Review from Julie Skaggs
Pink Floyd – The Division Bell
20th Anniversary reissue, 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS DVD-V
5.1 mixing and mastering: Andy Jackson & Damon Iddins
Full disclosure: I purchased my own copy of this DVD, I am not being compensated in any fashion to write this review.
To begin this review on a positive note, I’m glad for whomever was in charge of the decision not to leave the 5.1 mix simply as a boutique novelty by limiting it to the Blu-ray in the box set; although ultimately it’s disappointing to me in regards to the choice of format and packaging…of course the world does not exist to satisfy my demands. But Pink Floyd is all about the immersive experience, so let the greatest number of fans actually buy it if they want to! However, this last-minute concession is, to me, yet another example of how shoddily the #TDB20 campaign has been administered, with very little foresight and planning utilized even as this release is purportedly being celebrated as a landmark in the Floydian oeuvre. The DVD is in a cheap flimsy cardboard sleeve and considerations of carbon footprint or no, I feel like I bought it from a street vendor rather than the band’s official store. Especially with that ghastly Photoshopped image on the front of the sleeve.
It’s been revealed this 5.1 mix is ten years old – literally. Andy Jackson, who originally engineered the album and created this mix, has recently expounded on its provenance: it was created simply for the sake of doing it, not because of any other development or project in Floydworld at the time, and then it sat on a hard drive somewhere. It has not been reviewed or retouched in any way since that time. So it’s interesting as a snapshot of Jackson encountering 5.1 for the first time and experimenting with it. But we don’t know – and we likely never will – if it truly represents what he would have done now, ten years later. So in the end it’s just an artifact, which is of course the ultimate fate of any release. But it’s an important consideration to judge this effort only according to that qualification, as it likely never would have been released if not for the reissue campaign. As such this information actually renders a previous observation – that of Matt Johns of Brain Damage – to be incorrect when he noted in his review of the 5.1 on Blu-ray: To achieve this, Jackson and Iddins went back to the original multi-track recordings, and clearly painstakingly worked their way through them to create this truly absorbing new look at Pink Floyd’s final album, now some 20 years old. It is important, in my opinion, to understand that this mix was created as more of a hobbyist activity rather than as a specific archival restoration (which is not to imply that Jackson’s professional acumen was not utilized in the effort).
The primary problem I’ve had with the sound of The Division Bell since 1994 is that it was compressed all to hell and back, it’s squashed and cold. And given what a dense production it is overall I find that ultimately robs it of whatever power it could have possessed. The original mix is very claustrophobic, in my opinion: the top end is particularly shrill and the drums are flat and buried underneath everything else, they don’t sound real, there’s no snap and sizzle. As 5.1 Surround Sound allows the reference field to project deeper and wider, this new mix does help to untangle the multitracks and let them breathe a bit. I appreciate that Jackson acknowledged the issues with the original mix by giving this version a spacier feel. The thing I don’t know that it particularly helps is in regard to David’s vocals. The original character still remains: it sounds like he has a cold on just about every song, and he’s really straining at the top of his range in some places (especially on “A Great Day For Freedom”). The good news is that the drums have been rescued, when there are real drums in a track they sound like real drums.
But now that I’ve heard the 5.1 I understand why people think this mix is so amazing: it illustrates that the original stereo mix was terrible and ten years later Jackson did his best to fix it. And it is truly a revelation. But not every revelation is a welcome gift.
Back to my misadventures of being trapped-in-the-closet with this album…I will note that the spread of the instruments in 5.1 means that it no longer sounds like everything has been piled on top of everything else. You can pick out congruent elements and apprehend how they accent sections of the arrangement, although in a few cases it means there’s just too many additions in a track, such as the overstuffed frantic juggernaut of “What Do You Want From Me.” It doesn’t necessarily save the top end from being too metallic but it makes it less objectionable in that respect except on “Take It Back,” which is just so awful nothing can save it.
