Midnight Oil

[Powderworks] Capricornia DTS review

Jacques Cuneo jccuneo@bellsouth.net
Sun, 23 Feb 2003 00:57:52 -0600

Hey folks,

I have gotten and listened to the DTS version of Capricornia and thought I
would share my impressions of the album and how it sounds with 6.1
capability.  For reference, this disc is a DTS ES Discrete album encoded at
1.2 mb/s.  This means that seven discrete channels are used to create the
sonic field - three in front, two side, two rear, and a su (6.1).  The
encoding at 1.2 mb/s is almost as high as full bitrate movies (1.4 mb/s, of
which there are few) and a good bit higher than half bitrate movies (756
kb/s).  Sonic fidelity is excellent.  

These mixes run from the gimmicky of throwing sounds all over the sides and
rears to using the surrounds as atmospheric enhancers to give the aural
appearance of being up front in the audience.  The Oils did a bit of both.
Some songs are atmospheric, others quite experimental in sound placement.
It is a different experience than the stereo CD that you most likely own.

One of the most compelling reasons for a surround mix is to allow the
listener to hear the sonic landscape that is difficult to achieve with a
stereo only setup.  Let's face it, 99.9% of people do not have a proper
stereo setup.  This limits the ability of the listener to image the misic
well.  Proper stereo setups demand very good equipemtn, speakers, along
with proper placement.  A surround mix helps a great deal in helping the
rest of us hear that sonic landscape.

Here is a rundown of the disc and what changes from the stereo version:

1.  Golden Age - They start off with a bang here, with all the sounds in
the surrounds and slowly migrate to the front to kick off the song.  As in
the case of most of the songs, much of the backup vocals have a presence in
the surrounds.  Also as in the case of much of the rest of the album,
Pete's voice is centered right in the center.  Rob's drums are spread over
the front three speakers, as would be expected.  The guitar placements are
exactly where you would expect them to be.  This song does indicate that
this album will be a different experience than the stereo version.  Pete
adds a bit of vocals and a couple of his lines echo in the left surround.
The effect was different, but didn't seem shocking or out of place.  In
fact, the bit of added vocals jarred me the first time I listened to them,
but the movement of Pete's voice twice seemed "right".

2.  Too Much Sunshine - Not too much that jumps out here.  Backup vocals
and atmospherics stretch around to the surrounds.

3.  Capricornia - Same here.  No huge changes besides a more enveloping
sound field.

4. Luritja Way - This is where things start to get more interesting. Some
effects move from back to front (and vice versa).  Throughout much of the
album the backup vocals from Jim and Rob go in the back while Bones stays
up front.  During Luritja Bones moves to the surrounds as well.  The
beginning and ending of this song are outstanding - Jim and Martin seem to
be sitting right out in front to the right and left playing guitar.  The
guitar picking is so clear and palpable you could swear the guitars are but
a couple feet away.

5.  Tone Poem - The most experimental and different of the songs on the
album.  Atmospheric "streamers" of sound moving all over the sonic
landscape.  And it truly is a sonic landscape - it was like they created a
bubble of which sound traveled over around the listener until the vocals
began and Pete stuck his head right into the front of the bubble.  Even
subtleties like drums move around a bit - the effect is suble but very
effective.  So effective, I thought, that I greatly prefer this version
over the stereo version.  This seems to be what the stereo version aspired
to be.  Jim's stamp is all over this song.

6.  A Crocodile Cries - By far the most "atmospheric" of the songs, with
precise placement of birds chirping from many directions.  Is is the most
effective use of surrounds to create an aural landscape, but not the most
"experimental" because the lack of vocals allows for an effortless
extension of the stereo version into this huge soundfield created for this
short instrumental.  Haunting piano.

7.  Mosquito March - There is a lot of subtle effects in the surrounds,
including some clapping that I never picked out of the original mix
cleanly.  This song is one where I suspect I miss the sixth channel (I have
a 5.1 setup and do not have a center rear channel as of yet).  I suspect I
was missing some direct rear placement of sound.  Another note on this song
is that the kick drum was paced this song - the bass kick was omnidirectional.

8.  Been Away too Long - Probably the most interesting mix along with Tone
Poem, this one starts with the main guitar line circling counter-clockwise
around the listener.  The first time I listened I thought it a bit
distracting, but after that it was a sonic treat and fit in very well with
the rest of the song.  This song also had a great deal of atmospherics in
all channels as well as some percussion overhead/rear.  It fit right in,
although once again I think I missed the 6th channel here a bit.

9.  Say Your Prayers - This song is driven by the strong, low bass line.
There are suble effects in the surrounds, however with such a strong bass
line they are almost drowned out.  This song, along with Mosquito March
really do demand full range speakers and/or a good sub.  It is amazing how
much you miss on the low end with small speakers.  These two songs cry out
for a capable sub (POS Bose BassCube and tiny computer subs need not
apply).  My least favorite track (on both albums ;-).

10.  Under the Overpass - I may be the only one, but on the stereo version
I have held the belief that the last three tracks are the strongest, with
Overpass being their strongest effort.  After listening to this track a few
times, I much prefer the stereo track.  On the stereo version this song is
raw, and is very effective that way.  This version seems a bit too
polished, and loses some effectiveness.  At the beginning there is a bass
reverb effect not in the stereo version that I continue to find distracting
and detrimental to the song.  I must say, though, that the mid-end choruses
are incredible, sounding like they are in a large Catholic church.  Not a
bad version, but I do think "raw" is more appropriate for this track.

11.  World That I See - Wonderful interplay of guitars that become even
more evident here.  I find this track more effective than the stereo as
well as more engaging.  There is a cymbal effect directly overhead that
definitely belongs there.  The guitar interplay is extended with
atmospherics to the surrounds and becomes even more impressive, if that is

12.  Poets and Slaves - This is a pretty simple ballad, but you can tell
Jim had his way with this mix.  This is another song that exhibits a huge
sonic landscape.  With this song they took a front stereo mix and extended
the sound all the way around in a huge arc.  There are some changes in
vocals and guitar that are interesting.  There are waves of sound from
front to back - shock waves in very slow motion.  I love this song in
stereo and love it here.  

Even after a few times of listening to this album I still get a bit sad
after Poets, knowing that this is the last major release from the Oils we
will ever see, barring some sort of miracle.  It is a great effort, and all
should get this album to see what the band can do in three dimensions
rather than two.  The album is different enough from the stereo version
that all Oils fans should give it a try if you have a 5.1 setup.

I had a hard time finding this album.  For some reason the main DTS store
is not carrying this.  For this reason I would grab a copy NOW, as it seems
this release is a red headed stepchild, for some reason.  I got my copy
from the guy on Half.com selling them for $16.  That is a good price, as
DTS CDs usually go for a bit higher than that.  

Take care all.