My wife would like to take credit for it (and she’s probably right because she does pay the credit card bills), but I some weeks ago ordered the 50th anniversary boxed set of the Beatles “White Album” as a Christmas gift for myself. And there it was under our tree on Christmas morning all wrapped up with my name on it. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 50 years since this classic double album was released in late 1968. And it’s a little tough to shell out over $150 to get the Blu-ray disc of new surround mixes that producer Giles Martin and engineer Sam Okel created. But I did. And I’m very glad I did!
Having visited London’s Abbey Road studios last month and toured Studio One and Two, the rooms where most of this incredible collection of tracks were recorded, listening to all 30 tracks was a revelation and special treat. The familiarity of the material combined with the excitement of hearing new, well-crafted, immersive mixes for the first time was magical — kind of like a similar Christmas experience a few years ago when I headed to my big listening room and cranked up the Beatles’ “Love” DVD-Audio disc mixed in 5.1 surround.
As I listened, I read the track descriptions AND the recording notes. Looking at the dates brought back a lot of memories — good and otherwise. That year saw the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and my home team Detroit Tigers win the World Series in a decisive seventh game. It was also the year that my father’s melanoma recurred and took his life at the age of 43. I find it a little more than ironic that my own body has produced the same disease — which has been hacked out and replaced by ever larger scars over the past couple of months. Yesterday, my dermatologist sliced out a couple more spots. There are 16 fresh stitches on my arm and chest.
I’m a strong advocate for surround music mixes. My own recordings include two different 5.1 mixes to ease those not yet enamored of sitting in the middle of the music to a better way of experiencing music. Any kind of music works better when sounds come from all around. The notion that mono or stereo mixes are the “right” way to listen to music or that “recasting” an original piece of art in a new delivery technology is nonsense. Surround sound transforms a classic recording like the “White Album” much more than digitizing it at 192 kHz/24-bits (which makes no difference at all). Audiophiles will continue to debate the perceptibility of high-resolution transfers of older analog recordings (or even my newly minted HD tracks) but there’s no denying the fact that 5.1 surround music is immediately apparent to all listeners.
The producers of the anniversary edition of the “White Album” included the original mono mixes on the Blu-ray and I briefly switched over to those mixes as I listened. The emotional and musical engagement was dramatically reduced. More sound from more speakers (or virtual locations) accentuated the instrumental clarity and made audible parts that get buried in mono or stereo.
Old familiar music is fresh once again thanks to the care and craftsmanship — and artistic sensibility — that Giles and Sam brought to the project. Just like the preceding “Sgt. Peppers” and “Love” 5.1 surround mixes, the “White Album” is well worth the extra expense. This is an album that will find its way back into my playlist — as long as I can play it loud in fully immersive surround sound.
Another year is almost over. I’ve struggled (and overcome) with a few medical issues, finished and delivered my “Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound” book, fought the good fight for the YARRA 3DX 3D audio sound bar (but ultimately failed), learned how to soar in a glider, and enjoyed another crop of audio recording students at the university. I want to wish everyone happy holidays and hope for a new year full of new opportunities, more love and caring for everyone, and a future of open-mindedness, independent thinking and inclusiveness.