Surround at Work - Part 3 Page 3

Kansas: Carry on in 5.1

When Kansas plays "Dust in the Wind," it's usually the simplest point of the show - just an acoustic ballad with guitar, voice, and violin. Not this time, however. The art-rock veterans are at EarthLink Live, a restored theater in their adopted hometown of Atlanta. And instead of taking the stage, they're playing in the center pit, so they're literally at the feet of some fans. Behind the band, a starry sky is projected onto a curtain. As Steve Walsh begins to sing, the curtain opens to reveal a formally dressed string quartet and a stage full of lit candles. And in response - Classic Rock moment! - most of the 750 people in the audience hold up their lighters.

Photo by Rick Diamond. 

That moment is being captured for Device Voice Drum, a 5.1-channel DVD-Video scheduled for release by Compendia in early October. The shoot in June capped a year's worth of planning by the band. "We're thinking of it as the Kansas movie," says drummer Phil Ehart. "We have full-on production and effects, things we haven't had since our heyday in the 1970s."

For starters, instead of using video, they went the costlier but more evocative route of shooting on film. And Ehart is searching the band's archives for bonus material; so far, he has unearthed Super 8 footage of the band in 1972 plus some TV appearances that decade on Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.

Besides "Dust in the Wind," the set list includes other favorites like "Carry On Wayward Son" and "Point of Know Return." But it also visits the more epic side of Kansas, as in a nifty segue of the band's two "Icarus" pieces - the first from 1975's Masque, the second from 2000's overlooked Somewhere to Elsewhere. Instead of calling in cofounder Kerry Livgren (who returned to write and co-produce the latter album) or any other Kansas alumni, the band is showcasing its current lineup: original members Walsh, Ehart, guitarist Richard Williams, and violinist Robby Steinhardt plus bassist Billy Greer, who joined in the mid-1980s.

Producer Steve Rawls plans to keep the sound of the DVD faithful to what the audience is hearing at EarthLink. Accordingly, the strings on "Dust" will stay in the front. And even on "The Preacher" - an obscure track from 1988's In the Spirit of Things, reappearing here with a local gospel choir - he won't be filling the surround channels with voices. "We decided at the start that we didn't want a gimmicky mix," he says. "There's no right or wrong way to mix for surround, but my feeling, and the band's, is that we want to fit the picture. If I'm watching a choir upfront, I don't want to hear it behind me."

Rawls is using SoundField's MKV surround microphone to "capture a nice, natural ambience. We won't have to spend a couple of hours creating that in a mixdown situation." The mike is placed near the back of the theater, but its direction and sensitivity can be manipulated from the control board. "The surround channels won't be exclusively for reverb; we'll be routing some of the drums to the rear, for instance, to help with the energy level. But most of what you'll hear back there will come from the surround mike."

Asked whether his vocals will go only to the center channel, Walsh recalls an interview that Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor did in these pages (see "Random Play," April): "I remember him saying how disconcerting it sounds if you place a dry vocal in the center. So I'd rather put things in perspective instead of separating them." Rawls adds that different elements will appear in the center channel at different times. "We're treating it as a way to anchor whatever is being featured, whether it's guitar, voice, or violin."

Device Voice Drum continues a Kansas revival that included the summer release of The Ultimate Kansas, a two-CD anthology, plus recent 25th-anniversary CD reissues of Masque, Leftoverture, and Point of Know Return, all with live bonus tracks.

Still to come is a multichannel remix of Leftoverture, for which the band is recruiting original producer Jeff Glixman. "You have to be real careful remixing a classic," Ehart notes. "But if the fans want it, far be it from us to stand in the way."

- Brett Milano