Steve Albini Discusses the Remastering Process for ‘In Utero’

It’s hard for many of us to believe that Nirvana’s third album, In Utero, is 20 years old now. The two-decade anniversary came in mid-September, and is celebrated by a new reissue – a 20th anniversary special edition containing remasters, remixes, bonus tracks and a live album.Nirvana remastered

Steve Albini recorded and mixed the album, though a few songs were later remixed before the album was released, and the turbulent history of the album between recording and release has been well-documented. But Albini was brought on again for the new anniversary release, where he not only remastered the album but also worked with the surviving band members to remix the album, now known as the “2013 mix.”

Bassist Krist Novoselic said the remixes just allowed the group to work with the songs to help them “breathe a little better” than the originals.

“There’s been a lot written and said about that record, so the best thing about working with Steve again was just rearranging it a little bit,”’ he told The Age. But when Albini discussed the new version with Chicagoist.com, he focused on the remastering process for the new version, which for obvious reasons caught our attention.

He started by stating that the label had little involvement in the remastering process, and hinted that this was an improvement over the first time he was involved with the record. Though the history of the album has been discussed extensively, the difference between fact and speculation sometimes gets a bit murky. Albini mentions it briefly:

To be honest, the people who gave me a hard time on the initial release of that record were not in the band. I never had any real beef with the band, so it was totally comfortable working on that material again with Krist, Dave [Grohl], and Pat [Smear]… Mercifully, the participation of the record label this time was purely advisory.

But what he goes in-depth on is the remastering process, particularly how today’s process differed from the original version.

The 1993 version of the record was somewhat constrained by the mastering technology of the time. Digital mastering was in its infancy then, so there were a lot of presumptions made about how you should approach a CD that proved incorrect over time. The CD master was made with certain sonic characteristics in mind that were probably standard practice at the time, but in the long term turned out to be not beneficial.

Albini also spoke about the vinyl remaster, saying that the new edition was remastered on copper discs for higher fidelity and provide improved “overall volume, perceived sound quality, bass response, dynamic range, and things like that.” He also speaks of why the band decided to release the vinyl version as four 12-inch, 45 RPM sides rather than two 33 RPM sides.

They decided to make it as a double 12-inch 45 rather than a single LP record. That’s an extraordinary step. It’s not commonly done, and it would be nice if it were done more often because it is a really terrific format for sound quality.

The additional physical space on each of the four sides allows a better mastering process which retains more of the recorded material. Lastly, he says that the remasters were made from the original master tapes, an unusual step today when digital masters are typically used. But he says all of these steps make a fine finished process.

I can say that if you get the new deluxe edition double 12-inch 45 vinyl version of Nirvana’s In Utero that is as good as records can be made.