With great thanks, I have the responses from Steven Wilson to the QQ Members Questions. From these answers, we can see that Steven gave us quite a bit of time and thought, and that speaks directly to the person and we thank him immensely. Because of his schedule, we should consider this a one time thing, so leaving more questions at this point is, well, pointless.
However, please feel free to comment on the responses by replying to this tread.
Should the opportunity ever present itself again, you'll all be the first to know. So without further delay, please read on..........................
Here are some answers - hope they are OK. Can you publish it as one long interview, rather than splitting it up, as in some answers I have referred to other answers?
winopener: 1) Hello Steven, as everyone knows, nothing is without a past. Before 5.1 there was 4.0, aka quad, and the past is open for today's learners. Other than "personal tastes", which "old quad" mixes did you found intresting as a learning experience on how to mix, placements, moving elements, balancing etc? Something that, when you were listening it, you were thinking "wow, that's great, this really does add a depth in the musical artistic experience, how they did it...". I'm sure at least 99% of the people here will list PF DSOTM on a personal top5 - Alan Parsons has been a real genius on that. Your top5 "old school quad" mixes?
SW: There is where you find out how ignorant I am when it comes to other surround work out there! I have mostly approached doing my surround mixes in a very intuitive and uneducated way. In fact I can only think of one quad mix I've ever heard, and that was the original quad mix of Aqualung which I listened to after I did the 5.1 out of curiousity, and which I found to be a very strange mix, almost like the person who did it hadn't listened to the stereo album mix!
John Barrow: 2) Artists such as Jean Micheal Jarre have created albums specifically to maximise the sound stage of the 5.1 format (e.g. Aero). Is that something that would interest you?
SW: While I understand the question I find it hard to answer in practice since the idea of specifically tailoring the music to use 5.1 doesn't seem like a very musical thing to do - or at least it's a point at which the music becomes secondary to the considerations of its sonic reproduction. It recalls to my mind those kitsch albums that were created in the sixties for demonstrating stereo, like "Breakthrough - an Introduction to Stereo" which my parents had, lots of percussion whizzing between the speakers and extreme separation that just sounded like the music had all become unglued. I think utlimatley I just try to make good music, and then retrospectively conisder how best to present it in surround - but most of the time if the album has some degree of layering in the production it seems to automatically lends itself well to 5.1.
jdmack: 3) What is your philosophy regarding the use of the LFE channel for music surround mixes? Is this something you choose to do or is it something required by someone higher up? Also, how do you decide how loud the LFE channel should be? There does not seem to be a standard among surround mixers and the LFE level changes radically from one surround recording to another in my collection.
SW: I don't feel very confident about judging the LFE well, since traditionally sub frequencies are the hardest and most variable from studio to studio, room to room. So I usually feed a little of the bass guitar, bass drum, and anything else with low end into the LFE and then let the mastering engineer or DVD/BD authour make the final judgment on how loud to have it.
von kulper: 4) What are your thoughts on Elliott Scheiner's surround mixes for IA and DW? If you were mixing them today what would you do different, and do you have any eventual plans of re-mixing and re-releasing them with your own surround mix?
SW: I actually haven't heard them since he did them, but it was the experience of sitting there while he did them that turned me on to the idea of getting into that world myself. It would be interesting to approach them again now and see how I might do them differently (if at all). We definitely need to reissue the IA and DW albums, not just in 5.1 but also with new stereo masters (both albums were originally done at the peak of the loudness wars era).
timbre4: 5) For reference (as if you could remember every detail), I was in the front row @ NYC Insurgentes screening and asked about Insurgentes being released on Blu Ray. You responded that the source materal shot under unusual conditions didn't lend itself to HD. I then took the opportunity to inform the audience "your application for sainthood was approved for being the person who is mixing the King Crimson catalog into 5.1 surround!" [whoops and applause from audience perhaps previously unaware of this miracle] Some brief quiries if you would indulge me...
> 1. Thankfully we caught your Chicago - Park West show; would the Grace tour be over for good when this segment concludes and will you then embark on some Storm Corrosion tour dates?
