The Beatles Rock Band game is now in its third day here at Abbey Road West, and so far it’s getting better all the time. As social media, it’s the off the charts monetization winner Wall Street is beginning to think Twitter and Facebook are becoming. As my wife keeps saying, it’s got real Beatles songs, not some cover band. How cool is that?
BRB is an extension of the Beatles Love mashup, where producers George and son Giles Martin went back to the basic tracks and transferred them to digital for remix. This is as distinguished from the new remastered mono and stereo catalog, where only the final mixdowns were brought up to date with modern analog-to-digital techniques. The Beatles recorded on two and then four tracks up until the White Album, bouncing down preliminary mixes and overdubbing additional parts as they went.
The Love mixes built on a technique explored during the production of the Anthology series and fleshed out with the remixing of the Yellow Submarine record. Laying all the original pieces onto a digital checkerboard, the Abbey Road engineers could recreate the original mixes with individual control over many more elements of the recordings. Love expanded on that by literally deconstructing the various elements and intermingling them with other tracks, as in the layering of the Tomorrow Never Knows drum track under Within You Without You’s Indian percussion.
With this digital map already assembled, Giles Martin could turn his attention to the Rock Band game, compositing guitars and harmonies while adding live effects and studio chatter to create yet another mashup, this one a fascinating illusion of being in the studio or in concert with some degree of input in the mix. Of course, the game opts for scoring the closeness to the actual reality you come with vocals, guitar, and most powerfully, drums. The actual music remains Beatles, but you have the feeling of getting inside the music.
Ringo comes through in the way his bandmates saw him, the actual spark of the thing that became Beatles only when he joined the group. The recordings have always reflected the alchemy of the four members and George Martin, who handled many of the keyboard parts as the group’s palette expanded in the studio. But Ringo’s parts, as reflected by the dumbed down notes you sync with, underline how much the drummer shaped the variety of feels of the group’s enormously productive output.
What emerges is a kind of dynamic blueprint that threads through the band’s history, regardless of the period (touring, studio, early, splintering, the end) and almost in spite of the differences in song writing and production. The Beatles throughout their career benefited from this kind of stylized fundamentals, fitting their “real” personalities into their film and studio images and creating a new hybrid that expanded both identities into a newer one.
So too do Twitter and Facebook and other social media experiences, fusing the twin streams of public and private persona. Much is made of the falseness of the online you, but the reality is that the combination of digital gestures and individual desires, thoughts, ideas, and emotions is something we’ve only perceived indirectly through artists in novels, paintings, and music. Social media may be an imperfect label, but the synthesis is as real as the elements pre-aggregation.
The mono remasters are bundled in a separate collection, running from the beginning through the White Album. After that, only a Yellow Submarine soundtrack with several “throwaways”, the Let It Be “live” recordings massacred by Phil Spector as the band fell apart, and the final Abbey Road were left to be mixed in stereo. But for most of its life, the group and producer recorded and mixed in mono, an earlier predictor of the power of 140 characters.
The Beatles Rock Band remixes suggest the rest of the catalog will be rendered in new versions that take advantage of technology to get inside the music, not subverting the original mono intent but allowing us to explore the brilliance of these collaborations. Musical anthropologists will be able to take apart the harmonies and build new ones, discover our great treasures in new ways, and share them with our children here and across the net. Calling this a game is misleading only because it is so much fun.
Of course, there will always be those who posture about the authenticity of these experiences. McCartney has the most authority here, saying the game is fun but actually making the records was more so. But playing along with Ringo in even this most elemental and simulated way reminded me of similar moments in my past playing drums with the “real” Richard Manuel on a snowy night in the Catskills. Beatles Rock Band is not the same as being there, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. Beep beep yeah!