The UMRK Mix
By Bob Stone
It was Christmas Eve, 1980 and Frank Zappa needed some help with rough mixes on tapes from his last tour. I soon discovered that he loved to edit. I mean he really loved to edit! In fact, Frank had already done major surgery on the tour’s 24-track masters. One song might have three or live or more edits from different venues with each section usually having a vastly different ambience, level, and EQ. These "roughs" became the Tinseltown Rebellion album and took months to complete.
Frank's workday was about 26 hours long, going to bed later each day. As the daily tasks of the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (UMRK) went on, he would work on his book or screenplay, edit mixes, spend endless hours at the Synclavier, handle family tasks, watch Larry King, direct the staff on multiple tasks, and consume vast quantities ot the studio "rocket fuel" collee and smoke Winstons.
Several tours and many albums later, better methods evolved lor mixing stacks of tapes trom the road and the vault. For the 1988 tour, with over 200 hours from 79 venues to choose from, we wanted to avoid the headaches ot the Tinseltown approach. Our solution was to mix the songs from selected venues to sound like one specific venue. This allowed Frank to use the chorus, for example, from one show, the verse from another, and the solo from yet another. By using UMRK’s Lexicon 224-XL’s, live chambers, stereo audience tracks, and stage mics, the ambience could be significantly altered. Frank assembled these mixes in "the basement" to produce the sequenced masters. I did the final level and EQ adjustments with Steve Marcussen at Precision Disc Mastering on a Neve DTC. Broadway The Hard Way and other releases from the 1988 tour were mixed and mastered the same way with no overdubs or track replacements.
Frank Zappa's unique talents and perspective were irreplaceable and will be deeply missed.
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