With the Sept. 16 release of 15 classic Bob Dylan albums on the hybrid Super Audio CD format, Columbia/Legacy is initiating an ambitious sonic upgrade of the icon’s CD catalog. Five albums in the series are also presented, for the first time, in 5.1-channel surround sound.
Like many current SACD titles, the Dylan series comprises dual-layer discs featuring a high-density layer carrying high-resolution, multichannel surround sound, as well as a two-channel stereo SACD version and a standard 16-bit, 44.1kHz layer. While an SACD player is required for playback of the high-resolution, multichannel layer, hybrid discs are forward- and backward-compatible, allowing playback on standard CD players.
Titles carrying multichannel mixes are “Blonde on Blonde,” “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” “Bringing It All Back Home,” “Blood on the Tracks,” “Slow Train Coming” and “Love and Theft.” The series also includes “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” “Highway 61 Revisited,” “John Wesley Harding,” “Nashville Skyline,” “Planet Waves,” “Desire,” “Street Legal,” “Infidels” and “Oh Mercy.”
The series’ release is the culmination of a year-long process that began with a search for original master tapes, Legacy Recordings senior VP of A&R Steve Berkowitz says. “The catalog was in need of upgrading. The tapes were there to do it with, [as were] the machines, the humans and the desire.
“Because of Dylan’s popularity over the years,” Berkowitz adds, “his catalog was among the first to be converted from record and cassette, from analog to digital, in what we might call the Dark Ages of digital conversion.” Berkowitz says the technology has improved greatly since then. “The original productions to CD were brittle and weren’t necessarily [from] the choicest of tapes.”
Like the recent series of remastered Rolling Stones and Sam Cooke recordings from ABKCO Records, Columbia/Legacy’s Dylan series represents a painstaking process using the best-available analog masters. In the case of 5.1-channel remixes, recordings are presented in such a way as to faithfully convey the artist’s intent.
In the case of “Blood on the Tracks,” basic tracks for which were cut at A&R Recording in New York, original engineer and A&R owner Phil Ramone created the 5.1-channel mix with A&R alumnus and multichannel pioneer Elliot Scheiner.
“I wanted us to sit in front of Bob Dylan from about 25 or 50 feet and hear the room come to life,” Ramone says. “A lot of this stuff is in a full circle, because that’s the way I set up the room. It’s an acoustic environment that you can accomplish in 5.1.”
“I didn’t want to get into anything tricky where suddenly you’re hearing Bob behind you,” adds engineer Michael Brauer, who created surround mixes for “Blonde on Blonde,” “Another Side of Bob Dylan” and “Bringing It All Back Home” with Berkowitz. “I wanted to create more of a panoramic view in front. You don’t hear the back but you notice that the width is beyond the speakers. It’s very natural, there’s nothing ‘novelty’ about it. You’re opening up the picture without getting tricky, without getting distracted by surround sound.”
One exception, Brauer adds, is “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” from “Blonde on Blonde.” “That’s the one where you feel like you’re part of a parade,” he says, “so you’re hearing people laughing in the back, because it makes sense that you’re walking along with them.”
“We’re not out to change the arrangements or the shading of the music,” Berkowitz concludes. “The artists, producers and engineers created them at that time for good or bad, but some parts of the technology are better than they used to be. This is a huge part of Bob Dylan’s legacy, of the culture of the United States, of the 20th century. Every respect and care was taken accordingly.”