Having all the layers exposed is a good and bad thing. Good because the detail is appreciable, but bad because it shows up the plodding arrangements, awkward use of ambient elements/crossfades/transitions, and the aforementioned claustrophobic nature of the mix even with the added space. There is no sense of appropriate pacing to the sequencing except at the beginning and the end. Another drawback to this mix, in my estimation, is that you can’t crank it, it starts to clang in the top end and is painful in the higher registers, which wrecks havoc with the dynamic experience entire. This is not an accusation of limiting or clipping but it seems to be an issue stemming directly from the multitracks.
My primary issue with this version is I don’t get the sense of a three-dimensional image. I can understand and respect a conservative use of the center and sub in a 5.1 mix given the vagaries of home theatre setups but this means that while there is space in this mix there is also a hole. There’s no center, no sense of truly being surrounded. And the placement of lead vocals consistently in the front channels (mostly the right) means that David’s voice does sound buried or too far forward at times, especially when the dynamics of the arrangement require that the other instruments become louder in the pre-chorus and chorus. The overall effect is evident in several songs, but most notably in “Keep Talking.”
I also have some issues with panning, placement and EQ in addition to what occurred during the making of the album; I’ll elaborate track-by-track:
-The panning at the beginning of “Cluster One” is too obvious, there’s no natural flow regarding how the sounds move across the rear channels. It’s interesting to hear all the bits we couldn’t before, but it doesn’t help the pacing of this track in general, which starts to drag for me after the three-minute mark.
-There’s not enough space between the vocals in “What Do You Want From Me,” it feels like the parts are in opposition rather than harmony because they appear to have been mixed at exactly the same level. And the reverb effect comes off rather cheesy in the bridge before the final refrain.
-The echo spins used in “Poles Apart” are a deliberate choice, but even in this mix they don’t add any sense of dramatic space and therefore are rather a wasted effect. The panning of the ambient elements in the midsection (such as the carousel) are at least a more appropriate use of the technique.
-The metallic feel of the high end is also quite obvious in “Marooned” which sadly makes David’s efforts at imitating whale song very difficult to listen to.
-The mix also reveals how David is struggling with the vocals in “A Great Day For Freedom.” And the nicely organic feel of the acoustic instruments is then trampled upon by what I consider an extreme misuse of synths on the track.
-”Wearing The Inside Out” is an enduring fan favorite, and it makes me sad that the new mix further reveals my overall issues – the instruments and backing vocals are threatening to overwhelm Rick’s vocal, and then David’s vocal and guitar solo outro steals the song out from under him. Given the overall delicate nature of Rick’s musicality, this song needed a different arrangement to best frame his style. I still don’t quite understand why the heartbeat was used when it doesn’t transition into the next track.
-I have nothing to say about “Take It Back.”
-Nor “Coming Back To Life.” If pressed, I’ll state that I enjoyed the presentation of David’s playing in the introduction even as it is framed by that tiresome synth droning again.
-”Keep Talking,” much like “Poles Apart,” is a song which tries very hard to make us believe it is Floydian, and it works in some ways, not in others. The mix reveals all those little touches and elements but shows them up for what they are rather than upholds the supposition. It’s another mix which is so dense it’s nigh overwhelming.
-”Lost For Words” has an incredibly awkward transition – you can hear the compression change right at the beginning which just sort of ruins the whole effect of the SFX for me (although it is the most interesting use of panning, from rear-to-front in the left channel). I do like David’s playing in this track and the guitars are spread nicely across the reference field before the first verse. But that weird mishmash of effects in the middle section is still badly-done.
-”High Hopes” is another fan favorite, and in theory I can appreciate why, but again I have too many issues: the plinking piano used to replicate the chime of the bell grows tiresome after its first refrain: the lyrics don’t fit the meter of the song, the ambient elements in the intro aren’t mixed with an appreciation of how they should be used…and yet, the way the ending is arranged and layered in this mix does it justice better than the original ever could. It is nice to be able to hear the full orchestra, especially the brass.