SW: Lest anyone should think that the solo albums and tours are somehow "side projects" that's definitely not the case. The solo touring is ongoing, and the next big album release for me will be my third solo record, which is already well underway. I can't really imagine how we would pull of the Storm Corrosion music in a live setting, it's quite orchestral and fragile - but I guess nothing is impossible.
2. Where would you place 'Deform to Form A Star' in your song canon? [so moving every time my son and I play it!]
SW: I like it a lot! But my favorite song from GFD would probably be Index.
3. Will your Blackfield 5.1 mixes ever see general release or is that a moot question?
SW: Blackfield has never been mixed in 5.1 - Aviv doesn't really like the format, so in deference to him we have just kept the music in stereo only.
wavelength: 6) What are your thoughts about the future of surround sound from a music industry and/or a surround sound technology point-of-view?
SW: I think it is moving towards being a small (but not insignificant) niche market where the people who like it are really passionate about it - you could say the same about rock music in general alas. As long as people invest in home cinema setups there will always be the potential to have millions of people also using their systems for audio only surround releases, and I always felt is that the more catalogue that is available the more likely it is to grow as a market. For example I'm guessing that when legendary and much loved albums like Aqualung and In the Court of the Crimson King came out in 5.1, these were probably such significant records to some people that they acted as "gateways" for them to get into listening to surround for the first time. So for every classic album that comes out in this form I think the potential is there to turn more people onto listening to music in this way.
Shnicks: 7) Would be most interested to hear about your favorite 5.1 mixes as a fan and maybe a comment or two as to why.
SW: I can't honestly say I've heard many - I mainly love to make my own! Some I heard sounded a bit weird (Pet Sounds springs to mind) and didn't really work. But I did enjoy the Moody Blues surround mixes that came out a few years back. A couple more I have heard and liked a lot are David Crosby "If Only I Could Remember My Name" and Nine Inch Nails "The Downward Spiral".
elmer: 9) Clearly the preference for the members here is that all multichannel titles be released in a lossless delivery format and in the highest possible resolution. It would be interesting to know what your experience has been in dealing with labels that release titles in Dolby and/or DVD DTS rather than DVD Audio or Blu Ray (MLP, DTS HD MA, etc). Can you shed some light on what their rationale might be (assuming that there is a rationale). Is it financial, marketing concerns, lack of knowledge or all of the above. I assume that in your different roles as mixer/engineer, producer, artist - you have a unique perspective on this. Much thanks in advance
SW: I think it's mostly down to economics, but probably also a bit of them not really understanding the market (which quite honestly is very confusing, I don't completely understand the limitations and possibilities of all the various formats myself). Blu Ray is incredibly expensive to authour and manufacture, and is still seen as niche technology so cuts out a lot of the potential audience for a title. DVD-Audio is kind of a dead format, you can't even buy the players anymore as far as I know (but maybe that's not right?) That just leaves DVD as being the format which has the most potential to be experienced by the most people. Unfortunately most people don't really care about high res audio fidelity - if they did then mp3s would not be the dominant musical format.
Robert van Diggele: 10) Dear Steven, in a recent Q&A with starsdie.com you mentioned that there are some unreleased Bass Communion 5.1 mixes that you may release in the future. As you have been producing and mixing other artists for quite some time, are there perhaps more unreleased 5.1 mixes you have done? And if so, will they see a release in the future as well, perhaps via Tonefloat or your own Headphone Dust label? Thanks.
SW: I'd love to release some of those Bass Communion 5.1 mixes, but as a project like this already appeals to a relatively small percentage of my fans, the proportion of them also interested in 5.1 is miniscule! Certainly it's been tough to justify 5.1 BC releases (though I've done a couple of DVDAs bundled with CDs). All the same I hope to do a box set some time which would tie up a lot of Bass Communion stereo / vinyl only rarities, and add a disc with some of those unreleased surround mixes too. Apart from that there is a beautiful 5.1 mix of Opeth's Damnation record which I really hope will come out one day. Plus there are a number of other seventies albums that are in the pipeline, but can't say too much about that at the moment
DKA: 11) One of the biggest questions I've always had concerning professional surround mixes is the differences in approach which exist among mixers. Listening to many of your mixes, it is clear to me that your approach favors the isolation of a vocal, and some light and pertinent instrumentation, in the center channel, allowing for greater differentiation in the soundfield, whether the track is one with with denser instrumentation or a sparer mix. As someone whose main hobby is to try to build surround mixes from stereo, it perplexes me when I hear a professional surround mix doesn't try to accomplish what you seem to be setting out to do but, rather, seems to just widen the soundfield without any real differentiation. I feel like those mixes (which include some recent biggies such as the Pink Floyd Guthrie mixes, all of the Rush mixes, and Bowie's "Station to Station," amongst others) completely miss the opportunity to provide the listener with any sort of new, or worthwhile, listening experience. Even when working from stereo, I can extract more actual separation and differentiation of instruments/vocals than these "from multitrack" mixes are offering. My question(s) is/are this: Why do some professional mixers prefer to work in this manner? What is your feeling on mixing in this manner?
