An Interview with Ray Faiola by Doug Raynes
As owner-operator of Chelsea Rialto Studios, Ray Faiola has restored for release over 75 motion picture soundtrack scores. Ray is also a professional 16mm film collector and is Director of Audience Services for the CBS Television Network. He is entering his 35th year of employment with the “Eye” network. Ray is also a professional stage actor, is married and has two grown children. Ray hasn’t quite grown up yet.
How did Chelsea Rialto Studios come about and what was the first project you worked on?
Having always been a film music fan, especially of Max Steiner, my inspiration for assembling scores was Jim Reising of the Steiner Library. I always preferred listening to scores in symphonic format, where you didn’t have a cue or track. Then pause for 3 or 4 seconds. Then another track, etc. I had gotten to know Craig Spaulding and when Brigham Young University did their first album, THE SEARCHERS, I was asked to provide an audio roadmap for the fellow who was to do the actual mastering. For the second album, I was given the job of doing the full restoration and mastering job. This was Steiner’s THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, which was released in 1998. The name Chelsea Rialto Studios was named after the 30-seat 16mm theater in our Manhattan loft, the Chelsea Rialto. I’ve since moved to the Catskills but I took the name Chelsea Rialto with me!
Can you explain a bit about how music for films in the 30s, 40s and 50s was recorded and the differences between recordings available on acetate, nitrate optical film and magnetic tape?
Depending on the studio, music for films was recorded with single or multiple microphones onto optical sound film from the early 1930’s through the early 1950’s. Magnetic tape recording of scores began around 1950. Stanley Kramer was one of the first producers to use a magnetic tape system for recording. Survival of original scoring sessions on optical film, especially nitrate, is very rare. Most of the studios either melted down these elements to reclaim the silver content or simply destroyed them to free up storage space. In some cases, dubbing “stems”, which are the actual pieces of music processed for dubbing into the picture, survive. These often have inherent edits or volume dips to allow for dialogue. More often, they are irrevocably combined with sound effects to produce a “music and effects track”, used to create foreign-dubbed versions of a film. In many cases, scoring sessions, or at least approved “takes”, were preserved on magnetic tape, usually recorded at 15ips.
My reference to single or multiple microphones has to do with studios actually recording multiple angles of sound when recording musical scores. This gave the musical director and sound editor additional options in promoting a particular aspect of the aural character of the music. Incredibly, many scores, dating back to the 1930’s, have survived in dual-angle format. The CRS / Screen Archives series has released several 20th Century-Fox scores that are, in effect, true stereo, including Alfred Newman’s monumental CAPTAIN FROM CASTILE. This score had been recorded on optical film and preserved – in separate angles – on magnetic tape. When I produced the soundtrack CD, each angle of every cue had to be individually re-combined.
As record labels continue to pursue projects, the studios continue to dig through their myriad vaults and, happily, more and more vintage material seems to surface. Most of this tends to be from the post-optical period.
The other major source of classic score material are acetate discs preserved in composers’ (or musical directors) personal collections, most of which are now on deposit with various archives. Both the Max Steiner and Hugo Friedhofer collections are in the enormously capable custodianship of the Harold Lee Library at Brigham Young University.
We actually have the lugubrious task of developing optical film to thank for the existence of acetate discs. Since the musical director was not able to instantly playback a take recorded on film, a simultaneous recording was made on an immediate disc playback system, thus allowing closer scrutiny of what had just been recorded. If the studio musical director did not take possession, the composers were allowed to retain these discs in their private collections. There have been some notable losses of these discs. Roy Webb’s house was destroyed by fire, consuming most of his discs. And recently it was discovered that boxes of discs belonging to Universal musical director Charles Previn had been sold piecemeal at a shop in Hollywood. And the biggest mystery of all is – whatever became of Max Steiner’s original acetates to KING KONG? They must have disappeared early because sometime around 1940 he had RKO cut four 78rpm sides for him from the optical music tracks. These were rather clumsily prepared and two of the sides simply run out before the end of the cues.
What sort of time scales are involved from receiving material to producing the end product?
