|Larisa Stow - Moment by Moment|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 10 April 2001|
I first heard of Larisa Stow in 1999, when she won the L.A. City Music Award for Outstanding Singer/Songwriter, but I never heard her album until I bought this DTS DVD-Audio/Video release. It’s an excellent demonstration of the surround music medium, and the music is great also, which is how it should be. The pressing question here is: why hasn’t this lady got a major record deal?
Stow’s music reminds me very strongly of Sarah MacLachlan’s work, no bad thing - specifically the latter’s Surfacing from a few years ago. But Stow is generally more pop-influenced, and a little more direct in her lyrics, while occasional fiddle parts (for example in the strong opening number, "Blue Mountain") impart a slight country feel (somewhat illusory, however). A combination of sensitively-played (and more than occasionally virtuosic) electric and acoustic guitars provides an ideal backdrop to Stow’s extremely versatile voice, which really shows off the surround medium. This is an album that was made for 5.1, and it shows.
The songs range from the power pop of the opener and other up-tempo tracks that perhaps characterize the album to more sensitive pieces. For me, the outstanding uptempo number is "Heaven," with its more sophisticated lyrics – there is also the music video of this piece on the album. "Corner (4th and Cherry)" shows a gentler side, while offering a very appealing solo acoustic guitar and vocal number and deeper lyrics than the average. The quite remarkable closing track "Innocence" has a floating analog-like synth sequence that weaves in and out of the arrangement while at the same time drifting around the space – an effect which is not at all gratuitous and adds significantly to the vibe of the song.
Stow’s voice has exceptional range, both in pitch and in power, and she can handle the sensitive stuff with the same air of confidence that she shows when she’s able to belt ‘em out.
This album was a pleasant discovery, too, in the way the surround mix was handled. A lesser engineer would have had far too much fun with this material and done all kinds of distracting, gimmicky things. Not so David Tickle. He is really good at this (check out his Sting 5.1 remixes some time), and here he has decided to build a solid spatial foundation around the rhythm section – which is essentially conventionally placed – adding consistent backing instruments, primarily guitars, in the surrounds.
I was not conscious of a great deal of localization away from the surround speakers and the front stage. Tickle evidently is aware of the fact that trying to place things between front left and rear left, for example, as you would across the front, basically doesn’t work in 5.1 as we know it. He therefore simply places instruments in the surround speakers, where they behave themselves impeccably.
The surround placement, especially of the rhythm section, is fairly constant throughout the album, with additional lead instruments (such as a tasteful vibes-like instrument, presumably synthesized, that turns up from time to time) being arranged around this central core. This treatment brings a smoothness and cohesion both to individual numbers and to the album as a whole, and essentially delivers a solid foundation which you very soon take as a given. The whole technology of the surround playback environment, free of gimmicks, simply disappears, leaving you to enjoy the music – which, I would suggest, is exactly what’s supposed to happen.
Larisa Stow’s Moment By Moment delivers a strong performance from an artist we really should hear more from, presented in a way that shows off the possibilities of 5.1 popular music in general, and the DVD-Audio medium in particular, to great advantage. Give the lady a record deal, someone!
By Richard Elen
This album is one of the first of a group of four DVD-Audio releases from DTS (my reviews of the others will no doubt be found nearby, sooner rather than later). DTS has tried very hard here to provide a well-presented package, with plenty of audio options and other value-added features, and the overall feeling is of a package that’s well worth the money.
The discs will play back on any machine with a DVD logo, as there are no less than three audio streams: DVD-Audio in 5.1, losslessly compressed with MLP, DTS 5.1, and a Dolby Digital stereo mix. The albums generally have the lyrics in the inlay booklet where appropriate and this, with the Super Jewel Box packaging, puts all these new DTS releases on a level above most everything else out there, including DTS’ CD releases which I have often criticized for lack of sleeve notes.
On the disc itself, we find a clear top-level menu with the three audio selections, plus whatever special features a particular disc offers – for example, a music video or short documentary – plus a text-based "DTS Story" backgrounder.
The one and only disappointment (for some people) on the technical side with these DTS discs is that they only have 24-bit, 48 kHz sampling DVD-A audio. DVD-A can deliver up to 96 kHz sampling in six-channel surround, and even 192 kHz in stereo (why, I can’t imagine). There are probably several reasons why we have 48 kHz MLP on these discs. One, maybe there wasn’t the room for more. Two, maybe there wasn’t the money to remix it for 96 kHz sampling. Three, given that you have a 48 kHz master, you could upsample it to 96 kHz, but that would have the sole benefit of bringing up a little indicator on the player without otherwise affecting the audio. Good for marketing, but it takes up more room and quite likely would not sound any better. Kudos to DTS for being honest, and giving us what they’ve got without fiddling it.
I have heard differing reports of the perceived difference between the DVD-A and DVD-V streams. I limited the variables as much as possible by listening to everything via my Kenwood DV-4070’s 5.1 analog outputs, using the player’s built-in decoders and converters.
With this configuration, my opinion was clearly in conflict with what I understand several others to have thought. I definitely prefer the 24/48 DVD-A, MLP stream to the 24/48 DTS output. I find the top end cleaner and more detailed, the surround imaging more precise, and the whole experience more realistic. There seems to be more top end in general, which could be due to several factors, of course, as I haven’t tried this on another player, but my suspicion is that what I’m hearing is the difference between what is indisputably the best lossy compression system, and a lossless one. The fact that both are sampled at 48 kHz here makes the comparison more direct – here, the high end is not the result of a higher sample rate on the MLP version. It should be no surprise that no compression sounds better than even a little.
Basically, DTS has done nearly everything right with these discs. The discs are playable on any DVD-type player. Perhaps DTS hasn’t (yet) provided 24/96 content, but it isn’t simply up-converted material either. DTS has provided additional value-added features, such as video documentaries and other material, in some cases, and the packaging is excellent, with proper inlay notes. A good job all round, and congratulations to DTS for getting out of the gate promptly with such a well-produced package.