-And I really wish Jackson could have found a way to make the transition to the easter egg a bit better, it still sounds tacked-on although at least it’s more intelligible now.
After several listens I can’t help but muse upon what a missed opportunity this mix was in all aspects, but at the very least it does allow one to actually experience the record as it was meant to be; appreciation or disappointment will follow surely as the endless river does flow…its boundless depths just as cliche-ridden as this album. And if you do enjoy it then at least give yourself the opportunity to own a copy you can truly hear in its crammed-to-the-hilt fullness.
(With thanks to divers hands generally and Natalie Thake specifically.)
Review thanks to Julie Skaggs
Review from Lars Normann
First of all I must admit that it’s quite an honor to be writing this review for Col Turner and his website. Although there are many other websites like this, I don’t think there are many people around as dedicated to Pink Floyd as he is and to me that is why A Fleeting Glimpse and it’s forum are the best places to go for Pink Floyd information.
I have been looking forward to do this review of The Division Bell Blu-ray disc and it’s important for the reader to understand that this is my personal view on the album and the band.
Soon to be the second last album by Pink Floyd and also the first album since Wish You Were Here to really capture some of the magic that was once a dominant part of the music. Richard Wright was back and has left his fingerprint all over this album and that’s what makes The Division Bell stand out as one of the better albums in Pink Floyd’s catalogue. The interplay between Gilmour and Wright brings the listener right back to the classic era.
The newly released 5.1 mix really takes the album to a whole new level. Right from the beginning of Cluster One it’s clear that a lot of love and care has been put into this. Everything surrounds you and you notice sounds that was buried before, like bird tweets and sound effects coming from all around. If you close your eyes and use your imagination you can almost feel the band playing right there in your living room. The mix really adds another dimension to the music, you can point out every single instrument and sound effect, and it never sounds cheesy or forced in any way.
On the old stereo mix I always had to turn down the volume a bit after Cluster One ended. What Do You Want From Me is a huge contrast to that song, but when listening to this mix I never touched the volume control.
That first guitar solo of WDYWFM sounds great in 5.1, the punchy drums, the roaring solos and of course Rick’s organ makes this a great rock song, but I never enjoyed it as much as I do now.
The instrumental middle section of Poles Apart gave me the chills, the violins, the bell, the baby crying, the truck driving past you, it just suddenly fits in perfectly somehow. All the effects sounds crisp and clear. Then the sound of sea waves suddenly surrounds you and seagulls screams along with Gilmour’s slide guitar.
Marooned is one of the best tracks on the album, and hearing it in 5.1 surround is a great treat. Again the interplay between Gilmour and Wright is amazing. They take up the left and right surround speakers while Nick is in the front.
Something I noticed in A Great Day for Freedom is how clearly you can hear the guitar strumming, it’s right beside you and you can hear every single string being touched. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that in any song before. It just shows how audible every instrument is now. The 3rd dimension brings out so much more than you got from the stereo mix.
Wearing the inside out has always been one of my favorites from TDB, I love Rick’s voice this song fits him so well. Again the mix does an excellent job of letting everything breathe, I never heard Gilmour’s voice as clear before in this song.
Even Take it Back sounds great now. Being one of my least favorite tracks from the album I discovered a lot of great stuff in this mix. For instance I never noticed the little girls sing before in the instrumental middle section, so that was very nice to hear for the first time and all in all this song is now a better experience than it ever was.
The intro solo in Coming Back to Life is to me one of Gilmour’s best and it’s greatly accompanied by Rick’s synth. One thing I didn’t really notice before on this track is Rick’s organ which now is very audible and it sounds great.
Now this is my first real disappointment, when I got to Keep Talking I hoped that Stephen Hawkins voice would just creep up behind me, but sadly it feels buried in the mix. Otherwise it’s a great track. Especially the sound effects at the beginning, the guitars and Rick’s synth solo. This track is also filled with Nicks signature drum fills.
