Tracking Surround: Bristling at Stereo with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson

Wilson (far right) with Porcupine Tree Photo by Lasse Hoile, courtesy Atlantic Your most recent albums, 2002's In Absentia and the new Deadwing (Lava/Atlantic), are both available in DVD-Audio editions from DTS. When you were mixing the last one, you said you didn't want to be influenced by any other surround mixes. Did the same philosophy hold true for Deadwing? Yeah, I still haven't heard all that many other surround mixes. [laughs] That's what's great about working with our mixer, Elliot Scheiner - I've got someone who knows what works and what doesn't. But it was nice for me to come up with ideas of my own that he wouldn't necessarily have come up with himself. I'm kind of the idiot savant here; I'm not coming at it from any kind of "professional" perspective.

To me, every time you mix a record in surround, it's like the first time you've mixed a record, period. For some other people, there seems to be a set way that they kind of naturally fall into when mixing for surround: the vocals are always in the front, and so are the drums. But a Porcupine Tree record, by definition, has more elements to play with - a lot of textural and sound-design stuff, and a lot of keyboards. So I asked Elliot, "Can we try the vocal in the middle of the room? Can we put the bass drum in the middle of the room?" Things like that just sounded better to me.

Because we mixed the surround version of Deadwing at the same time we did the stereo version, we weren't trying to recreate all of the tones and EQs. We actually used the stereo mix as the foundation. So I'm much, much happier with the basic tones and everything. In surround, this one sounds amazing.

People may be surprised to find out that you totally love lo-fi. I've always been obsessed with lo-fi - even before it was trendy. I think people have trouble reconciling that idea with the kind of records I make, which are sonically very dense. In a sense, I love to mix that up with old, creaky sounds. I'm very much a fan of the mellotron, the primitive proto-sampling keyboard from the late 1960s and early '70s. It has a scratchy, lo-fi sound, but it has a real character. The surface noise of old records - I love those sounds. There's something about them that just gives a certain grain to things.