To begin, Chelsea Rialto Studios receives all music material in digital format. This is provided to me either by the studio itself from their preservation tapes, or by the group that does the raw digital transfer from acetate disc. After I receive the materials, I “spot” the cues, using a print of the film as a reference. If there are discrepancies, I rely on what paperwork might survive so that I can create an accurate chronological placement of the music tracks. I then go through each cue to do repairs – removing pops, clicks, and, yes, even skips. There are many times when there is a jump in the music and this has to be repaired by finding a matching piece of audio to restore what was lost. The mag tapes for BATTLE CRY were littered with audio “chips” and required well over 400 fixes. In the rhythm combo performance of “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” in MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR, the end of the song was actually gone. Damaged or lost tape. I actually had to create a finish using what survived of the recording. Most people would have simply dialed it out, but I decided to have some fun and the licensor (the film was no longer owned by Warners) loved it.
After all restoration is done, I begin what I call Digital Dramatic Assembly. From start to finish, I place the cues as they appeared in the picture with varying “breaths” between tracks. I retain fully sustained ambience during the entire CD, never going to dead-track. The reason for this is simple – I create a performance disc, not an archive disc. I find it distracting to have archival sound suddenly vanish only to reappear in a couple or few seconds.
And this gets to the most frustrating part of the job. While overt damage to specific parts of a track can be fixed, groove wear is one aspect of dealing with acetates that presents the most vexing problem. This is where the grooves in the record have been dug in so that they leave a constant noise of varying degrees that is very difficult to get rid of. There are ways, of course, to use digital noise reduction to minimize this. To a degree. Any DNR is going to not only reduce noise, but will also compromise the sonics so you have to be very, very judicious in applying this tool. With magnetic recordings, there are two levels of constant extraneous noise. The first is the original noise inherent in the primary recording. The second is what I refer to as “top soil”, where multiple generations of copying have resulted in excessive noise on top of what is inhering in the original recording. When I produced the soundtrack to THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, I used Ken Darby’s personal copy of the original score that is on deposit at BYU. There was a tremendous amount of “top soil” and I worked like a dog to remove a large amount of it. This was especially important for this score because so much of the music had a serene quality and the noise really killed it. Unfortunately, the licensing studio felt I had over-processed the tracks and they preferred I revert the sound to its original state – which was not its “original” state by any means. I did as they asked but had my name removed from the credits as I did not feel it represented by best work.
Anyway, once the overall sound issues are resolved I assess whether restoration of ambience is appropriate. Some discs are simply, badly recorded and, compared with the released film track, require some subtle enhancing. RKO’s discs were notoriously flat, while Universal’s were often very, very thin – sonically, that is. The best acetates, by far, came from the Samuel Goldwyn recording stage. This stage was not only used by composers for Goldwyn but also for Selznick and other independent studios.
A score can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to complete all stages of production.
I didn’t know you had produced THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. I assume you’re referring to the Ryko release. Presumably no further audio work was done for the Varese reissue?
Yes, the original Ryko release. Don’t get me wrong, there was no acrimony. Ian Lace is a real gentleman. As for Varese, I don’t know what they might have done to the master that I provided, but I’m pretty certain they did not go back to the Darby tapes.
One of the early projects you worked on was Hugo Friedhofer’s score for THE BISHOP’S WIFE, the film of which was recently released on Blu-ray by Warner Bros. This of course was a Samuel Goldwyn production and I believe the rights were then with MGM. How did this release come about and is there any other Goldwyn/Friedhofer material available?