Lost for Words starts with a little notch back to the live renditions of Cymbaline when footsteps are heard going across the room and a door slams and it sounds really good and authentic. Nicks kick drum and hi-hat, Rick’s organ and then a great acoustic solo from David gives a great intro to this song which in same way reminds me of Wish You Were here. Again the instruments are clear as ever and very well mixed, and again there is things that was buried that clearly comes through now, like Rick’s piano and a great swirling guitar sound in the third verse right after the instrumental bridge. It just makes this otherwise great song much more interesting.
Now for the final track and one of the highlights of the album and the 5.1 surround mix. High Hopes is a masterpiece in the same league as Comfortably Numb. This mix is to me one of the best on the disc. The bell and especially the piano is so crystal clear that you can almost reach out and touch it. It’s mixed in the rear speakers. As is the acoustic guitar solo which shares both speakers as if Gilmour battles himself. It is actually hard to describe this song. There’s so much going on in the mix. String ensembles swirl around with drums and horns together with wind like sounds and bells. I think it has to be heard to be believed. It is the most haunting song on the album and the surround mix brings out the best, placing every instrument and sound effect in just the right place all around the listener. You feel completely immersed and you wish the song would never end. I loved this song before but I never knew it was this good. This is the feeling of Pink Floyd and the perfect closure of the album.
Now after this unbelievable experience it’s time to look at the contents of the disc. Many people including myself were disappointed with the contents of the disc, but my feelings have changed a lot after listening to the surround mix. It’s really worth the whole disc. Although a remastered High Hopes, and a few unreleased live tracks would have been nice, I cant complain at all. We get a brand new video for Marooned. And what a video that is. It perfectly compliments the theme of the song with fantastic shots of the earth from a satellite and a space shuttle and the ghost town. It’s as eerie and beautiful as the music itself and a perfect addition to the disc. The the alternate mix of A Great Day for Freedom that plays over the menu is also a nice surprise, although very brief it sounds great. And the menu itself is nicely done with artwork from the album blending together.
All in all this is an amazing Blu-ray disc that should be in every serious Pink Floyd collection. The 5.1 mix adds a completely new dimension to the album and makes it sound as timeless and fresh as ever. I heard a lot of new stuff for the first time and I got chills down my spine as some points. This is not an album to listen to on your iPod, this album deserves a great surround system, a comfortable chair a nice glass of scotch and most importantly time. It’s an album to enjoy in all aspects and it rivals the Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here 5.1 mixes. It’s full of dynamics and great audio effects. Every single instrument can be heard clearly and it shows just how important Richard Wright was to the sound of Pink Floyd, although David Gilmour and Nick Mason deserves just as much credit. Ut was the three of them together that made this album so special and I am convinced that The Endless River will be in the same league as The Division Bell, October is right around the corner.
Review thanks to Lars Normann
Review from Claude Flowers
I love this record.
The mix has been reinvented in many ways, making me rediscover the songs and love them more than ever. For years I found the pacing of the album to be problematic. “Marooned” and “Wearing the Inside Out” are fine tracks, but to my ears they sabotaged the emotional and musical momentum of the larger work. I always felt they should have been placed closer to the end, while an energetic track like “Take It Back” should have been pushed more toward the beginning, perhaps as track 3.
After weeks of waiting for it to come in the mail, the DVD hit my door last week and I immediately popped it in (after a brief pause to check out the disc artwork, which doesn’t quite work for me). It sounds astonishingly clean. I turned it up incredibly loud and the audio fidelity was superb. I kept being jolted (happily so!) by little things I’d never noticed before: The squeak of Dave’s finger on a guitar string in the first few seconds of “What Do You Want from Me.” His intake of breath in “A Great Day for Freedom.” The salt-and pepper percussive touches on “Wearing the Inside Out,” which now spring to the fore. The sound effects (Fluttering? Water?) prior to the first drums on “Take It Back,” and the children’s voices now more clearly heard. The sweep of keyboards during the verses of “Keep Talking,” more effective than ever.
