Article published in December 2023.

Before going underground into the Universal Music recording studios, near the Pantheon, it’s better to know the way. “Rare people come down here,” says sound engineer Jérémy Benarroch. In this labyrinth above the catacombs, the gravelly voice of Charles Aznavour, which can be heard singing in the distance, serves as a guide. A shamanic “dreamcatcher” oscillates above a console, a battery of computers and giant screens. It is here that a box set of 100 CDs is being prepared to which no other pop artist, not even Franck Sinatra, has ever had the right.

For the centenary of his birth, on May 22, Charles Aznavour is celebrated with this box set containing all his titles, in all languages. With a price of around 300 euros, it will be sold worldwide. “I accomplished this work out of passion for the work of Charles Aznavour and out of friendship for the man,” says Bruno Haye, responsible for ten years of the Aznavour catalog at the Panthéon label. For the occasion, this enthusiast came out of retirement. “I loved him so much. When he arrived at Universal Music in 2013 with 1680 masters (the original recordings from which the CDs are pressed, editor’s note), I went to see him almost every summer at his property in Mouriès near Arles to work with him. The heat was terrible and I’m more of a northern boy. He was thoughtful. He told me to immediately change into shorts and flip-flops.” And continues: “with certain artists, you have to take it slowly. With Charles, we could offer him things, he was open.” Gérard Davoust, Charles Aznavour’s publisher and his oldest friend, is very moved: “without the passion of Bruno Haye, this titanic work would never have been accomplished. Charles has 1800 titles, his work is gigantic. It’s extraordinary to have set out to find it in its entirety.”

Also read: Charles Aznavour would be 100 years old and remains more immortal than ever

The most difficult thing was to identify the recordings all over the world. “He was a real magic carpet, one shot in Osaka, another in Sofia. Each country had its favorite titles, rarely the same,” notes Bruno Haye. Finding them was real detective work as this globetrotter has sung in countless countries and languages. “We really started from nothing. With the help of expert archivists like Ayk Potukyan and sound experts, we went hunting for singles. Firstly, we reconstructed the discography with vinyls from the 1960s. It took us a year, says Bruno Haye. Once we found the song on vinyl, we had to search our digital archives for the corresponding original master. Once we were sure we had found the right version (there are sometimes six different takes on a song), we were able to consolidate the original discography. In the absence of a master, “we were forced to digitize vintage vinyl,” he explains.

At the end of November, our experts are focused on around a hundred sound corrections. “The original tapes from 1960 and 1980 which contain all the hits were used a lot. We did a lot of work restoring the sound because the mixes from the 1980s have a sound aesthetic that is no longer up to date. We took the original tapes to have the most neutral source possible and redigitized them with current technology. For sound, it’s day and night. On some records you hear sibilants and sibilants. The consonants are catchy. The hiss is amplified by the microphone and for purists, it is not very pleasant. All of this is now fixed! »

Our duo also reworked all the live performances which at the time had four twenty-minute sides. “We had a lot more content on the tapes. On some live shows, we found two to four new versions.”

Also read: Charles Aznavour would be 100 years old and remains more immortal than ever

Finally, it was necessary to check “that the 1800 titles by Charles Aznavour are in the correct order on the hundred masters that we will send to the factory to press the hundred CDs. ” Night has fallen. Bruno Haye heads to the station. At home in Perche, he will get up again at dawn to meticulously write the credits for each title. A titanic job. “My computer contains an Excel table with 120,000 boxes,” he shows, turning his screen.

On the fifth floor of the Universal Music headquarters, in the corridor of the Panthéon label, his successor Xavier Chevalier focuses on the visibility of Charles Aznavour on social networks. “Five years after his death in 2018, Charles Aznavour’s YouTube channel already has 336,000 subscribers,” he says. As he has never recorded clips, we recreate videos on different themes and universes. » Universal Music also launched an Instagram channel and entrusted the official Facebook page to its consultant Ayk Potukyan. “A Tik Tok channel is in preparation with short formats of 30 to 50 seconds. It will have to be validated by Nicolas Aznavour who represents the family, explains Xavier Chevalier. To create content, we work for example with the École des Gobelins. The students have written a screenplay about La Mamma and are going to film it in Naples. They are very honored to work for the memory of Charles Aznavour.”

For the end of year celebrations, Xavier Chavelier is releasing three CDs. The famous box set of 100 CDs should be ready by mid-January for a worldwide launch in May. If possible in harmony with the possible screening in Cannes of the biopic Monsieur Aznavour by Grand Corps Malade and Mehdi Idir with Tahar Rahim in the lead. In the process, Xavier Chevalier is preparing a project of 100 duets on CD with rarities like one with Gérard Darmon. Another idea: a CD with 100 studio and live hits. A best-of on three vinyls with a visual creation made by a big name in street art. “I would also like to reissue to celebrate its 60th anniversary, the album Que c’est sad Venise on vinyl and in Dolby Atmos. It’s a major album with titles like Hier Encore, explains this project manager. We are only at the beginning.”