Quadraphonic Over-Nite Sensation & Apostrophe ('): An Inquiry & Exploration
By the Duke of Prunes
It's weird that the quad releases of Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe (') have not been thoroughly analyzed before now. We leap all over the alternate mix of "The Idiot Bastard Son" on Mothermania; the missing guitar lines on the CD remix of "We Are Not Alone" (Man from Utopia); and, for God's sake, the alternative segues on the vinyl release of Guitar - why not quad?
At the Zappa Patio, one informant has said that
On the other hand, another writes:
Faced with opposing viewpoints, it's natural to ask - is the quad mix any good?
The mystery surrounding the 1995 CD release of Apostrophe (') makes this question even more pressing. Last year, as I just started to peel the quadraphonic onion, I pointed out that the quad mix of "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" has an extra instrumental bar between "Dreamed I was an Eskimo" and "Frozen wind began to blow" (as compared to the vinyl release, replicated on the Au20 CD and the "1998 CD"). The 1995 CD has this same bar. David Goodwin has hypothesized that the 1995 CD is actually a stereo mixdown of the quad mix. Is this true?
Questions like these launch great quests. So does insane completism. I believe this article to be the very first in-depth exploration of the quad Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe ('). My aim is to answer these two simple questions:
To summarize for those that don't want to read any further, the answers are:
She Said Her Stereo Was Four-Way
The key reason we don't know more about Zappa's quad albums is they were designed for a system that died over twenty years ago. From what I've been able to gather, quad died because
A brief lesson: the two main quadraphonic formats (although there were others) were SQ and CD-4. SQ used standard records with some witchy "matrixed" information hidden in the grooves. An SQ receiver could decode the matrix and output something close to (but not quite) four unique channels of music. It could also perform the same trick on standard stereo records, with interesting effects.
On the other hand, CD-4 records had special, deep grooves with high-frequency carrier signal etched into the sides. Playback of CD-4 records required a demodulator that would turn the high-frequency information into two musical channels that were truly discrete from the stereo channels. (Playing these records without the demodulator was apparently good for wigging out your dog.) You also needed a particular stylus (the "nude Shibata") was shaped to read the deep grooves ... and a protractor to align the stylus, or you couldn't pick up the carrier signal ... (makes you happy CDs came along, eh?)
So one was stuck with "sort-of" quad that was easy to set up, or good quad that was impossible to, and record companies releasing records in competing incompatible formats. And thus the music industry managed to kill quad before the '80s really got underway.
The return of quad had almost nothing to do with the music, but everything to do with film. The advent of the DVD followed a period in which the sound quality of theatrical movies had improved dramatically and coincided with a need by the consumer electronics industry to find the next big consumer gizmo. Home theater was the answer, with true multichannel sound (DTS or Dolby AC-3), just like in the movie theatres, and the DVD was the killer app.
Ironically, the music industry has trailed behind - and instead of just releasing multichannel albums on DVD, they're launching their own, only semi-compatible, format: DVD-Audio. Bald-Headed John's doing his best to kill quad again ...
The Quadraphonic Underground
The quad Zappa albums were released in CD-4. The good news: they're true "discrete quad" (and on DiscReet Records, which is probably no coincidence). [1.5] The bad news: getting the hardware together to play CD-4 right is a pain in the ass.
The good news: there's a thriving quad underground out there. Some of the more useful quad resources I've found on the web are Tab Patterson's page, Obopp's page, and the deja.com Quadraphonics forum . As far as I can tell, there is almost zero crossover between the Zappa underground and the quad underground - there appears to be no discussion or awareness of Zappa's quad output, while Harry Nilsson's name comes up with some frequency.
The quad underground sweeps used quad records off of eBay. It collects musty CD-4 demodulators and SQ receivers. It ferrets out styli that work with quad, even if not rated as such. And, it has been quietly transferring quadraphonic albums to CD. An SQ album burned onto CD-R will retain the information that an SQ receiver decodes into multiple channels. Transferring a CD-4 album to CD-R is more complicated. You can encode the album in the multichannel DTS format and play it back on a conventional CD player through a DTS-compatible receiver. If you do this - true multichannel sound. (If the receiver doesn't do DTS, all the CD will play is white noise. Interesting, but somewhat less engaging.)