As the Friedhofer Collection is housed at BYU, it was James D’Arc’s decision to pursue this score. He had previously done Friedhofer’s BROKEN ARROW (on which I only had peripheral participation) – a favorite of Jim’s and also germane since BYU also houses the James Stewart collection – and so he felt if he could arrange it with the controlling studio, THE BISHOP’S WIFE would be a great release. There were some acetates at BYU, but not that represented the entire score. We asked the studio if they, by chance, had a music-and-effects track and, as it happened, they did. Unfortunately, many of the Goldwyn music-and-effects tracks have scoring that was re-recorded in Germany sometime in the 1960’s. In addition to being performed under a different baton, the aural ambience is completely different. In this case, the new tracks had a cavernous echo. My first job was to decide which portions of this M&E needed to be used and then try to reduce the offending echo. I’m still not sure how I did it, but I managed to bring the two sounds into reasonably close proximity. As for other Goldwyn/Friedhofer scores, I believe there is only a music-and-effects track for THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES. I have heard some bad acetates (actually old aluminum discs) of MARCO POLO, but with Morgan and Stromberg’s wonderful re-recording, the lousy acetates would be superfluous. There may be some others at BYU. Friedhofer is so unique among the composers who worked in the thirties and forties in that he was not as concerned for melody as he was for creating a musical mood. And yet he was orchestrating for Korngold and Steiner, two of the greatest melodists in Hollywood. I love Friedhofer’s score for SO DARK THE NIGHT, a little Columbia film that few people today know about. Of course, by the 50’s and 60’s his music had reached a level of sophistication and complexity that I think was quite admirable.
The Dimitri Tiomkin collection is housed at USC. Where did that material come from?
The Tiomkin material came from the composer’s personal library. I believe the material was donated by Olivia Tiomkin, who has been a tireless advocate for release of her late husband’s works. Most of Tiomkin’s music is published by Volta Music, now administered by Mrs. Tiomkin.
When working on the Fox scores with dual or multiple angle recording, such as CAPTAIN FROM CASTILLE, which you’ve mentioned already, is it a very complicated procedure to synchronize them into stereo?
There are several ways to do the line-up. You begin with your initial point of synchronization. If you’re lucky, you have an audio “click”, made by a punch in the soundtrack. This is very easy to line-up. You may have a manual clapper or voice announcement. This can be used to synchronize but you have to be careful with the ambience of the microphone farthest from the announcer. There is also the actual visual track as displayed by the audio program, but this should not be relied upon for frame accuracy as the two tracks are, in essence, different sound. But the visual can provide a good initial placement. Once synchronized, there are several pitfalls that may present themselves. First is speed. Since most of these tracks were stored on magnetic tape and each side stored separate from its mate, there can very definitely be speed-drift whereby, over the length of a cue, one side may drift several frames out of sync. If you have an end-click, you can resolve the two timings with a slight speed adjustment to one side. And you have to adjust speed – not time compression – so as to, in effect, reverse the original damage. Then there is the issue of missing audio. Since the two channels are invariably housed separately, one channel can have a splice while the other remains intact. That means that audio from the unmarred channel has to be replicated on the adjoining channel. There was about a 15 second jump in one channel of Waxman’s NIGHT AND THE CITY – a source cue – so that missing music had to be imported from the other side. Again, with a slight separation.
In the liner notes to THE LETTER you say that apart from acetates held at BYU some optical tracks were used; I assume supplied from Warner Bros. Does much music exist on optical film from Steiner’s scores?
Sadly, no. The folks at Warner Bros. today are real champions of history and preservation. Unfortunately, earlier administrations were not so foreseeing in this regard and, as I understand it, after the famous 50 Years of Film and 50 Years of Film Music LP’s came out, most of the optical music material was destroyed. Someone did have the prescient idea of asking George Korngold if he wanted copies of his father’s scores and so, happily, most of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s scores survive in original session form. The transfers were done crudely as you have to be very careful in reproducing variable density soundtracks and the surviving tracks are often noisy. But, as you’ve heard from FSM’s release of KINGS ROW and THE SEA WOLF, they are magnificent. CRS and Screen Archives are hoping to get in on the Korngold bandwagon in the near future. We’ll see. As for Steiner, some cues have been unearthed, usually reels of optical track that were put aside during that 50th Anniversary album-producing period. Fortunately, there were a few tracks from THE LETTER that were included and Warners graciously allowed us to use these for the CD.
One thing that singles out the BYU/FMA, Chelsea Rialto/SAE CD releases (and what I personally love about them) is the splendid presentation with lavish booklets and exhaustive notes detailing numerous aspects of the film and music. The booklet for SINCE YOU WENT AWAY is worth the cost of the CD in itself! I take it that presentation means a lot to you?
