Alex Lifeson Of Rush

Mike Mettler Talks Exclusively To The Rush Guitarist About The Challenges Of Live Surround Mixing And Maybe - Just Maybe - Remixing 2112 In 5.1

By Mike Mettler, Sound&Vision, February 4, 2006

R30 (Anthem/Zoe) celebrates Rush's 30th anniversary as a touring and recording unit. But your first gig was actually in Toronto in 1968, as you recounted in one of the archival interviews on the second disc. Do you remember what was on your setlist from that show?

Wow. Let's see. We did Jimi Hendrix's "Foxey Lady," Cream's "Spoonful" and "Crossroads," the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things," and maybe a few others. We only knew about seven or eight songs back then.

R30 follows 2003's Rush in Rio DVD, which had a surround mix that put you right in the middle of the crowd. What did you do differently for this one?

Rio was all about being in that 12th row center seat and feeling the energy of the crowd, whereas R30 is more about the performers and the production. It's a tighter sound - a tighter mix with less ambience and less crowd.
You know, I've been to every Rush show, but I've never seen one. This one, more than Rio, gave me a sense of what the show looks like and what it sounds like in a contained [indoor] environment. And this is probably the best-sounding live performance of us I've ever heard.

If you could pick a row and location for the viewer of R30, where would it be?

That's a little tougher to quantify, because it actually feels much closer to the stage. The bass, the snare, and the kickdrum are all in the middle. The guitar is off-center and more to the left side. The stereo mix is also off-center to avoid that congestion in the middle.
Quite often, you're competing with so many things. For example, it's always a challenge to get a vocal to sound good in a live mix. You've got so much bleed in there from the drums, and the cymbals are the real killer. So you're filtering out all of that top end, and the vocal tone really suffers from it. But moving some things out to clear the area does help a lot.

One thing that's very noticeable is that most of your solos seem to take over all of the channels.

Yes! Everything was a little more in your face with this mix. When you're mixing sound to picture, you're sometimes inspired by what you see, and you want it to have a certain dynamic. One of the problems I've found working with ProTools and other similar formats is that you can't get "inside" the mix. It all sounds good, but there's something about the dimension of the sound that I always have a problem with. I can feel the height and the width, but not the depth.

The show was shot in high-def, and it looks great. All three of you wear black onstage, and you can really see detail like the folds in shirt sleeves. You can also see the smoke billowing through the spotlights during "Animate."

This venue [the Festhalle in Frankfurt, Germany] lent itself well to highlighting Howard Ungerleider's great lighting. It's so nice to see all of that detail in high-def - the saturation and the clarity. And the smoke does tend to stick around longer and get "caught" in the lights, yeah. "Between the Wheels" is another song that showcases all of that.

When we talked about Rush in Rio 2 years ago, I asked you about remixing Rush's studio catalog in surround, and you were strongly against it. Now that you're a 5.1 veteran [Lifeson laughs], has your view changed on that idea at all?

It's something that I think we [the band] will discuss. I really love the format now. Surround is a great, uplifiting experience, and I think we have some records that we'd consider doing that way. Again, we haven't spoken about any of this yet. But on my own, I'm thinking something like 2112 is pretty obvious. We're coming up on the 30th anniversary of 2112 in 2006, so that might be interesting. For example, "Discovery" [Part III of the title track], has running water, and you could be sitting right by that little stream, you know .... It would be quite dramatic and dynamic.
Probably the safe thing to say is that I'm much more open to doing this as long as the integrity of the original content isn't messed with.