|Review by Jimbo2 March 26, 2014 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
|I was introduced to Tomita's Pictures in the 1970s and have followed it's evolution through the decades, including the slightly flawed attempt at Prologic matrix type surround encoding in 1991. This 2014 release is titled "The Ultimate Edition", and it certainly lives up to it's name. The multi format of this disc gives good access but the multi channel Sacd format is the best listening experience by a long long way.
If you are reading this I am sure you are familiar with the musical content so I will not linger there. I must say though that as you Promenade from picture to picture, the surround now emphasises the detail within each picture. The bustle of the Market, the cavernous Catacombs and the Two Jews haggling and wringing their hands.
I am convinced this is a very active remastering of the original recordings, not a remake. To reproduce an individual sound exactly from 40 years ago would be an achievement, but to reproduce Tomita's multi-multi layer textures and timbres would be impossible. The synthesiser players amongst you will know that without any settings memory, and having to rely on written notes to set and adjust dozens of parameters and patch cords on the old analogue synths, to reproduce exactly the same sound on two different occasions is very difficult, especially 40 years later!
Modern technology has enabled the original recordings to be cleaned very well. A lot of Tomita's individual Moog sounds were beyond the capability of analogue tape recording machines of the day. Sibilance, tape hiss, modulation noise and just plain distortion were present in the old recordings as the tape machines struggled to cope. The sound quality of this 2014 version it very acceptable.
One of Tomita's stereo techniques, was to have sound appearing in your listening room from seemingly impossible positions, from way outside your normal stereo image. He is still using that technique but now with four sound sources. The mix is not just panning between the four speakers but careful images being constructed in every part of your listening room. At times these images are moved or swirled around the listener and I say again, not just by having a monkey on the joystick panner! This also explains why the centre channel is not used, as this would destroy these carefully crafted ethereal illusions. Your brain will be asking what your ears are doing, I promise you.
We all know of some great multi channel mixes that make full use of all the channels, but I personally, do not know of anything that compares to the skill that Tomita uses in sound positioning. It is in a class of it's own and I would encourage you all to experience this sonic trip.
On Sacd multi we have now from Tomita's back catalogue, Clair de Lune (Snowflakes), Planets, Planet Zero and Pictures. This leaves Firebird, Cosmos, Bermuda Triangle, Daphnis and Chloe, Grand Canyon and Dawn Chorus to do, I do hope Isao Tomita has the strength to finish this series. This Pictures Sacd has a cut down bonus track Sea named Solaris (from Cosmos) that might be a taste of more to come.
If you are, or are not familiar with these pieces it is an enjoyable exercise to source the orchestral versions and compare.
I really must find a way to thank Tomita personally for the sonic pleasure he has given over the years.
EDIT. I have been reminded that I did not mention the other bonus track on this Pictures Sacd, "Scheherazade - Rimsky Korsakov". Need to research that one!
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