Music Home

1 bemani.braindump

A place for me to stash notes on Bemani musicians in my quest to hunt down all the good ol' chunes in high quality.

2 CD wishlist

A public place for me to throw CDs and songs I need to track down at thriftstores or online.

3 Posts

3.1 The Second Arrangement [Miku Day 2024]

Though Gaucho runs just under 38 minutes, it's actually about as long as the rest of Steely Dan's albums. But if you poke about online, you'll eventually find a list of outtakes about as long as the album itself.

There was an accident during the recording process–the erasure of the album's final track, "The Second Arrangement". An inexperienced audio engineer was allegedly asked to ready the track for playback, and instead wiped out all but the end instrumental. The band tried to record a new version, but Walter and Donald were weird perfectionists (they replaced living, breathing drummers for half of this album with a drum machine), and they couldn't recapture the magic. The song was scrapped and an outtake from Aja was reworked to fill the space.

At the same time, the duo was exhausted from a decade of their idiosyncratic, militant recording… and substance issues. Becker in particular was at a low; a girlfriend had recently died in his apartment of a drug overdose. The strain was enough to end Steely Dan's working relationship for over a decade. Clearly once they lost a key track to the album, the idea of finishing any of the other outtakes evaporated.

Demo tapes of "The Second Arrangement" have survived and circulated for decades. In particular, there is a stripped down but clear prototype, and one that's nearly complete but deteriorated.

Flash forward forty years…

Lockdowns left us spelunking in forgotten nooks of our closets. Steely Dan audio engineer Roger Nichols had passed away about a decade earlier, and his daughter had yet to sort through and archive his ephemera. The story has been told at length elsewhere [Substack, Guardian (archive)] but I'll pass along the punchline. Nichols had taken home a cassette tape from recording "The Second Arrangement" only a day or two before the disaster, and left it untouched until his death. That cassette and a surviving "Digital Audio Track" (that no sources seem to discuss in depth, often leaving the reader wondering what DAT stands for) were professionally extracted and released to the web in mid-2023; both versions are embedded in the Substack article. Enthusiasts quickly began a restoration effort.

As far as I can tell, the most AI use on this restoration was to extract vocals from the more complete, but rougher, DAT track, to patch the missing parts of the cassette. In principle I guess this is possible for a human to do, but if you've ever futzed about with an audio file, you probably know what an uphill battle it would be.

The Second Arrangement

In short, through a flurry of tempo-matching, AI vocal filtering, and digital denoising, the groups working to recreate this song have more or less converged.

The use of AI here was up-front and minimal. The restoration is not a miracle of modern technology made by applying black magic AI to the old demos; this was only possible by combining the two newly surfaced recordings. I think this is a respectable application of AI tools… they were used to assist a human in a specific task of a complex problem, not as an electric hammer or an Oppenheimer Lock employed to push a black box project through. (And it's infinitely preferable to the flood of so-called art featuring six-fingered humanoidz and brushstroke Padographics.)

And if I had been Donald Fagen in 1979, I too would have stormed out of the studio. We may be redefining the first arrangement again, but even in this state the track is one of their best.