The sonics of this disc made an old favorite a new favorite.
Review thanks to Claude Flowers
Review from Pal
Whether one likes this album or not depends on personal taste – which can be influenced by bias (one way or another). Therefore, I would not judge the album itself. I would say only that, while not being a towering masterpiece, The Division Bell is a rewarding – musically well-developed and intelligent -, effort by Pink Floyd that is pleasant to the ears and stimulating to the brain. Likewise, in respect of the 5.1 mix itself I would avoid a track-by-track analysis (if nothing else, for the limited time available at my disposal). So I would chiefly focus on aspects that are as objective as they can be: the technical details of this surround mix in question – and its relation to its predecessor, the album’s regular stereo mix.
The sampling rate of the 5.1 mix is 96kHz – compared to the stereo mix’s 44.1kHz (a standard for regular CD). The more than doubled sampling is supposed to bring out more detail from the original analogue recording, therefore the 5.1 mix should sound better even if not listening it in surround mode. To find out if it is indeed the case, I eventually down-mixed the 6 channels into 2 and compared it to the album’s original stereo mix.
By opening both the 1994 stereo mix and the new 5.1 mix in Audacity, I was able to see some of the benefits – or shortcomings – of this particular mix from a strictly technical [hence completely uninfluenced] viewpoint.
Even though this surround mix is called 5.1, it, according to the mixing engineer’s intention, is essentially a “4.05” (quasi quad) mix. The front central channel is [thankfully] pretty much nonexistent; its loudest parts are almost 15 decibels quieter than the front channels’ loudest sections. (3dB loss results half the loudness). Similarly, the LFE (Low Frequency Effects = the .1 channel) is completely silent about 50% of the time; the extra bass becomes significant only in A Great Day For Freedom, and really kicks in during the first third of the last track [High Hopes].
Although it does not mean much for us, mere humans, but the frequency spectrum stretches to an astonishing 40kHz in 5.1 (standard 20kHz for the original stereo).
Dynamic range: Clippings and compressions ruin an audio’s dynamic range. Both clipping and compression aim to make the audio sound louder by (a) either over-amplifying the entire audio [resulting trimming of the louder portions trying to exceed the 0dB threshold established by digital technology] or (b) amplifying just the quieter parts [hence narrowing the audio volume differences between quiet and loud audio segments]. A healthy dynamic range may not be important for some monotonous or aggressive music [e.g., disco, heavy metal], but essential for the delicate, and often meditative, ‘Pink Floyd sound’ (one should just think of Echoes).
- a) Clipping: Although the original stereo mix is not too bad in this respect, the 5.1 mix is clearly the winner, as Audacity revealed only four trimmed peaks in the audio diagrams of the 6 channels (compared to several dozens in Coming Back To Life alone in the regular 2.0 mix).
- b) Compression: Using any compression for a professional Pink Floyd recording would be a sin. Thankfully, the visual check of the audio graphs in Audacity revealed that the 5.1 mix showed no sign of compression whatsoever – unlike the original stereo mix, which clearly did. For instance, in the original stereo mix What Do You Want From Me?, aside from being mixed a lot louder, revealed an audio graph in Audacity that seemed to be almost “walled-in” [in which case the entire song would have nearly the same loudness all along, resulting a very limited dynamic range]. Thankfully, a healthy dynamic range is characteristic for the album as a whole (meaning some tracks now a lot quieter than the rest) as well as the for the individual tracks (so that loud and quiet parts fluctuate well within the songs as well).
