Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I was talking with the real thing, a genuine hippie Deadhead, a woman whose life has revolved around incense and mushrooms and Mouse and Kelley and the extended jam. You'd never guess that she was well past her 70s; instead it's as if it were all still real, all just a day ago. In her shop (she owns a store that sells patchouli and Grateful Dead decals and rainbow ecology flags), she has a fine old analog phonograph system and playing in the background is always a scratchy old version of Days of Future Past on Deram Records or cassettes from her taper friends. The mood and the ambiance are unmistakably authentic. It wasn't surprising therefore when I commented on my admiration for the stellar Surround Sound Steven Wilson remixes of Jethro Tull and Yes and XTC. Her comment was (I'll try to recall her words): "taking the original analog multi-tracks and digitizing them into his computer, sucks the life out of the music," as if hiss and pops and scratches somehow made her copies organic. Her analog good, digital bad bias was coupled with the idea that what was originally released was what the artists wanted to be released and therefore should be considered sacrosanct.

While I see the point and, like Ella, I relish in the nostalgic aspects of her comments, Wilson's mixes create much greater transparency in the instrumental layers, revealing previously unheard detail, detail that I do indeed recall on the original analog mixes, but only because I was high. There's a more expansive feel to his stereo mixes, a broader soundscape, while his surround mixes create a feeling of being inside the music, without resorting to gimmickry. In fact, Wilson's versions reveal a respect and reverence for the original mix while, at the same time, looking to improve upon it. Some see the reissues as a money grab, but reality, who really is gobbling up a remix of Gentle Giant's The Power and the Glory; me and maybe you (simply because you are reading this, I have a hunch). Instead, Wilson is reviving some of the greatest LPs from rock's classic era with technology that was simply unavailable at the time. Like them or not, each reissue has ultimately revealed more about the music, and I haven't sat this intently in front of my speakers since pigs had wings.