The Score (Out of 5.1)
Overall Rating: 4.4
Technical Achievement: 4.6
Is it possible to take an enormously successful recording and bring it to a new and even higher emotional level artistically by the virtue of a 5.1 remix? Some might say that trying to polish a finished diamond is the folly of madmen. Mad though it may be, Rob Jacobs and the people at DTS have managed to do just that with this remix of Don Henley’s 1989 The End Of The Innocence.
Transferred from the original analog 2-inch to digital tape and remixed on an SSL 9000J using some of the original automation data, this project is a example of what kind of great things can be accomplished when things go right. Special attention was taken in the transfer from analog to digital, with DB Technologies A to D converters used for transfer to Genex in both 96/24 and 88.2/24 formats, with the 96/24 version archived for future release, thus ensuring this music’s survival well into the new millennia.
From the opening chord, you can’t help but be struck by the emotional power of Henley’s music. The 5.1 mix of the title track (also encoded in DTS-ES 6.1, which, unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to hear) embraces you with a ethereal string patch. The added clarity of Henley’s voice is joined by bass drum, bass and hand claps in the center speaker, and there’s a gentle side-to-side motion in the rears with percussion parts. “How Bad Do You Want It?” – a more raucous track – features an overly ambient drum intro that shakes the house via the sub and guitar chords that seem to be coming from above your head. The mix is fleshed out with background vocals spread in the rears as well as two distinct guitar parts panned rear left and rear right. The panned front left and right power guitar chords on “I Will Not Go Quietly” are simply awesome; you actually feel like you’re inside the sound hole of the acoustic guitar that fills the room via both pairs of front and rear speakers. Further evidence that these guys had fun with this remix is provided by the playful positioning of sounds, such as the gorgeous acoustic guitar on “The Last Worthless Evening,” which is successfully phantom centered between the front left and rear left speakers – no easy task, according to the psychoacoustics experts.
An enveloping background vocal and superb acoustic guitar sounds – especially in “If Dirt Were Dollars” – typify this CD. Turn out the lights while listening to “New York Minute” and allow this depressing melodrama to unfold before you in surround sound; the string swells in the intro are especially ominous. Percussion fades up slowly in the rears for the beginning of “Shangra La” and once again the acoustic guitars are nothing short of pristine. Upbeat reggae guitar chords are placed in the rears for “Little Tin God,” a sarcastic look at organized religion. The album ends as it began with the moderate tempo tear jerker, “The Heart Of The Matter” – another powerful mix with an excellent large drum sound spread out over the entire surround soundfield.
The sweet spot for this 5.1 release is unusually large throughout, due to its lavish washes of vocals and guitars, with reverbs and delays in the surrounds. My only real complaint is that bass and drums (as well as a low-level dry lead vocal) are placed in the center channel throughout the entire CD – a potential problem since a lot of home systems have an inadequate center speaker. But, overall, The End Of The Innocence
is a home run for DTS and Rob Jacobs (incredibly, this was his first mix in surround), as well as a songwriting tour de force for Mr. Henley, who, like only a handful of artists, reminds us that popular music can also be a thinking person’s music.
The repurposing of nostalgia during our own lifetime is something new, and projects like this can play an important role in further integrating surround sound into our collective consciousness, making us wonder how we ever lived without it. Highly recommended. -David Olivier
This Is Spinal Tap (DVD)
The Score (Out of 5.1)
Overall Rating:11 (what else?)
Technical Achievement: 4.1
Is there anyone even remotely connected with the music industry that hasn’t seen This Is Spinal Tap – and quoted lines from it – at least once? Methinks not. Using the original source material from the 2-inch 16-track analog masters, the audio of this classic in-joke movie was restored and computer-enhanced by John Blum (using the proprietary Chace Surround Stereo Box) before being carefully mixed by Mark Rozett. The resultant 5.1 soundtrack disproves once and for all the Tap-ish wisdom that “you can’t do heavy metal in Dobly” – or even Dobly Digital, presumably.
The very opening of the DVD sets the tone for all that is to follow, as the disembodied voices of David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and Derek Smalls (Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer, respectively) debate the merits of the opening sequence, in which the Tap logo flies overhead before spinning off into the distance, only to end up being too small against a Smell The Glove-ish plain black background (“pastel black,” Tufnel sagely observes). While this opening scene (and all of the “extras,” which include promo materials, a droll commentary track, and extensive outtakes) is matrixed, all that follows is discrete 5.1, even though there is a heavy emphasis on the center channel throughout, which not only carries all dialog, but a good deal of musical content.