My descent into the quad underground started with the purchase of the quad Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe (') on eBay for stupid amounts of money (which were, however, no more than I paid for my battered copy of Jeff Simmons's Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up). After I scooped up a Panasonic SE-405 CD-4 demodulator, I discovered just how much more hardware I would need to get my vinyl to sing in four-way. There had to be a better way.
When I discovered that Tab Patterson, for a nominal fee, would burn me a DTS CD-R of the albums, and that I could play these back through my DTS-compatible receiver, it was the obvious choice. I mailed the albums to Texas and a couple of weeks later, I had the quad CD in my eager little hands. 
The Inquiry: Versions vs Versions
The inquiry was whether there are any musical differences between the quad and standard releases of the two albums. Since there are well-known variances between the various Apostrophe (') CD releases, track lengths could be a first indication of which version, if any, the quad is derived from.
I compared my CD-R of the quad albums with the 1995 release of Over-Nite Sensation, the 1995 Apostrophe ('), and the Au20 Apostrophe ('). The track lengths below were calculated by Winamp [sound-player software]; differences of two seconds or more between releases are bold-faced and colour-coded.
The mastering of the quad CD looks pretty accurate, since the majority of the tracks approximate the length of the Ryko CD tracks. On Over-Nite Sensation, only "Dinah-Moe Humm" has a significant timing variance. Upon closer listening, there appear to be no musical or edit differences between the quad Over-Nite Sensation and the 1995 Ryko CD.
The Apostrophe (') situation is much more complicated - the timing variances are widespread, even between the two Ryko CDs. Comparing the well-documented sonic "fingerprints" of the Ryko releases with the quad CD yields interesting results:
By the preponderance of evidence, we conclude that the 1995 Apostrophe (') is a variant of the quad edit.  Upon closer listening, there is one odd difference between the quad and the 1995 CD: the 1995 CD has a slight echo on many of Zappa's vocals (such as "Nanook Rubs It") that are dead in the quad release. Evidence of some additional tampering prior to the CD release?
If the 1995 CD is simply a stereo master of the quad edit, it may explain (for instance) the thickness of the 1995 release of "Uncle Remus" versus the Au20/vinyl release - if it was originally mixed for quad, details such as the backing vocalists could be more prominent without crowding the mix. But there remain questions that will probably never be answered:
The Exploration: A Vigorous Circular Motion
The exploration was undertaken to catalog how Zappa made use of quadraphonic sound in the quad releases. A close read of their reports reveals that neither of the previous quadraphonic informants had a real familiarity with the quad releases. One described the quad Apostrophe (') as a matrixed SQ recording, when it is in fact true CD-4. Another claimed that the quad isn't a true Zappa remix, but the differences in the edit prove that Zappa had some hand in the release.
The home theatre system I did my listening on was jury-rigged out of my main stereo speakers (front) and two speakers which I temporarily borrowed from another room in the house (rear). One of these back speakers was partially blown [!], so my results are not perfect. Furthermore, the following are very subjective observations that could depend very much on the sound balance and some of which on the mental state of the listener. I make no representation that they are comprehensive.
Overall, Zappa's quad mixes are not particularly imaginative. The most prominent quad effects - the echoes and sound effects that ping-pong around the speakers - are cheap shots. That said, he does a nice job in certain pieces - notably "Fifty-Fifty" and "Apostrophe (')" - of using the additional ambience to draw out complicated instrumental interplay.
This should lay to rest once and for all the question of whether these albums are "true quad" - they are - and whether they belong on the Completist's List - they do (although they can remain on the Insane-Completists-Who-Have-Home-Theatre-Systems List).
Do you remember your first encounter with Conceptual Continuity?
 The "Cosmik Debris" and "Stink-Foot" timing differences do not reflect different edits, but rather that each track is at the end of an album side and different choices were made on how much silence to include. The quad "Apostrophe (')" timing difference may be due to a different index point decision - note that the quad "Excentrifugal Forz" is a second shorter. It also does not reflect a different edit.
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