy of Ringo Starr’s playing, got him into trouble with the top brass at Abbey Road.

“I had a letter sent that I was damaging microphones because the air pressure from the bass drum was destroying the capsules of the microphone,” he told US radio station NPR in 1987.

“But I was given special permission to use the technique on the Beatles.”

After the Fab Four broke up, Emerick continued to work regularly with Paul McCartney and Wings and imparted his knowledge to studio engineers around the world.

One of the ways that Emerick imparted his vast knowledge of recording was through his highly readable autobiography Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, which is recommended to Beatles obsessives everywhere. I have a mini-review of it, which I posted here on Christmas day, 2015.

InstaPundit is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.