Even the first few seconds of the movie proper – where the roar of the famous MGM lion is panned front-rear with a delay line – provides a glimpse of the sonic creativity and sense of fun that is all-pervasive here. Following the introduction by “director” Marty deBergi (Rob Reiner), the excitement of the first onscreen gig is heralded by an extended drum intro, with an insistent four-on-the-floor kick drum panned dry in the center channel and wet in the rear left channel, overlaid with a broad stereo spread of tom fills, placed dry in the front left/right wall and wet in the rear right. This leads straight into the musical number “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You,” which provides the first tantalizing glimpse into an interesting 5.1 mix strategy, with the bass predominantly placed in the rear channels (augmented by the center channel so as to bring it into the middle of the surround space), while all the other instruments are spread in the front left and right channels and lead vocal placed in the center channel (along with the bass support and a little bit of drums, as well as, occasionally, other featured instruments).
The ponderous and aptly named “Big Bottom” features three bass guitars, plus low-end synth drones and stabs underpinned by kick drum and floor toms. Rozett’s creative solution to this potential mixing nightmare was to heed Shearer’s admonition to “lard it on” by placing one bass in the center speaker, another phantom-centered between front left and right, and the third phantom centered in the rears; all drums are front left and right, vocals are in the center channel, and various synth parts are distributed amongst the five main channels, with just about everything supplemented nicely by the subwoofer. Odd to describe, but it works.
The surround soundfield is put to good use during the brief soundcheck that precedes the prog rock spoof “Rock’n’Roll Creation.” With the center channel carrying a mix of just about everything, the front left and right channels are given ambient guitars (to great effect, there are no close-miked guitar sounds; presumably the FOH mixer hadn’t lifted those faders yet) while the rears contribute the kind of horrible midrangey backwash that only a thoroughly empty theater can provide. When St. Hubbins’s predatory girlfriend Jeanine announces her presence from the FOH talkback mic, her voice is panned well to the rear, inducing a bit of the Exit Sign syndrome that Tom Holman has described in his lectures and writings – but, for once, to good effect. When the concert itself begins – the hilarious “Pod” scene that finds Smalls trapped helplessly in his plexiglass shell until the very last note of the song – various keyboard sequences fly around the four main speakers while the bass is once again placed prominently in the rears, supplemented by the center channel, which also carries guitars, drums, and lead vocal, all of which are also spread nicely in the front left/right channels.
Sonic ambience is a key factor throughout the movie as we accompany Tap through a variety of backstage and onstage areas, from the trendy tour kickoff cocktail party (complete with mime waiters), to the basement of the theater in Cleveland where they get hopelessly lost in their search for the stage door, to a cheerless airport waiting lounge, to the empty hangar of a disastrous Air Force base gig (the RF interference to Tufnel’s wireless rig is panned loudly and exclusively to the rear channels, where it cannot possibly escape the listener’s attention), to the dismal dressing room they share with a puppet show at Themeland Amusement Park. In each of these instances, the rear channels – and sometimes even the subwoofer – are used to great effect to convey the dreariness of the non-glamorous side of rock ‘n’ roll.
Interestingly, the track “Heavy Duty” receives an extremely conventional concert surround mix – vocal, dry bass, and some lead guitar in the center channel, all other instruments spread across the front channels, and backwall ambience only in the rear channels – and suffers by comparison. Ditto for the reprise of “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You,” which doesn’t have the impact of the first rendition despite its numerous subwoofer-rattling explosions (including the spontaneous onstage combustion of Tap’s ill-fated drummer). There is, however, an exciting moment when a reunited Tufnel hits the stage to an adoring roar from the crowd panned to the rear channels, making you feel like you’re part of the audience.
One of the funniest scenes in the movie is also the musical highlight, as the band’s goofily spooky “Stonehenge” production number is unveiled. Tufnel’s overdramatic spoken introduction – literary pretension delivered with a Cockney accent – is given the full surround treatment, with the dry voice and delays placed in the center channel, early reflections panned front left/right, and longer ambient returns sent to the rear channels. As the infamous 18-inch prop is lowered onstage amidst smoke and dancing dwarves, the band gallantly plays on, the sound of mandolin, synth flute, and other instruments blending expertly with the dismayed reaction of band and audience alike – a classic moment given a classic surround treatment. In the immortal words of David St. Hubbins, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” This Is Spinal Tap – including, most assuredly, its 5.1 mix – succeeds in walking that line brilliantly. This is one DVD that you can’t not own. -Howard Massey
bio:Listening chain: Panasonic DVD-T2000 DVD player; Lexicon DC-2 preamp/decoder; Yamaha 02R digital console with Apogee AP8AD and AP8DA converters; Genelec 1029A monitors with Genelec 1092A and 1091A subwoofers.