SW: That's a difficult question to answer, but it might be as simple as the fact that I've approached surround mixing in a very idiot-savant kind of of way, and was never told how I should or should not do it - I listen with my ears rather than by intellect. I haven't really listened to too many other mixes, and haven't heard any of the ones you mention above, so I tend to just do what seems right to me. If some mixes seem very conservative then you can probably say the same about music and the people that listen to it in general - most people seem content to just peddle out and listen to the same old generic fare, but I've always felt that music was capable of embodying so much more than most mainstream music would suggest.
One other theory - perhaps some other mixers are paranoid about the way that people may have their 5.1 systems not set up correctly and consequently play it safe - but my philosophy has never been to underestimate the audience.
doppelbock: 12) Since Fripp seems to have let the proverbial cat out of the bag, I wonder if Steven can comment on the ELP stuff? Can you tell us which albums you have done, or will be doing? In the past you've said that ELP were not one of your favorites (or words to that effect) - does that change how you approach doing the mixes, and did working on them change your opinion at all? Any other general comments about this project would be welcome too.
SW: While I don't think ELP have stood the test of time in the way that some other bands of that era have, I really enjoyed doing the albums - I find that there are astounding moments in their music, but in my opinion (and no doubt many will disagree!) some tracks on each album are what you might call "filler". One of the interesting things we've been able to do with the reissues it to make CD1 the original album, and CD2 an alternate version of the album using new mixes. For example on Tarkus this enabled me to replace what I saw as "novelty" tracks like Are You Ready Eddy and Jeremy Bender and replace them with what I felt were better songs. On the first album this was done by necessity since the multi-tracks of Tank and 2 parts of the Three Fates were missing - luckily there were interesting out-takes that could take their place in the album sequence. There is an element of trying to re-write history in this of course, which some may consider sacrilegious, but the original mix is also part of the package, so it's simply an alternate perspective.
kap'n krunch: 13) Hi Steven; stellar job on those remixes!
Being a Logic Pro user, I was wondering if you could mention the settings/eq/effects used in any of the remixes-I especially love in the "Discipline" DVD-A and the delay/verb used in Fripp's guitar swells that emanate from Right Rear and expand to the rest of the sound field in "The Sheltering Sky".
Do you compress the mixes, at least a bit?
SW: No compression at all from me, I prefer to provide the mastering engineer with the maximum possible dynamic range and let them judge how much to compress, if at all.
Any Harmonic exciter?
I have read that in the earlier albums you had to use some severe EQ to compensate for lack of fidelity.
SW: I wouldn't say it was that severe. In fact what came up on the tapes often sounded much nicer than the original mixes would suggest. In many cases I would say that I used less EQ than they used on the original mixes.
Also, what sound interface do you use?
I also notice a weird placement of the speakers (front ones very separated), any reason behind that or is it just how you are "wired"? As long as you mention only one song (whichever one you prefer), it'd be cool. Thanks for the lessons in MCH mixing. Cheers from Madrid (where I saw you in the last PT gig in La Riviera!).
SW: I didn't realise it was weird! I think the important thing with any room and studio set up is you know what you are hearing and can make judgments based on that. I could go into the best studio with the most amazing 5.1 setup in the world, but I wouldn't know what I was hearing so I just wouldn't be able to work there.
