I gotta say, I would have thought that mixing Philip Glass’ music into 5.1 surround sound would have been the most natural thing for creating the ultimate immersive listening experience. I mean, the music is hypnotic in stereo, so adding three more speakers would (theoretically) provide more opportunity for even greater immersion and hypnotism.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case at least in terms of what has actually made it onto the commercial market.
Years ago I was very excited to find a DVD-Audio disc of the soundtrack to Glass’ groundbreaking work with filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, Koyaanisqatsi : Life Out of Balance. That disc sounded great but proved to be a little disappointing to me personally since it didn’t really take many chances with the mix. They locked the keyboards pretty much front and center in stereo and then use the surrounds for ambiance and the occasional choral parts. That audio only surround sound disc was most effective on “The Grid” — arguably the pinnacle of the film and what many people came to associate Philip Glass music with — as fast moving images, quick cuts and time elapse footage collides in a mad mash up of life and technology. But other than that, the focus was placed on the music, not the mix, and since it was just the soundtrack you needed to rely on your mind’s eye to remember the spectacular footage from the film.
Well, me and my gleaming mind’s eye had great hopes for the recently reissued trilogy of Mr. Reggio’s films including Koyaansiqatsi (the first in the trio). For the most part, I really am very happy with the set. Released by Criterion, the collection is lovingly packaged and gorgeously restored, cleaned up in a fresh 2K transfer. It looks spectacular on my 50-inch plasma and it sounds pretty darn stunning.
I can’t really complain as it is terrific and powerful.
But I can whine a bit, can’t I?
(yeah, you knew this was coming…)
Here’s my grump: you see, the 5.1 mix, while sounding technically fine — it is lush, full bodied and warm and very much complementary to the film — is again a relatively tame immersion experience. Perhaps that was intentional, keeping the viewer’s focus on the visuals. However, I can’t help but imagine that it could have been really interesting had they given us an alternate mix option which would put you in the midst of all the instruments and voices.
I personally find that sort of experience exhilarating but I also acknowledge that it might well have proven to be too intense for many people. When you stop and considering the near psychedelic nature of the repetitive and subtly changing lines of Philip Glass’ score, having sounds ping ponging around the room while watching all those glorious hyperactive images might just be overwhelming.
Still, I would love to hear it that way…
Ah well… until Mr. Glass asks me to remix it I guess I have to be content and happy with what we have…
At this stage, the Koyaanisqatsi DVD Audio disc is about as immersive a mix as we are bound to get any time soon. I’m happy to keep that disc in my collection as well as having the new Blu-rays as it apparently was new recording — recorded at 48 kHz / 24-bit according to Philip Glass’ website — which restored much music that had to be cut for the original soundtrack release on CD.
It will be curious to hear how the other two films in the trilogy fare in the Criterion restoration set. Perhaps those later soundtracks will be more immersive … I don’t know yet.
I will let you know as I dive into watching them soon.
Stay tuned… Same Glass station.. Same Glass channel…
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.