Introducing one of the world’s leading high sound quality record labels: “Yarlung Records”
Taku Kurosawa interviews Yarlung’s Bob Attiyeh for e-onkyo Music, April 1st, 2016
translated from the Japanese by Mika Sasaki
Yarlung Records is a label based in Los Angeles (in the United States) which has received extremely high recognition for its producing and recording work, primarily in classical music. Cellist Antonio Lysy’s album, “Antonio Lysy at the Broad Music from Argentina,” – which included a commission from Lalo Schifrin, among others – received the 11th Latin Grammy Award in 2013.
For this article, we interviewed Mr. Bob Attiyeh, who represents Yarlung Records as the executive director, producer and recording engineer. We asked him about the characteristics, goals, recording equipment, musical goals, and any recommendations for albums that might be of interest to our readers.
− What are some characteristics of Yarlung products? Are there any policies and values which you can share with us?
Yarlung is a boutique audiophile label using minimalist recording techniques. This means we use two mono microphones or one stereo microphone for most of our recordings. This allows us to avoid using a mixer and we record directly to high-resolution digital and analog tape from our microphone preamplifier. While it is not a “policy” to record with only two channels, it is our preference. This means that our recordings have an intimate very direct quality to the sound.
While some of our musicians are world famous artists, others are young musicians who are just starting their international concert careers. Petteri Iivonen is a Finnish violinist with whom we worked to create his debut album a few years ago. Petteri just performed the Sibelius violin concerto on tour with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra to very positive reviews in Matsumoto Harmony Hall and the Tokyo opera house. This was Petteri’s first concert tour in Japan. He was not known as a concert performer in Japan before this, but thanks to his recordings, and thanks to e-Onkyo’s excellent distribution, the Japanese audience did know who Petteri was, and this helped his concerts be a great success.
Yarlung’s mission, as much as possible, is to use our recordings to support our musicians’ success on the concert stage.
− Please tell us who (engineer) is responsible for recording, mixing, and mastering process at your label.
Bob Attiyeh is the main recording engineer at Yarlung Records. Steve Hoffman is our mastering engineer and Bernie Grundman is our vinyl mastering engineer. Because we record only two tracks as much as possible, we don’t usually do any mixing. However on a recent recording project with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (coming out next September) the Dutch engineer Arian Jansen from SonoruS Audio did the multi-channel mix to two tracks with me.
− Please tell us about recording, mixing, and mastering tools that you use at your music productions.
We use mostly AKG and Neumann microphones for our recordings and record directly to high resolution digital recorders and to the SonoruS ATR-12 analog tape recorder. The high resolution digital recorders enable us to make high resolution masters to distribute and our analog tape enables us to release 180-gram vinyl. For the recent James Matheson violin concerto with Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording we discussed above, we used the SonoruS Holographic Imaging processer to create the mix and mastering.
−Which recording spec do you use? 96kHz/24bit or…?
For digital, we record 174/24 bit and for analog tape we use the CCIR (or IEC) curve at 38 centimeters per second on Agfa formula 468 tape.
− Are there any secret or techniques that you can share, which maintains superb quality at your music productions?
Yarlung Records has no secrets. What I do know is that thanks to our terrific relationship with our distributors around the world, we are able to take the time to get recordings right before their release. Sometimes we have delayed a release in order to get the sound right. In the case of vinyl, for example, sometimes we have to cut a vinyl record several times before it is good enough. One album, one of our most successful, took FIVE times for Bernie Grundman and I to cut the lacquers before the sound was what we wanted.
Furthermore, we are extremely fortunate with resources available to us. As record labels struggle to stay alive, some of the most talented engineers in the world have chosen to work with us to make sure we succeed. Bernie Grundman, Steve Hoffman, Arian Jansen, Elliot Midwood are some of the titans in the music industry and they work with us to make sure we do the best job we can possibly do.
Pressing plants in Germany may be more expensive than pressing plants in the United States or other countries, but the quality is very high and the entire team cares about our products even though we are a small record label. This help, from much larger companies, enables us to thrive and keep our customers happy.
Some of our equipment is vintage (our microphones for example come from the 1950-70s) and some of our equipment is brand new. Arian Jansen designed and built the vacuum tube ATR-12 SonoruS analog tape recorder for Yarlung specifically, to our specifications. Elliot Midwood has designed our vacuum-tube based microphone preamplifiers especially for us. We also own analog-to-digital converters from Merging Technologies in Switzerland. Using the best equipment in the world helps tremendously when one records in a minimalist way, using as few components as possible. The fewer pieces of equipment one uses for a recording, the better those pieces of equipment must be to ensure the best sound. We design our interconnects. And we use power cords from Aural Symphonics and Genesis Advanced Technologies (both of which are widely known in Japan).
And finally, we record in concert halls, not in recording studios. This enables us to capture natural timbres and ambience in the spaces, so we don’t have to do very much in postproduction. And our musicians prepare very carefully for our recording sessions so that we can record complete movements in one take. This means that the musical intent in our recordings is as the musicians intend, rather than what I as an engineer could surgically create in postproduction. We want Yarlung recordings to be in sound what a clean window is for sight. Like looking at a beautiful view through a clear window, we want the listener to hear living breathing performers making music for them in their listening rooms. We want Yarlung to disappear when you hear our music, leaving you and the musicians in direct communication. This is our goal.
− Selecting from your product, please give us two to three items that you strongly recommend.
Given Petteri Iivonen’s recent successes in Japan, I would like to recommend his second album, Art of the Sonata. Favorites in Japan have been Smoke & Mirrors: Vanish (which includes the Takemitsu percussion concerto), Janaki String Trio, and Dialoghi (which includes Mayuzumi’s Bunraku).
− Please give messages to Japanese audiophiles and music fans.
American recording engineers have tremendous respect for the genius technical and recording ability in your country. So many of the world’s greatest recordings came from Japan and from Japanese recording teams, across all musical genres. Here are just a few examples: Sarah Vaughan’s 1973 album Live in Japan, Hélène Grimaud’s debut album with Denon, Oscar Peterson’s Japanese recordings, and of course the legendary XRCD created by Akira Taguchi and the finest vinyl pressing plants the world has ever known.
We look forward to more Yarlung musicians receiving the warm welcome from Japanese listeners recently given to our Finnish violinist Petteri Iivonen. Thank you for being such ardent admirers and supporters of the recording and performing arts. Yarlung’s advisor Michala Petri gave some of her favorite performances for Japanese audiences. My parents were living in Shukugawa near Osaka at the time, and during one visit I remember a special concert I attended in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall in the 1990s: Hermann Prey came to Japan on tour with Schubert’s Winterreise. It was clear that many people in the audience knew Winterreise by heart, in German. Not even in Germany does this happen. We were impressed and it was a magical performance I will never forget. Thank you for keeping the best in the classical arts alive.