Tracking Surround: Bristling at Stereo with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson Page 2

I don't think there's anything wrong with that. You can do certain things in surround that don't have a "sheen" to them. A surround mix doesn't have to be "perfect." It's been said before, but it's in the imperfections that you find the real character of something. How many of the most successful records in history were technically perfect? Answer: none. And how many of the most successful singers in the world are technically great singers? Answer: very few. They have something else; they have character.

Right: Bob Dylan, Lou Reed... Neil Young, Tom Waits.

PRE-SURROUNDED Did knowing beforehand that you were going to do Deadwing in surround affect the writing process? I didn't compose differently, but the way we tracked was different. I was very much thinking in terms of having three separate vocal parts interlock in places where, in the past, we may have had a set of harmony vocals. I thought, "Oh, that's gonna sound great: I'll put one in the back, and then one over here, and then one over there...." On previous albums, I may have bounced stuff down to a stereo pair, but I won't even do that anymore, because now I can spread everything out. Just keeping my options open for the mix was a new way of thinking for me. And it really paid off, because we could do so much more, particularly with the vocals and the keyboards.

THE FUTURE OF SURROUND Does music in surround have a future? I think it's got a future, absolutely....I was thinking about this just the other day: It often comes down to just one record. In the 1970s, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon came along, and people really wanted to hear that on a good stereo system. In the '80s, it was Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms that did it for the CD as a format. And here in the 21st century, we're the ones who are pushing the envelope.

I'd really like to think that Deadwing could be the album that will make people want to hear music in surround. Which is nice because, in the end, it comes down to the art, not just the technology.

But there are certain things I don't really feel the need to hear in surround - like Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. Why do it? I mean, that album was recorded with three microphones! I'm not comfortable with this idea of the surround "retrofit." I know Elliot has done some that are fantastic, but there are other people who've gone back and remixed older stuff in surround that just doesn't sound right.

The surround format needs somebody to make a record that's conceived for the format and that takes full advantage of the format, a record that will obviously appeal to the kind of people who listen to that kind of music right now - listeners who are not kids, but the thirtysomethings or fortysomethings. There's no point in having Korn in surround, really. I mean, a 14-year-old kid won't care if Korn or Britney Spears is in surround.

THE ALBUM CONCEPT One of the things you've said all along is that you're still interested in the idea of the album as a concept. Yet we seem to be getting deeper and deeper into the random-shuffle iPod age. I'm not a fan of the iPod. I'm not a fan of reducing the history of rock music into a kind of digital jukebox. The whole thing about growing up and listening to music was discovering albums. And very often, it was the albums you didn't get on first listen that you would grow to love. Not only that, but the tracks that weren't among your favorites when you first heard the album grew to be the ones you liked later on.

The iPod/download culture encourages a jukebox mentality: "Oh, I just like a couple of tracks off the album, so I'll just slide those in." The idea of sequencing an album in a continual flow as a musical journey goes out the window. The whole idea that tracks can grow on you gets lost.

As an example, you've mentioned elsewhere how you reacted to Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica the first time around, and how it grew on you. That's exactly the same for me. I got through it because it's a classic record, it's a standard, and I'm a Frank Zappa fan and all that, but I couldn't stand it the first time I heard it. But I kept going back to it, and I get it now. With my favorite records of all time, I'm pretty sure that the first time I heard them, I didn't get them at all. But there was something in them that was fascinating enough for me to want to go back.

One album I totally love now is Brian Wilson's SMiLE. Some moments on it are just breathtaking, like "Child Is Father of the Man." That guy really is the voice of God.