I’ll own up right from the start – I only came across this disc while searching the internet for information on DVD-Audio titles. At the time I knew nothing about Peter Buffett (no relation to Jimmy) or about the film, ‘Triathlon: Through the Eyes of the Elite’, for the soundtrack of which Peter Buffett wrote the music on this disc. I quickly discovered, however, that Peter Buffett is an accomplished composer and musician with a number of albums under his belt, including composing credits for movies such as ‘Dances with Wolves’, ‘500 Nations’ and ‘The Scarlet Letter’. The content of this disc is billed as the first movie soundtrack specifically composed for multi-channel playback (I believe that Peter Gabriel is also working on a multi-channel soundtrack – for the Australian movie ‘The Rabbit-proof Fence’).
Like the Blue Man Group’s ‘Audio’ (reviewed here), this disc is an excellent example of what can be achieved with music composed and produced in and for a multi-channel environment. Don’t get me wrong, great things have been done by engineers creating multi-channel mixes from master tapes of classic albums (the recent Hotel California disc for example), but material specially composed for the medium should have the technical edge, all other things being equal. I should add that as I have not seen the movie ‘Triathlon’, I have reviewed this disc as a standalone work.
Another confession, electronic music is not a genre that usually appeals to me, but this disc’s mixture of styles — electronica, jazz and funk — had my attention right from the start. The circulating ‘boomerang’ effects in the opening track, ‘Bullroar’ made me look up from my notepad right away and the driving bass drum of ‘Aqua Marine’ had my foot tapping. The third track, ‘Drip’ is one of my favourites and I had its Peter Gabriel-esque theme in my head for days. ‘Touch the Clouds’ takes the pace down a little and introduces vocals — the very relaxing calm before the storm which is the opening of ‘Race Day’. Another of my favourites is ‘All the Time You Need’ — a nice combination of vocals and electronics, perfect after a long day in the office. The rest of the disc continues in a similar vein – a highly enjoyable mixture of moods and styles.
The “extra” channels really do wonders for the music, but the use of surround effects is never gimmicky. We have come a long way since the “ping-pong” effects that were the bane of early attempts at surround music in the days of quad on vinyl. Many times while scribbling my notes I found myself looking up thinking “that was interesting” and reaching for the remote to replay a section.
I can find no fault with the fidelity of the MLP track (mastered by Bob Ludwig) – it has great dynamics and will challenge your system throughout the range. Some of the low end material may be a problem for your subwoofer if it is not quite up to the job. The Dolby Digital 5.1 (also a Ludwig creation) and DTS 5.1 tracks are almost on par with the MLP track though don’t quite have the same dynamics and impact. The DTS track also seemed to play back at a slightly lower level. The Dolby Digital two channel track is competent, but without the surround channels is, of course, an anti-climax after listening to the multi-channel versions.
The disc is quite well endowed in the extras department too: I found the G-Force visuals developed by digital artist and engineer Andy O’Meara particularly interesting (and in fact they prompted me to download the G Force visualization software from http://www.whitecaptech.com — site unavailable as at 16/7/02). The trailer from the movie also provides an interesting glimpse at the genesis for the whole project. It would have been interesting to see excerpts from the movie accompanying the audio in one or two tracks, but you cannot have everything. Cat lovers will appreciate one of the stills from the recording studio (see captures), though one can only guess at the havoc cat hair wreaks in a mixing console! One quibble with the menu system – black on black is not the best combination to show button selections in menus – it’s not a problem when there are three buttons, but numerous times on two button menus I found myself in the wrong place, having selected the lilac coloured button simply because it was the only one that appeared to be highlighted.
Another little oddity – I noticed that the track running order is different on the CD version. I am not sure that it makes any difference to the enjoyment of the disc, but it did make me wonder.
Peter Buffett and the rest of the team involved in the production of this disc are to be congratulated on a fine piece of work. They have set the bar at a pretty high level for those following in the movie soundtrack genre. Releases of this quality can only bode well for the future.