Back Issue Article
Record it Right and They Will Come
The DVD-Audio format has its share of detractors -- there have been more folks nailing the last 16-penny in the coffin of the format than there is space on which to hammer. And SACD? Well, there are a fair number of harbingers of destruction on that side too. I cant blame them, not fully, as missteps are numerous and entirely frustrating.
To put it bluntly, I couldn't care less which format wins. My primary concern is that we have a medium that can deliver higher-resolution music in a multichannel configuration. If a third format popped up tomorrow that gave us all that and decisively captured the hearts of consumers, Id likely jump right on the bandwagon too.
I dont think itll happen though. Why? Its not any technical limitations of the individual formats that are causing the problems. Its how the formats are being handled -- or not handled properly, as the case may be. Putting aside SACD for a moment (theres at least one more bitch-session "Surrounded" coming), and looking at DVD-Audio exclusively, you can begin to see the problems.
Theres been a prevailing lack of new releases to tempt consumers to buy new music in the DVD-A format. Not that many people are going to buy older recordings they already have just because it is now available on DVD-A. There will be some, of course -- those who must have the very best mastering of a title they cherish (and I know, very best is assuming a lot). But those sales alone cannot prop up a formats numbers enough to make a huge difference. We need fresh recordings produced to take full advantage of the formats considerable technical advantages.
And they need to be recorded right. Which means that for each and every work, the correct amount of surround information should be dialed in by the recording engineer. Surround information should be recorded to add to the experience, not just to add noise behind you. Show off the true advantages of multichannel music -- what a concept. Maybe Im a little naïve here, but I do believe that if you can demonstrate how wonderful the DVD-Audio format can be -- specifically what it adds to what CD has been able to give us thus far -- it has a better chance of succeeding.
So whos recording right? A man named Tatsuo Nishimura, for one.
The Düsseldorf, Germany-based Nishimura label sports six classical DVD-Audio titles to date: Franz Vorraber: Wiener Abend [Nishimura DVDA-001, Pioneer PIAC 1001]; Bernhard Leonardy: Organ: New Dimensions [Nishimura DVDA-002]; Marion Basting: Abendmusik [Nishimura DVDA-003]; Franz Vorraber: Fantasie-Stucke [Nishimura DVDA-004]; Marcus Bosch: Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major, op. 52 "Lobgesang" [Nishimura DVDA-005]; Southwest German Chamber Orchestra: Mozart-Liszt-Sibelius [Nishimura DVDA-006].
The recording detail included in each package should be the first giveaway that the approach Nishimura takes is different. Each piece is recorded on location, not in a studio. Take, for example, Mozart-Liszt-Sibelius. The recording session was conducted at the Chapel of Bad Homburg Castle in Hessen, Germany. Nishimura states:
I relate these details because, as you consider the music, you just cant escape the venue it was performed in. And thats the purist approach, folks. Youre supposed to hear the music as it was created in a unique space -- both music and space captured by the recording as an event -- not a collection of songs that could be each produced in any studio anywhere. And thats precisely what multichannel recordings on the DVD-A format can deliver better than CD: a better rendition of the event.
Nishimuras results are admirable. The sound is clean and uncluttered with excellent dynamic range and weight. But its the surround information -- and more specifically, how it was designed to interface with the listener -- that makes these recordings special.
Franz Vorrabers piano fills the space with tonal colors, and is expertly played. The Czech conductor Vladislav Czarnecki commands the Sudwestdeutsche Kammerorchester to impressive heights -- and you hear it all as it intermingles with the Chapel of Bad Homburg Castle to thrilling effect. Youre truly surrounded by the venue. The music is inspired, as are the choices made by the recording engineer. Youre hearing ambient information in the surround channels, and with the right system, dialed in so that all the levels are precisely matched, the walls will disappear. What else could you ask for?
Nishimura has chosen his own path for his productions, and its one that I can happily embrace. These are 5.0, single-layer, single-sided recordings with an available stereo down mix (except for the Lobgesang, which uniquely has a dummy-head microphone configuration and a one-point configuration). 5.0? Thats right, theres no low-frequency-effects channel to hog all the bass. Instead, youre going to get five full-range channels, which of course are best suited to a system comprised of five identical full-range speakers (I did say this was a purist approach, didnt I?). The performance was recorded with five B&K (Denmark, not Buffalo) omnidirectional microphones, and the analog signal (routed through the shortest possible cable path, I might add) was then converted to 48kHz/24-bit digital and stored on a computer hard disk for minimal editing. It all comes together beautifully.
Where does that leave us?
The lesson here is that its not the format that really determines what the outcome will be, or necessarily the quality of the music available. The recording engineers, labels, and artists can deliver, and we all know there are talented marketing people that can figure out how to sell anything (watch some TV at 2:00 AM if you dont believe me). Its what all these folks in charge choose to do that will decide for us what we have to choose from. I hope to see some positive things come of multichannel music in 2003. I also hope the Nishimura label continues to give us its creator's vision of what the DVD-Audio format can deliver.
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