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Tipper - Surrounded Print E-mail
Tuesday, 27 May 2003

format: DVD-Audio
label: Myutopia Recordings
release year: 2003
performance: 7
sound 8
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

ImageSurrounded, the brainchild of Wimbledon England’s 27-year-old techno music whiz Tipper, began on an Apple iMac with an aftermarket soundcard and a dream. While on a North American tour with several other techno DJs, Tipper assembled this somber, melodic collection of low-intensity electronic music that eventually caught the ears of 5.1 Entertainment’s Richard Dashut. The album was mixed in surround for release on Myutopia Recordings.

The working title of the album as it was being recorded was most likely not Surrounded, but Tipper has always had a desire to mix his material into surround but found it cost-prohibitive to do so. When given the chance to work in the surround format, mixing the album with James Stone, Tipper and company racked up over 700 hours in 5.1 Entertainment’s West L.A. studios, giving life and a three-dimensionality to the album. With a sound that I can only describe as “sci-fi techno,” listening to Surrounded is like being stuck inside the movie “A Clockwork Orange” while being forced to play space adventure video games. Full of sounds you’ve probably never heard before, all in crystal clear DVD-Audio, this disc is a voyage into musical lands often ventured to in stereo but the first I’ve heard of its kind in surround.

This is just one of the many new techno albums being released, or planned for release, in DVD-Audio and other surround sound audio formats. With new material such as Surrounded, there is no dilemma as to how it should be mixed. Classic pop, rock and jazz albums that the world has come to know and love as stereo mixes are put under the audio microscope when they are released in surround, but with techno and other forms of experimental music, the sky is the limit when mixing. Tipper had no fear when mixing Surrounded as he and co-mixer James Stone took advantage of the full range of speakers. The tastefully done mixes are daring yet not fatiguing. Not being a dance-oriented album, rapid-fire panning and volume tricks were not the right vibe for Surrounded. Tipper, who wrote and produced virtually every track on the album, kept things in check when it came time to mix it for surround sound.

Although very much an electronic album, acoustic guitar plays a big part on Surrounded, most notably on the track “California Rolls” inspired by Tipper’s travels on the American roads. The guitar is tripped out and made to sound like anything but a regular old guitar, but that is part of the fun of Surrounded -- listening for traditional sounds and instruments that have been morphed into new creatures with the aid of technology and endless studio trickery and tinkering. Funky electric guitar has its place here, too, as it finds it way into the song “Over the Coals” as a muted rhythm guitar makes the basis for this chilled-out track. Real acoustic drums are also quite evident such as on the album’s opener, “The Middle of Nowhere.”

You might think you are listening to the soundtrack from the movie “Gladiator” as you spin up the track “Rotundus Maximus.” This ambitious song harkens back to the days of Roman chariot races and gladiator battles, yet has an almost hip-hop drum loop running under the bombastic tympani drum accents. The round red and black pinwheel logo that appears onscreen as the song plays is the same as the artwork and color scheme for the disc, so it goes without saying that this is one of the more important tracks on the album in Tipper’s mind. I can’t agree more as it absolutely stands out from the rest of the disc in terms of style and sound. It also happens to be the only song with a real string section, co-arranged by Tipper and Los Angeles composer Tom Morse.

Another standout song is the ultra-laid-back groove “No Dice” with its horn-like keyboard lines and rolling bassline. Tipper’s songs all sound like creations for films or video games, and the accompanying video for “No Dice” is available on the disc, along with several other video clips. Other than the video tracks, the discs credits and a speaker set up video, there isn’t much more in the way of extras on Surrounded.

After hearing Surrounded in 5.1 DVD-Audio, it seemed pointless to try giving the album a spin on the fold-down stereo mix. The slow pace of nearly all of the songs on Surround make for an almost mind-numbing experience in stereo, but when this aural soundscape envelops you, it has an entirely new life. Surrounded is a prime example of an album that is made many times better simply due to the fact it has more emotional impact when it is coming at you from all sides. It’s easy to ignore in two channels and hard to deny in six.

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