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James Guthrie - March 2003 - Ice Magazine Print E-mail

From the ICE Magazine daily news digest, 17th and 18th March 2003.

Next week, on March 25, EMI/Capitol worldwide will release the highly anticipated SACD/5.1 Surround Sound version of one of the most popular albums in the history of rock music - and one of the most sonically progressive, as well - Pink Floyd’s 1973 classic, The Dark Side of the Moon. (The English release is actually said to be the following Monday, March 31.)

ICE reached out to the special reissue’s producer, James Guthrie, who has pretty much produced all things Floyd for the last two decades. We spoke with Guthrie about the new Dark Side, but unfortunately, didn’t reach him in time to make the deadline for our April issue (which just mailed this past weekend). Therefore, today’s and tomorrow’s Daily News Flash will be the only place that we run Guthrie’s exclusive comments to ICE about this tantalizing release, told to us in a phone call at the very end of last week.

"It’s a hybrid SACD," Guthrie starts by explaining, "so it’s got a redbook layer, which plays in all conventional CD players with a high-resolution remaster of the original stereo mix, and it has a brand new 5.1 mix."

Naturally, we zeroed right in on the 5.1 surround-sound experience, given the sonic nature of Dark Side. "It was a lot of fun," Guthrie says, "but a very tricky one to do, one of the hardest ones I’ve ever done. Not musically, because it lends itself to that sort of treatment. But because everybody knows this album so well, they’re so married to the original mix, we’ve all lived with it for 30 years... some people don’t want anything changed. So I had to be very careful to use the original stereo mix as a model, to make sure we retained the original emotional impact. And hopefully, we’ve done that; certainly the band is very enthusiastic about it, and they’ve all signed off on it now."

We asked Guthrie if anything now "circles around" the listener in the surround-sound experience. "Yes, although I’ve tried to keep it as musical as possible, rather than turning it into a video game," he says. "When certain things pan, like laughing voices and certain synths, they absolutely move around you, like in ‘On the Run’ and the bits between ‘Brain Damage’ and ‘Eclipse.’ I’ve used a fair amount of movement, but I’ve tried to always do it in a very musical way, so that it doesn’t become a novelty.

"It was also interesting because we awoke a 30-year-old argument," Guthrie adds, laughing. "All the speaking voices... since this was a conceptual work, we decided that I should mix the entire thing, and then sit down with the individual members and play it for them to get their input. I wasn’t around for the original sessions [in the early ’70s], so I didn’t realize there had been this argument. So suddenly, one of them is telling me, ‘Make the voices louder and more intelligible,’ and the other one’s saying, ‘They’re too loud, make them more echo-y and hide them, so they’re more mysterious.’ Then I found out that this was an argument that Roger [Waters] and Dave [Gilmour] were having 30 years ago! So in the same way that Chris Thomas did, who was brought in to supervise the mixing [in 1973] and was the referee then and found a compromise... I had to do the same thing again now."

That’s all for today; Guthrie returns tomorrow to talk about one tiny bit of new music that sneaked its way onto the new Dark Side disc, and how the new CD also has some of the album’s elements taken from the first-generation master tape for the first time ever.


Greetings; today we pick up Part 2 of our chat with Pink Floyd producer James Guthrie, regarding EMI/Capitol’s SACD/5.1 Surround Sound version of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

We asked Guthrie if any new musical tidbits had found their way into the 5.1 mix. "I tried to keep the musical content the same," he tells ICE, "because that is something we’re all so used to... but like with any multi-track recording, there are elements on the tapes that were not used in the mix; those are choices you make when mixing. So inevitably, there might be another keyboard part or a different guitar solo... something that wasn’t used. So I had to be very careful. The only bit I added... and it’s a really tiny piece... is a tiny little piece of guitar. Dave was doing all these backward guitar bits in ‘On the Run’... and there was a tiny little bit that they didn’t use which I thought was really cool, so I stuck it in, played it for them all and they said, ‘Yeah, great.’"

Something like that pretty much has to be an artist’s call, right? "Well I think it is, because at that point it becomes a slightly different record... not that that’s a bad thing. I discussed it with the guys... should we leave things their original length or should we put cool, little additional bits in... and we all agreed that really, for the most part, it should represent the original work. And just have this much larger sound stage and a whole new sonic dimension.

"I did something else, just to make this a little more special: Dave told me that earlier generation multi-track tapes existed for every song. As soon as I heard that, I thought, ‘Well, OK, we have to use those.’" Guthrie then went into a detailed, technical explanation about dubbing down individual sound elements on multi-track tapes to allow the artist greater flexibility in the studio, as The Beatles had done on Sgt. Pepper. He closed the thought by saying, "And we succeeded... I managed to go back a generation and synchronize those tapes. So a lot of the elements now are first generation, whereas on the original album they’re at least second, if not third.

"And you can really hear it... it sounds more clear and open, there’s less distortion on the vocals, they’re clearer, there’s more depth... in the song ‘Money,’ in the sax solo, Nick [Mason, drummer] goes to the ride cymbal, and he’s doing this cool sort of ride groove... and on the original, you hardly even hear that; now you can actually hear him doing this thing on the ride cymbal. So stuff like that, little details that people will hopefully appreciate."

As for the redbook (conventional) CD program, "We’ve remastered that as well, so everything is effectively new here," Guthrie says. "It’s from the original analog tape, so the stereo product is all the original mix, but we remastered it." Was this the first time that the true stereo master tape had been used, a situation that just surfaced with The Who’s Who’s Next Deluxe Edition (ICE #191)? "Oh, no, we’ve used it every time," Guthrie assures. "Every time Doug [Sax, of The Mastering Lab] and I have remastered this thing in the past, we’ve gone back to the original tape. This is just slightly improved technology in terms of digital converters and such. I think the last remaster we did was 1996."

 
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