|Bachman Turner Overdrive - Not Fragile|
|Music Disc Reviews DTS 5.1 CD|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 25 November 1997|
Many of the DTS-encoded 5.1 CDs we receive here for review are on Brad Miller’s High Definition Surround (HDS) label. Bachman Turner Overdrive’s Not Fragile is one of these. HDS’ releases cover the whole gamut, from reissues of quad classics through modern 5.1 remixes of classic albums to recordings originally intended for the 5.1 surround environment – and a lot of the time, I find myself wanting to be clearer about exactly which of these one is hearing.
In the case of this high-energy rock band’s best-known album (containing what I seem to recall was their sole real hit, "You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet"), I immediately noticed that the album has a center-front channel, unlikely for a quad mix, yet the structure of the mix in other ways seems to suggest that we are listening to a surround master from a quarter-century ago. I would really like a significantly greater degree of surround information in the liner notes! Exactly what is the history of this album’s sound mix?
Most of the album has a similar approach to surround placement. Since Not Fragile was originally made in 1974, there would have been at least 16 and possibly 24 tracks to spread around the room. The primary guitar parts are split left and right front, with the drums spread across the front stage in a fairly standard fashion. The surrounds are then used for additional guitar work, often with two solo guitar parts during the course of a song, and for ambience/reverb and some effects, such as a repeat echo on a vocal part that pops out of various speakers in "Rock Is My Life." The overall effect is entirely satisfying, if you still find this kind of material as fulfilling as you did in the mid-‘70s, which I am afraid I generally don’t (though there are some exceptions – watch this space for some really cool stuff in the coming months!).
"You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet" is, of course, the main draw for this album, and although I never owned it in stereo, the surround mix seems largely to do it justice, although perhaps it’s a little thinner on the ground than my memory of the stereo version. This is not particularly unusual (the same discovery led some producers to return to mono for more punch and impact years ago), but this kind of material lacks the instrumental (or musical) "density" that makes for a really enveloping surround mix. There is a strange out-of-control tape-loop repeat feeding back around two-and-a-half minutes into the song, which is a little disconcerting but presumably is deliberate.
I was criticized recently for being too nice about one particular revivified quad mix now available on DTS-encoded CD. These mixes were often handled by people other than those involved in mixing the stereo or mono masters. These were, of course, the main focus, the complaining letter-writer reminds me, and they often had significant technical problems. This criticism has some validity, but to assume that the same problems inevitably bedevil these 5.1 DTS reissues very much undervalues the work performed by the team at HDS. These technicians transfer and massage aging quad masters with the highest quality digital audio equipment and turn them into something worth listening to on today’s digital 5.1 systems. Using modern techniques, a lot of the noise can be dealt with in the digital domain, for example, revealing lost dynamic range and subtlety.
In addition, quite often those quad mixes were really not at all bad. Engineers and producers then, as now, were interested in experimentation and trying new techniques, which quite frequently worked. Some of those engineers went on to make names for themselves in later years. Interestingly, we see that the assistant on the BTO mixes was one Richard Dashut, now a partner at 5.1 Entertainment, one of the main organizations poised to release 5.1 music – both classic and modern – on DVD over the coming months. He obviously felt surround was worth the effort – and, I think, so do we.