0tto: 14) i was thinking about this question for several days now. finally decided to ask. quite often we're here and other in different places talk on the cause, why labels won't mess with surround mixing and remixing old stuff. in majority everything come to conclusion, that the cost of work, involved in surround mixes do not justify such invest from label's point of view on efficiency of monetary return to them.
you did so many surround mixes for other artists and probably very well familiar with cost of such work. i understand that there aren't fixed price for this kind of work, but at least please tell us
what is average cost and could this be main obstacle for labels or this is just a myth? if you feel uncomfortable to answer, i'm ok. with and can understand this.
SW: I can't really answer that, but let's just say that there's not much money around for these things, so it take someone like me who really loves the music and for whom getting paid is a secondary consideration to make these projects happen.
LizardKing: 15) Are there any plans to release any of the earlier Porcupine Tree albums in surround?
I'd personally like to see them all, especially The Sky Moves Sideways...
SW: While I appreciate your enthususiam for this music I probably don't quite share it! Also Sky Moves for example was recorded on ADATs at 16 bit 44.1K CD resolution, so CD is probably the best place for it.
patrick1: 16) What is your preferred placement of speakers as it pertains to listening in 5.1, as to where....and why? I saw a picture of you sitting behind the mixing desk, and from what I could see, the rear speakers were placed directly to the side at ear level. Not behind, by any degree. Keep up the great work. Thanks.
SW: I think I just copied Elliot's speaker positioning from when I saw him doing it, and that's what I've become used to. Again as long as you are consistent and understand what you are hearing then you can make the right decisions.
Q-Eight: 17) Do you think the Record Co's will ever even TRY to embrace Quad or Surround sound?
Seriously. We've had the carrot dangled an awful lot . DTS Entertainment for a couple releases, then nothing. Some releases on DVD-A and SACD, then nothing. TWO releases from Rhino (and this is a topic that really boils my potatoes) and then nothing. But through all this there have been numerous announcements of coming attractions. Again with the carrot. As an industry insider, do you ever see REGULAR Old Quad Releases or new 5.1 releases coming from the big companies? (and I don't mean 2-6 releases every ten years, I'm talking like the old days when we got 100+ per year)
SW: I think the problem was that while the companies were trying to launch surround music all the momentum was in the opposite direction, with compressed audio and portable music devices. Convenience always seems to win out over quality of experience in these situations, very unfortunate, but there simply wasn't enough people who cared enough about sonic excellence and were prepared to invest their time, money and energy in a good surround listening system - or maybe not enough of the mixes were good enough, I really don't know (actually I just remembered hearing an early 5.1 mix of Fragile by Yes, that sounded *all wrong*!) So these companies spent a not inconsiderable amount of money having albums remixed, but then hardly anyone bought them - exactly what happened in the 70's with quad I guess. Nowadays the surround mix usually has to be a thrown in bonus extra, it's hard to justify a standalone multichannel release - I did a standalone blu-ray for my last album Grace For Drowning, but it also included high res stereo and a lot of video material.
peterzach: 18) Covers and Blackfield
There are so many good questions in this section already but thought I would take another stab at this one even though its been answered before(Blackfield one not coming out in surround).
Steven, any chance that you would combine all of the Covers series into one disk and do your surround magic to it? I really enjoy them and it would be so awesome to hear these songs in a lossless surround format. I hope you will consider it and or have time to do it.
SW: I'm definitely going to compile all the cover version singles into an album at some point, but the whole philosophy of the original singles was a "quick and dirty", record 2 songs in a weekend and have them on sale the following week. So I tended to record and mix them quite quickly, I'm not even sure if I still have all the master tracks as some were recorded on an old and now out of commision laptop. But it's a nice idea so I might have to do a bit of detective work when the time comes and see what might be possible.
The second question and from what I have read before if I remember correctly is that Aviv Geffen is not really a surround fan and that seems to be what is stopping Blackfield from coming out in surround. Again this is such a shame that the Blackfield albums haven't been given the surround treatment. I absolutely love Blackfield 1 and 2, these would sound so good in lossless surround. One can dream.........
SW: Yes, see my answer above, Aviv has actively asked me not to mix any Blackfield music in surround, and I have to respect that. Some musicians simply don't like it or get it, Mark Hollis from Talk Talk springs to mind, I really wanted to do the Talk Talk records, and EMI were keen, but Mark just didn't want the music in any other form other than stereo.