21st century box

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Graying hippies and boomers still reeling over Jim Morrison's death, and kids who're just mourning lost Lizard King mythology now, can salve their aches because the Doors are, um, back ... in a way.

And this writer is no fan of rewritten musical history, particularly when it involves the remixing of actual multi-track master tapes — a record and its mix capture a moment in time, period. But, this boxed set is a stunner. And it's the high-resolution remixes that elevate it above yet another crude Doors cash-in.

First, the box's cover is a door that sports a peephole through which images of the band can be rotated by a finger-controlled wheel. Fun, eh? Inside, the albums are housed in two-disc digipaks, each containing a booklet, a CD of the original mixes — but the exact same as the 1999 reissues — and a second disc of stereo and surround album remixes (in DVD-Audio advanced resolution, DTS and Dolby Digital). Included are unreleased song outtakes, pics, lyrics and video footage from TV shows and live performances.

The new remixes (by band engineer/producer Bruce Botnick — see sidebar) lift smoggy veils from the original tracks, revealing a clarity (and bits cut from the original mixes) that has never been heard before. Combine that with inherent hi-res (24/96) residuals and the band sounds more rock 'n' roll — even ferocious at times — with all the warmth of analog. You can hear what the Doors were really all about.

And Morrison sounds more baleful and more sensitive and more full-of-himself than ever. An example: the telling "she gets high" refrain that's been restored to "Break on Through (To The Other Side)" changes the whole feel of the song. When he croons, his low register just resonates. And wherever you stand on Morrison's purple Verlaine and Rimbaud nods, he's never sounded so passionate, and never has it been so evident just what a great, nuanced rock 'n' roll singer he was, even as his voice degenerated to a booze-baked, pitched rasp by L.A. Woman. His personas are magnified; he's the blue-collar asshole on the barstool on Morrison Hotel, he's the whorehouse priest on Strange Days, he's a sensitive shaman on Soft Parade, he's a gin-blossomed drunk on LA Woman. The Oedipal lament of "The End" is scary in hi-res; the drunken pop star is walking on down your hall, walking on down to your mother's bedroom. Words left off the original build to a crescendo ... "fuuuck" ... and you still don't know if it's genius or affected garbage. But, he's in your hallway. The hi-res is that involving. Morrison's every hoarsey tone is so in-the-moment, so you-can-reach-out-touch-it, that you can feel his voice box stinging from booze and overuse throughout the new mixes.

In DVD-audio, the musical harmonics arrive at their logical destination. Ray Manzarek's organ riffs swell and recede, low notes resound deep in the chest. John Densmore is all elbows, groove and clang; cymbals and crashes hang and sustain as they should. Robby Krieger's guitars are louder, defined. Reverb and echo trails and the ambience of the recordings are captured — you can hear the room in which the songs were cut. It's as if you can get up and touch each band member, walk around them as they play; and that's just in the stereo mix. In surround, the band is sitting all around you. (Strangely, the advanced resolution surround track of "Love Her Madly" and the entire Waiting For the Sun album is in 5.0, and not 5.1, thus eliminating extra subwoofer oomph.)

You get many little bits and pieces left off the original mixes too, including longer intros on "Touch Me" and "Soft Parade." The running speed problems on The Doors are now "corrected." Some great outtakes include versions of "Indian Summer" (with the original 1966 vocal), the jazz version of "Queen of the Highway" from Morrison Hotel and two takes of "Moonlight Drive" from The Doors. Some Morrison studio banter shows a guy who wasn't so mired in selfness; it's the kind of stuff that goes lengths to shatter the Morrison mythology.

This set is the Doors for those who don't dig the Doors — they were, after all, a straight-up rock 'n' roll band — and also one for Doors completists and audiophiles. The only downer is the classic mixes aren't included on the hi-res discs. After this you'll never want to hear a compressed iPod file again.

Doors engineer/producer talks remixing history

Bruce Botnick engineered all six Doors albums and produced LA Woman. And he's responsible for all the stereo and surround mixes for this boxed set. We hit him up with a few questions about putting together the Perception project.

Metro Times: The new 24/96 stereo and surround mixes sound glorious — lots of air and a huge soundstage — but are remarkably faithful to the originals in a warm, analog-y sense. What kind of condition were the original source tapes in? Did you do any remixing on vintage tape machines, or was it dumped into a hard-drive?

Bruce Botnick: The original tapes are in excellent condition, stored in a climate-controlled, fireproof environment. The temperature is around 50 degrees but the air is treated so that when you're in the room you can quickly dehydrate.

All the album tapes were carefully transferred analog to digital at 96 kHz / 24 bit onto ProTools HD using Pacific Microsonic A/D converters. The mixing was done entirely digital and became analog again by playing through your loudspeakers. No intermediate steps to interfere with the quality of the sound were used.

MT: The debut was basically done on a four-track, right?

BB: Yes. The Doors was recorded on four-track, half-inch tape at 15 ips (inches per second). This and three-track was the standard for recording in 1966.

MT: How difficult was it to mix that album into 5.1 surround?

BB: The Doors was a bit difficult to mix and it wasn't. The console was three-track, so we monitored in three-track, left-center-right. The fourth track was used for occasional percussion, bass and alternate vocals. Being that we only had four tracks on the tape, I determined that the best thing to do was to make a natural soundscape and allow the music to breathe. In surround, there is a feeling of air and the guys are almost in the room with you.

MT: Was there ever a point while remixing where you threw up your arms, nearly gave up and said, "This just isn't possible"?

BB: I always knew that the mixes were going to come out right, although there were moments when I didn't feel the music and things didn't come together as I wanted. In those cases, I would just turn everything off in my studio and go home to return at another time; sometimes it could be waking up at 3 a.m. and getting the inspiration. If we hadn't released the box as it is now, I'm sure that I would still be tweaking it to get that last bit of performance out of the music.

MT: Did you ever question the idea that you might be changing an historic sound by going back and remixing it?

BB: I had a big internal debate that raged for over a year about remixing something that's stood the test of time for 40 years. What I realized is that when I recorded these albums, I was of a different age and sensibility and I'm not that same person today. It's extremely difficult to go back and be the person you were forty years ago; pretty much impossible. I hear and feel things differently now and wanted to bring that to the fore. If I had matched the original mixes exactly, the new mixes would have been sterile and lacked emotion, and that alone convinced me to go forward and allow the music to speak to me and tell me what to do.

My goal was to bring as open and punchy a mix to the street with the fewest generations to change and degrade the sound.

MT: The version of the song "Soft Parade" includes an intro that's about a minute longer than the original, one that has Morrison crooning. Where'd that come from?

BB: When I transferred the master 8-track, that opening portion of "The Soft Parade" was tacked on the front though separated by a paper leader. It was a wonderful surprise and still to this day I don't know why we left if off the 1968 disc.

MT: In the 5.1 mix, Morrison just seems to float, as if he's totally alone. The warmth in his vocals is still incredible. How were Morrison's vocals captured in studio?

BB: In almost all cases a Telefunken U47 was the microphone of choice with the use of Universal Audio tube 176 limiter. Let's face it, Jim had and still has a great voice, he could croon or shake the room. You're right, he does seem to have his own space and I directly attribute that to the center loudspeaker, which imparts a spatial perspective and gives the music the room to breathe.

MT: Any Morrison recording anecdote that's never been shared?

BB: Nope, saving all that kind of stuff for the 80th anniversary box set!

Brian Smith is the features editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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