Before I get going into my review, I have a few encouraging words to offer you, Dear Readers of Audiophilereview dot com, when approaching the 5.1 surround sound mix of Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans as created by the great Steven Wilson.
It is a phrase which sometimes comes up in the universe of film and live theater: "suspension of disbelief."
When listening to a phantasmagorical recording of this nature, I think it would be wise to not expect anything remotely related to a real world live soundstage experience. If you want that, you'd be best served getting a nice classical performance by the likes of Michael Tilson Thomas and The San Francisco Symphony on SACD or perhaps just listen to the fine new Stereo remix of Tales From Topographic Oceans which I reviewed recently here on Audiophilereview.com at this link. (http://audiophilereview.com/audiophile-music/yes-tales-20-part-1.html)
However, if you're open minded enough to want to go along with Mr. Wilson's flow, then you will have a grande time journeying these progressive seas of intensely spirited recordings.
"Sail away among your dreams..."
In general the 5.1 mixes of Tales From Topographic Oceans offer the listener a wonderful new perspective on this music, with an increased sense of dynamics cast upon each of the individual instruments without losing the essence of the original recording and album concept. Everything is newly mixed from the original 24-track multi-channel tapes in 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution with no additional compression. The 5.1 mixes are available in DTS HD Master Audio and LPCM formats.
Additionally, we get the bonus of hearing more of the instrumentation which was previously buried in the mix (for reasons unknown - - the original 1973 recordings are what they are, a fine document of the moment-in-time as captured by the great producer and audio engineer, Eddie Offord).
"Change we must as surely time does..."
Contrary to popular belief, this new 5.1 mix presents more affirmation that Yes was in fact operating very much as a unit despite the challenges inherent in making this recording. Even guitarist Steve Howe admits in the liner notes that the band was going into uncharted territory at this time: "It was a time of spreading our wings, a wonderful project where we went to the end of the Earth to do it. There was often a feeling that disaster was almost about to strike as we were making it, but we got there in the end."
Drummer Alan White agrees: "The band wanted to make a statement worldwide. It was very exciting because the band was very vibrant."
The net result is a multi-dimensional snapshot of a group firing with all cylinders on trying to achieve something a bit different than what they'd done before....
"And I heard a million voices singing..."
In "The Remembering (High The Memory)," the symphonic nature of Tales From Topographic Oceans comes into greater focus via this new 5.1 mix, especially with the newly revealed keyboard parts played by Rick Wakeman... At the very end of this movement, it sounds almost like a choir is in there singing, combined with perhaps additional little guitar parts brought out in the mix, delivering the sensation of an orchestra reaching an electrifying zenith.
In "The Ancient," crucial lyrics clue the listener of things to come:
"Attuned to the majesty of music, they marched as one with the earth..."
There, the work proceeds into a grand march reminiscent of no less than Rimsky-Korsakov or Ravel before moving into a sequence which contains some of the most maniac, challenging music the band has made. Of course, that is just my opinion -- I have met others who have found this sequence to be boring as it features a lot of drums which some view as filler. I don't. Perhaps, with this new 5.1 mix they will reconsider the music they may have missed. Chris Squire's quirky funky bass lines which were somewhat downplayed on the original mix are much more prominent now. Mad guitar leads cascade the listener. Alan White's propulsive drumming here goes a long way to establish his prowess in the shadows of original Yes drummer Bill Bruford, whom he replaced.
And then, gorgeous acoustic classical guitar sequences of peace and harmony ensue.
Steven Wilson has to be applauded for his dramatic and periodic use of the front and rear surrounds to create an impactful sense of concert hall time delay in this new 5.1 surround sound mix.
This was never more apparent that on the very beginning of the final movement called "Ritual" where the echo slam of the band's massive, punctuated opening chord-crash sweeps over you like a wave, ending up in the rear channel speakers, almost as if you were sitting dead center during a soundcheck in a huge empty stadium.
"What happened to this song, we once knew so well..."