I am so proud of having been a part of this team. Everyone who has had a hand in putting these releases together has done so in a completely generous and collaborative manner. We’ve been blessed to have the great Rudy Behlmer write for many of our projects and Jim D’Arc has attracted several very talented writers over the years. Our designers, Leslie Gunn, Charles Johnston, and now the indefatigable Jim Titus, have all contributed unique designs for every one of our albums. Since the beginning of the BYU series and continuing with the CRS/Screen Archives projects, our aim has always been to create a full souvenir album not only of the score but of the film itself. We also, as much as possible, leave the opinions to our listeners and readers and we refrain from passing judgment on the works about which we write. SINCE YOU WENT AWAY has always been one of my very favorite Steiner scores (my wife, who loves to needle me, will hear a snatch of Max interpolating an existing tune like the Lohengrin wedding march and retort – “Hah! Must be Steiner. The Thief!”) as it is a veritable cornucopia (accent on the corn!??) of melodies and emotions. Probably my favorite album that we’ve produced is Alfred Newman’s WILSON, just because it was such a mammoth score and a real musical jigsaw puzzle, but an incredible roller coaster of Americana. I’m a shameless flag-waver.
I imagine that Craig Spaulding is hugely instrumental in getting these CDs produced. Apart from distribution through Screen Archives Entertainment what is his involvement?
Well, to begin with, MONEY! Fortunately, Craig is as passionate as he is astute and his successful business has allowed him to finance these not-inexpensive projects (the CRS/Screen Archives series). Craig usually handles most of the back-and-forth with the designer. He handles all of the production traffic. On the BYU-funded series, Jim D’Arc coordinates the writing and gives final approval to all elements. The toughest part for the CRS/Screen Archives series is the licensing. Craig and I are both on the east coast. While much is done by email and phone, I think we’re missing more than a step by not having a body in California. Our guardian angel on the west coast has been Pat Russ, a very talented musician in his own right who has shepherded the entire Tiomkin series for us. Mrs. Tiomkin has been simply grand and we hope we’ve justified her faith in allowing us to present the Maestro’s music as we have.
There’s a lot of suggestion on film music forums that CDs of scores from Hollywood’s Golden Age are becoming more and more difficult to find a market. Do you find that sales have declined in recent years and why is that?
Sadly, this is true. As fans of older films go to their reward, they leave in their wake younger buyers whose musical tastes simply don’t extend to the composers of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. The industry (we faithful few) has adjusted to this by doing limited issue releases. But, frankly, this doesn’t reduce the upfront cost by much so we’ll keep peddling until the river runs dry (that’s something Max might have come up with!).
I was interested and pleased to see a comment you made recently (in respect of THOSE CALLOWAYS) that your policy is to provide a fully chronological placement of all score and source cues. Some collectors say that source music cues take them away from the listening experience but for me it’s the opposite. I’m always aware of the film when listening to a soundtrack and if a piece of source music isn’t there, or is in the wrong place, it takes me out of the listening experience! I wonder if you agree with that?
Well, I respect both views on how one wishes to listen to a score. However, most of the scores I work on are from a period when all the music was organic. Often times a composer not only wrote the thematic score, but also either composed or selected and arranged the source cues. Or he did this in collaboration with the musical director (who supervised all musical aspects of the picture). If a song was selected for a certain point in the picture, it was done for either a dramatic or musical purpose. Invariably, there would be musical fluidity – either in the key assignment or in the orchestral texture – between the score and the source cue. Regardless, the music was placed there for a very definite purpose and I choose to respect that choice and replicate the musical fabric of the film as closely as I am able to do so. One of my regrets on SINCE YOU WENT AWAY was that the overt source cues – including all of the airplane hangar dance music – were missing from the acetate collection. It is likely they were conducted by studio musical director Lou Forbes and not given to Max. Those cues contribute greatly to the musical fabric of SINCE YOU WENT AWAY. Finally, I like an album to have a beginning and an end. Like a picture. I think it is somewhat anti-climactic to hear a score and then have the source cues play on for another 15 or 30 minutes. There are a few instances where we have had post-score material. On THE FLAME AND THE ARROW I did a montage of Steiner working the orchestra. On D.O.A., I had a supplemental track of Tiomkin recording the slide whistle effect because I was damned if I was going to dub it into the score proper. In the film it was purely a visual gag and a pretty silly one at that. However, hearing Dimi work with the player was fun. And we had some alternates of “Do Not Forsake Me” on HIGH NOON, which I was glad to do as it is such a famous song and fans love to discover new versions of old favorites. But as to re-positioning source cues from the body of a score, I leave that to the listener to do with his programmable player.