I checked with Audacity as to what the [supposedly] silent parts are made of in both the 5.1 and the original stereo mix. Firstly, amplifying the “silent” segment at the end of High Hopes [just before the failed telephone conversation kicks in] revealed that the bell keeps sounding almost until the first spoken word. Secondly, there is a huge difference between the two mix’s background noises; while the 5.1 revealed nothing but a pure white noise [evidently originated from the analogue tapes], the original stereo mix’s background audio was unbelievably dirty. Even though such background noise could not be really heard, it does have a ‘smearing’ affect on the entire audio. In other words, what made the background noise dirty must have made the entire audio unclean as well. In fact, the 5.1 mix sounds clean [and “open”], while the original stereo mix sounds, well, dirty [and sort of “boxed in”].
Making observations on the 5.1 mix (and comparing it to the original stereo mix):
– Examination of the two mixes in stereo (the 5.1 mix is down-mixed to 2.0)
Comparing the two mixes to one another reveals that the 5.1 mix almost resulted a new, and for the most part, a better album. For example, the mixing is quite different for What Do You Want For Me?. In the 5.1 mix the lead vocal is doubled, and there are instruments – such as a guitar linked to a wah-wah pedal [mixed to the rear channels] – and effects that are absent (or else completely obscured) in the original mix. (The mixing of this track is so different in 5.1 that WTYWFM has nearly become a new song.)
The addition and enhancement of instruments have not always yielded benefits, though. For example, just before the first chorus in Wearing the Inside Out a rather ugly-sounding, distorted guitar (which is graciously buried deep in the original stereo mix) was brought forward, resulting a distraction from Richard Wright’s generous keyboard solo (and after all, WTIO is his song). This awkwardness notwithstanding, this song too sound much better in the 5.1 mix – cleaner and warmer, with a lot of space around the instruments (again: even when listening to its down-mixed 2.0 version with headphones).
Likewise, vocals sound much more gentle throughout the album in the 5.1 mix. (By comparison, Gilmour’s voice sound harsh – almost metallic – in the original stereo mix.) Again, the 5.1 mix brings out a lot more detail – effects, instruments and vocals (e.g., the echoing vocal at the beginning of Coming Back To Life is now much more prominent) – as well. A reverb guitar sound – the one featured in Lost for Words – is also more often heard in the surround mix.
– Listening to the 5.1 mix in surround mode
My impression has been that the ambiance of the surround mix is uniformly excellent. The “sound of earth” intro in Cluster One puts the listener right in the centre, and the 5.1 mix brings out a lot more audio [“ground”] layers than the regular stereo one. (The ‘one-finger’ piano strikes in this song are painfully sharp to the ears in the 2.0 mix – but, with the exception of a single note, they sound pleasingly soft in the 5.1.) The more detailed sound is clearly evident in other songs, such as Keep Talking, as well; the drums and percussion really sound fantastic in this particular track too. The only week point of KT is the female chorus (placed on the front right channel), as it sounds a bit murky, especially in comparison with the clear lead vocal (on the front left channel). I also wish that the bass had not been lowered for Marooned in 5.1. But such shortcomings are exceptions. In general, the surround mix’s potentials are very well utilized (but never abused) for these – and all the other – tracks.
The extensive use of overdubbing and incorporating a wealth of effects [that are often barely audible – or even inaudible during normal playback] has always been an essential part of the “Pink Floyd sound”. (After listening to Echoes several hundred times on headphones, I could still manage to discover new effects after having switched to a 24-bit CD edition of Meddle.) That is why this refreshing 5.1 mix should be a welcome addition to any Pink Floyd collection; it is detailed and clean, pleasingly soft and warm, and the extra instruments and sound effects are favourably and professionally presented in its multi-audio channels. The album itself is a very satisfying musical effort in the first place, and listening to it’s new, surround mix now makes it sound much-much better – even when the 5.1 audio is down-mixed to 2.0. (The original stereo mix sounds almost mono compare to this new mix’s stereo down-mix.) The ambiance of the 5.1 mix is just excellent throughout (properly utilized and never misused), potentially making The Division Bell a very respectable and truly enjoyable Pink Floyd album for anyone with open ears and minds.
Review thanks to Pal