It’s All a Blur

21 04 2013

Though he’s been at it for about 25 years, Steven Wilson is still at the forefront of the modern face of prog.  His sense of the music’s grandeur and its uncanny ability to absorb styles such as murder ballads and metal, coupled with a highly productive work ethic, is what keeps his work fascinating.SW

Wilson cares deeply about sound, issuing his recordings on Blu-ray for maximum audio firepower with 5.1 mixing. It’s a perfectionist’s work and one to applaud. Recent recordings such as Storm Corrosion, Grace for Drowning, and The Raven That Refused to Sing are a pleasure to absorb in a far-flung, highly detailed and beautifully imagined surround-sound audio field, all mixed by his own hand.

He’s done the same for others. The famously detail-oriented Robert Fripp oversaw Wilson’s 5.1 mixes of King Crimson classics like Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, In the Court of the Crimson King, and Red. Fripp was well pleased with the results. Wilson’s vision is to not entirely re-imagine the feel of the original recordings but to pursue the original artist’s audio goals. The results make previously great recordings sound even better, something that can’t be said for a lot of remixes.

Wilson’s no stranger to touring America, but he’s not a frequent visitor. That made a recent appearance at Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse, with capacity at under 1,000, a treat. A small venue wired for quadrophonic sound, a little talked about facet of Wilson’s current tour but one that can’t be stressed too much, is highly unusual and at the same time long overdue. Wilson’s crew added speakers to the rear of the theater, both downstairs and up in the balcony, then remixed the live performance on the fly. Brilliant. The surround sound played up the best parts of a floor-rattling band and provided a highly detailed sound field that shifted depending where you stood in the venue.

What’s old and cliche still works for Wilson: his mellotron sound brought back pleasant memories of classic prog from the late ’60s and early ’70s. He’s managed to make the mellotron meaningful again, decades after punk managed to kill it. For that alone, prog fans should be grateful. And around the world, they are.gra9900094

Remixing and re-imagining classic performance is a tight-rope walk. Wilson does it seemingly with ease. So does Jeffrey Norman for the Grateful Dead. He’s been upgrading Grateful Dead concert soundboards now for a few years and he also manages to take a great performance and juice the less than perfect original recording into something that isn’t afraid of some volume, a subwoofer, and a bolstered sound field. His HDCD reworkings of the Dead’s Europe ’72 tapes is a marvel. What was once slightly murky and certainly hissy sound quality was issued in 2011 as a dazzling package of a legendary run of shows. He’s doing the same for the Dave’s Picks series, which has a new release in May. It’s another instance of what’s old is not only new but it’s worth hearing … again.

The Bryan Ferry Orchestra loves the past, worships at the altar of the 78 rpm disc and the jumping sound of ’20s jazz. Ferry’s latest recording has no vocals, we don’t hear him sing a note, but he’s there in every re-imagining of songs from Roxy Music and his own solo career. It works in unexpected ways. The songs don’t always sound like the originals but somewhere along the line there’s a hook or chorus that serves as a reminder of the original. Click here for the band’s recent performance in Zermat, Switzerland, with Ferry crowning the performance with a distinctive vocal.packshot

There’s already plenty reason to give CNN a hard time. John King didn’t help the network much the other day. He would have done better with more evolved editing skills, but he’s only as good as his sources. He didn’t have to use the information passed on to him by an anonymous source. But he’s only quoting someone else. He’s the messenger who gets killed while the source is hidden. High-velocity news coverage has to be smarter and learn that no matter how right it can be, it should pay to keep quiet and allow more thought instead of breathless speculation and misinformation.

Slower news cycles won’t come back, like the imperfect old days. The newest imagining of news clearly goes faster than old media can properly handle.