Are you able to give any information on future Rialto Studio/SAE projects?
We are trying to squeeze out another Tiomkin project, but there is a lot of material missing from this one particular score. We’re still looking. And I am ever-faithful that we will be able to get off the ground with Korngold.
I wonder if by any chance the Tiomkin could be IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – which would be a “wonderful” release! It’s good to know that you are considering Korngold. The sound quality of the Rhino Korngold compilation was particularly disappointing. Presumably you would be able to considerably improve on that?
No, the Tiomkin project would actually be a pairing of two of his Harry Popkin scores, but until we sort out the materials I’d rather not tease readers with titles. As for those Korngold tracks, as I said the original film-to-tape transfers were done hurriedly. Quite frankly, now that I think about the level of noise as compared to the music, it is very possible they were transferred from negatives rather than positive prints. This would have caused the excessive noise. Today they would have been able to “flip” the exposure and have a negative behave as a positive. Regardless, it would take very careful shaping of a noise reduction algorithm to reduce the noise inherent in most of those recordings.
By the way, I’ve also mastered the last dozen or so albums produced and released by David Schecter’s Monstrous Movie Music and we have another group of CD’s in preparation right now. I believe, however, that the only title David has mentioned publicly is THE DOLL SQUAD, a wonderful bit of super agent kitzch from the 70’s with a really fun score by Nicholas Carras.
Is a new version of THE SEARCHERS still due?
Yes, definitely. We’re working from the same source materials as the original release, but the restoration is greatly improved. The entire production will be spectacular.
Can’t wait for that! Now, which were your most challenging projects?
BATTLE CRY, as mentioned earlier. THE FOUR POSTER was very difficult. There were multiple sets of disc transfers done at various times over the past three decades. Earlier transfers often had poorer fidelity but from better-condition discs, etc. SHE was a bear. Some of the discs were aluminum-based; some were later acetate re-pressings. Some of the music I had to steal from the composite soundtrack. Bringing all this into a semblance of consistent aural quality was a great challenge. Probably the most difficult was IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, which I did for La La Land. The original music tracks are gone and so I actually grabbed the score-as-dubbed from the rear channels of the 5.1 audio mix. The audio levels are very small to begin with. Add to that all the dipping for dialogue. Taking this material and making it sound halfway decent was a real leap and only partly, in my opinion, successful. But it is such a great, great score that I was very grateful La La Land decided to release it.
What do you think of the current state of film music as heard in films today?
I’m not really qualified to answer that. Usually, the smaller the film the better I like it and its score. I don’t go to the big computer-effects movies. They’re very loud. I do have some composers whose work I really enjoy such as Thomas Newman. John Morgan and Bill Stromberg are both very fine composers in their own right and I would love to see each of them do more original work. In addition to their film score recordings, Bill has done some great recordings of symphonic works by American composers, particularly Meredith Willson. How blessed we are to have these two supremely talented and devoted gentlemen championing these works.
You’re an enthusiastic 16mm film collector. What’s the rarest film in your collection and which is your favourite?
Well, I have over 2,000 features and a few thousand shorts, cartoons and trailers, but probably the rarest feature I have is the 1941 American adaptation of The Captain From Kopenick. It’s called PASSPORT TO HEAVEN, though it was never released by that title. It played briefly in 1945 as I WAS A CRIMINAL and then vanished. My favorite film is ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. It’s a perfect movie and the 8mm Castle Films abridgement was the first celluloid I ever owned. Even as a kid, watching it on WNEW, then WABC, then WOR, then WPIX, and then in Miami where I actually got to format it, uncut, for the tv station where I worked as an editor – I loved Frank Skinner’s music. Yeah, that film is no doubt responsible for all the trouble I’ve gotten into ever since!
Long may that trouble last if it results in more excellent soundtrack music! Thank you Ray for a most enlightening interview.