Friday May 12, 2023

ESB 26: Empire Strikes Back Soundtrack Restoration (Minutes 126-128 with Chris Malone)

Mastering engineer and film music restoration expert Chris Malone joins Xanthe for the season finale to talk about all things Empire Strikes Back soundtrack. We cover a ton of ground, from analog recording technology and methodology to the unique issues affecting The Empire Strikes Back releases. This episode contains many visuals, including spectogram displays that allow us to see tangible differences between various mixes.

This episode is also on YouTube: 


  • 0:00 - Hello there!
  • 5:08 - Do you have one of these Empire Strikes Back soundtrack albums?
  • 12:25 - Film music is recorded to part of the film. There wasn't always an expectation to produce a separate soundtrack album.
  • 18:04 - When, where, and how the Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back scores were recorded. Terminology: 35mm magnetic film, magnetic tape, sprockets, tape machine, magnetic oxide particles, 50Hz tone, reproducer.
  • 24:09 - Using magnetic film for synchronization. Limitations of the tape technology.
  • 33:51 - John Williams editing together multiple takes with Ken Wannberg.
  • 46:05 - What is a 24-track tape? Why does the width of tape matter?
  • 49:58 - What is a live mix, and why is it an important reference for the ESB soundtrack albums?
  • 1:02:53 - Listening to minutes 126-128 (end of the End Title music) while looking at the spectral frequency display.
  • 1:10:27 - Diagonal splices.
  • 1:23:07 - Different version of the Imperial March in the End Credits.
  • 1:37:39 - Differences between the original ESB soundtrack and the Special Edition release.
  • 1:57:37 - Comparison example: "Hyperspace" track on the 4CD and Special Edition releases. Listening for the violin presence and spatial movement of the horns and trombones.
  • 2:09:17 - More spectogram comparisons: "City in the Clouds" and last note of the "Main Title."
  • 2:21:21 - Applying the Hippocratic Oath to score restoration.
  • 2:30:00 - If something was recorded in mono, should it stay mono?
  • 2:40:31 - When it comes to restoring a film score, which sorts of recording artifacts is the engineer trying to correct?
  • 2:42:21 - Example of "wow."
  • 2:48:02 - Flutter.
  • 2:53:13 - Why Chris champions the CD as an audio format.
  • 3:01:21 - What type of gear does Chris use when listening to/analyzing music? (Question from Alex Cunningham)
  • 3:12:06 - Was the ARP 2600 synthesizer overdubbed or recorded with the orchestra for the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack? (Question from Ender Smith)
  • 3:13:58 - What has the transition to digital production done for Star Wars? (Question from Fr. David Mowry)
  • 3:18:14 - Differences between the original 1954 20th Century Fox Fanfare and the one John Williams re-recorded for ESB.
  • 3:20:28 - Eric Tomlinson's technique for recording punchy-sounding brass.
  • 3:25:02 - The original trilogy scores (especially The Empire Strikes Back) could sound 1000x better than they sound on any of the current releases. What might prevent it from happening?
  • 3:28:49 - The 2018 Disney releases of the Original Trilogy (the albums that are on Spotify).
  • 3:39:03 - SWMM Questionnaire

Things to Check Out:


  • 12M3 "Finale"

Musical Themes:

  • Imperial March (Theme)
  • Imperial March (Vamp)
  • Han & Leia (A)
  • Han & Leia (B) - Theme Form 1 (1980)

Where are we in the soundtrack?:

  • "The Rebel Fleet/End Title"


Star Wars Music Minute Questionnaire:

1. In exactly 3 words, what does Star Wars sound like?

  • Simply the best. Thematic orchestral richness. Well of richness.

2. What's something related to Star Wars music or sound that you want to learn more about?

  • Everything there is to learn about the first three scores (1977, 1980, 1983). How did they get to where they got? What were the spotting sessions like? What were the internal memos like?

3. What's a score or soundtrack you're fond of besides anything Star Wars?

  • Goldfinger (John Barry). The Lion in Winter (John Barry). Out of Africa (John Barry). Early James Bond scores by John Barry. Raiders of the Lost Ark by John Williams.


Chris Malone:


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