On Tuesday, for the thirtieth annniversary of Pink Floyd's landmark Dark Side of the Moon, EMI is releasing a completely remastered, 5.1-channel surround-sound, Super Audio CD (SACD) version of the 1973 album. The SACD version -- which also includes a remastered stereo layer that plays on standard CD players -- completely re-imagines the set's soundscape to make full use of five speakers and a subwoofer. Pink Floyd's longtime producer James Guthrie, who also worked on 1993's twentieth anniversary edition, took this remastering further than any previous update (Alan Parsons' unapproved 1973 "Quad mix" of Dark Side only used four speakers and no subwoofer), but everything essential remains in place. The SACD version also features new cover art and a booklet with photos designed by Storm Thorgerson, creator of the original album art.
"We felt that the musical content should be consistent and faithful to the original stereo mix," says Guthrie from his studio in Lake Tahoe, "but of course the balance is going to be altered because you're dealing with a much larger sound stage." Though he repositioned guitars, synthesizers, vocals and found sounds and voices so that they come at the listener from all directions, Guthrie was mindful of being arbitrary or gimmicky. "I did not want to turn this into a video game," he says. And he did not: The overall sound is still gluey and homogenous, like a three-dimensional sonic soup.
Since many of the tracks on the original stereo mix are actually second- and third-generation material (a result of premixing multi-track tapes onto new multi-track tapes and overdubbing to get all the sounds in), Guthrie went back to an earlier generation of tapes to get the original recordings. As a result, the new multi-channel 5.1 mix features first-generation drums, vocals and guitar, among other instruments, which results in a noticeable warmth and richness in the sound. Because the instruments and tracks are separated and distributed onto a larger sound stage, more details can be heard -- for example, the low-end of the synthesizers in "On the Run" and the interplay of guitars and synthesizers in "Any Colour You Like."
The remix also has a more cinematic feel, with the sound of insane laughter, voices and scurrying footsteps behind the listener. The echoey elements of "Us and Them" hit home even harder, as Dave Gilmour's voice resonates back and forth between the back speakers. Backing vocals are generally in the rear speakers and signature sound effects, as in (cash register opening, change clinking, receipt ripping) "Money," are distributed to four different speakers.
Most apparent in this version are the voices, which are easier to discern than in any previous mix. "You'll hear more of what was said," says Guthrie, "Some of the bits and pieces that were buried, the ones that people were guessing about -- all will be revealed now."
According to Guthrie, this remix awakened a thirty-year-old argument in the band about the level and intelligibility of the speaking voices. "Roger and Nick always preferred to hear the theatrical elements louder and more intelligible, while Dave and Rick always wanted to hear the voices wetter and more mysterious," says Guthrie. In the end, they compromised.
"I think they all accepted the fact that as long as we retained the emotional impact of the song, that this mix could be slightly different," says Guthrie. "Dynamically there are changes. Inevitably, if you place a voice in the rear, for instance, there are fewer components competing with that voice, so just by its nature it will be more intelligible."
With the exception of "a tiny bit of extra guitar added to 'On the Run' from the original multitrack tape," the remix's content is idenitical to the original. After hearing the new mix, Roger Waters said, "Dark Side of the Moon really lends itself to 5.1. There's more space for all the theater. James' new mix adds a whole new sonic dimension . . . I love it."