The new Immersion Box delivers the ultimate Dark Side of the Moon listening experience across 6 discs
So, after almost six months of anticipation, expectation and speculation, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon Immersion Box Set has finally arrived.
This most celebrated of albums was reissued for it’s 20th anniversary in 1993, but in those days putting a newly remastered CD in a bespoke box with a few nicely designed ‘art cards’ was considered a deluxe treatment.
Ten years later, for it’s 30th birthday, a new audio format – SACD or Super Audio CD – allowed Pink Floyd/EMI to present to us a superb high-res surround sound version of the album. This was a truly incredible mix, although, it has to be said if you didn’t have an SACD player and a surround sound set-up (the majority), then you had to be content with another stereo remaster (hidden on a different ‘layer’ of the hybrid SACD) and another rejigged prism on the front cover (stained glass window effect). For that reason, and the fact that it was just one (SA)CD packaged in a standard jewel case, the fabulous-ness of this 2003 reissue was missed by most.
Having reissued the album numerous times, it’s highly unlikely that another anniversary issue was going to pass muster, unless it was going to be a just a little bit special. So here we are, on The Dark Side of the Moon‘s 38th birthday(!), with a massive box full of goodies including three CDs, two DVDs and a blu-ray disc. It’s time for Immersion.
The box itself, is beautiful, and very sturdy. It’s around 11.5 inches square, so should fit reasonably well on the shelf with any vinyl you have in your collection. The newly designed (and multiplied) prism graphic is spot varnished, giving a high quality finish and appearance. A layer of thick foam protects some of the contents inside, and stops things moving around too much when in transit.
There are plenty of trinkets and fluff in this box, including marbles, coasters, and a scarf. I’m sure I speak for many when I say that I’d much rather see the time, money (no pun intended…) and effort that has gone into creating these items, channeled into another disc of music or video. Alternatively, we could have lived without the gimmicks and had a cheaper box to purchase.
On to the music. CD 1 is The Dark Side of the Moon, the album by Pink Floyd. The reason we are here, in case you’d forgotten. Or is it?
Few people will have bought this box to hear The Dark Side of the Moon, played in 2-channel stereo from a CD. If that is the height of your ambition, then there are more economical solutions, specifically, the newly remastered one disc Discovery Edition.
No, we are here, immersing ourselves, for everything BUT the standard studio version of The Dark Side of the Moon. So let’s skip the album, put those marbles to one side and get straight on to the heart of the matter – demos, live tracks, an “early version” of the album, a “quad” mix, session tracks, tour films and live footage – all previously unreleased.
CD 2 contains a live rendition of the whole album. The performance dates from November 1974 when the band were undertaking a short British tour and debuting new material. They would play The Dark Side of the Moon in full, in the second set of the evening. NME journalist Nick Kent famously wrote a scathing review of one of the concerts describing the performance as “facile and soulless”. Understandably, this rather harsh assessment did not go too well with the band, although decades later Nick Mason did admit that “some of the criticisms were valid”.
Don’t let that put you off this live disc though. A composite of a couple of different nights, most will never have heard this and it’s very exciting and quite refreshing to hear this sonic masterpiece with the inevitable rough edges that a live gig brings. Like most, I’m so familiar with the studio album it’s a treat to hear Gilmour’s vocal melodies occasionally taking a different path from the norm and the more pumped-up tones of Waters’ bass.
At the time, the band were doing their best to replicate the studio album, so we get all the relevant sound effects, such as the ker-ching that kicks off Money and the clocks at the beginning of Time. That doesn’t stop them extending Any Colour You Like into 8 minute jam and Money turns into a bluesy bass-fest for an elongated middle section.
This live disc is a big success – both as a historical document of how-they-sounded-then and as a alternate look at the familiar. Imagine The Beatles trying to recreate Sgt Pepper live? Who wouldn’t want to hear that? Well we CAN hear Pink Floyd play The Dark Side of the Moon live and I’m pleased the archive has freed itself of the burden of holding on to this small piece of history.
The third and final CD in this box is disc 6. Don’t let it’s lowly numerical status worry you. It has some of the most interesting content in the box, including some demos and live tracks.
But the main attraction here, is an early 1972 mix of the entire album. Pink Floyd had completed most of the recording, and this mix was created in December of that year by engineer Alan Parsons, for the band members to listen to over the Christmas period. Everyone would regroup in the new year, with their views on what was, or wasn’t, working.
How does this mix differ from what we know and love? The first difference hits you straight away – Speak to Me simply does not exist at this stage, and the album begins with Breathe. With many songs the difference is reasonably slight, the final mixes being evolution rather than revolution. The Great Gig in the Sky is one of the exceptions, lacking as it does, Clare Torry’s memorable vocal performance. In place of this, is a transmission from what ended up being NASA’s final mission to the moon – Apollo 17.
The fade on Money is slightly different with the vocals hanging around a bit longer than we’re used to, but it’s Us and Them that proves one of the real highlights of this early mix. It starts completely differently, with the focus very much on Richard Wright’s piano and Dick Parry’s saxophone. The drums don’t kick in until around the minute mark, and for me, what has always been a beautiful song, suddenly sounds even more beautiful. This disc also provides us with Wright’s instrumental piano demo of this same track.
The Travel Sequence (early version of On The Run) and The Mortality Sequence (early The Great Gig in the Sky) are both included, as performed live in Brighton in 1972. So too is Any Colour You Like which is probably the highlight from these three live tracks.
The studio recording of The Travel Sequence included here, sounds like much more structured ‘band’ performance than the sound effects and atmosphere-laden On The Run. Interestingly, close inspection of the credits tells us that this track was recorded in October 1973, after The Dark Side of the Moon came out. One assumes that the plan was to evolve it into something appropriate for future release. It was recorded around the same time as The Hard Way from the fabled ‘Household Objects’ project, which is also on this disc. This abandoned project saw the band attempting to get back to their more experimental leanings, after the mainstream success of The Dark Side of the Moon. The idea was to eschew traditional instruments – everything would be ‘played’ on a household object such as rubber bands, wine glasses etc. After only a few tracks, this was abandoned.
Disc 6 finishes with Roger Waters’ original demo of Money. Recorded in his shed at home, this has plenty of charm and it’s impressive how fully formed it is (complete with samples), even if the vocal melody is rather sing-song at this early stage. David Gilmour did a good job of improving this considerably, on the final studio version of the track.
The remaining discs in this set are all audio/video discs. That is, two DVDs (discs 3 & 4) and a Blu-ray disc (disc 5).
For those in any doubt, the Blu-ray disc contains everything on both DVDs, making them completely redundant if you own a Blu-ray player. If you don’t, then only the Blu-ray disc is redundant, until such time as you upgrade your system! We have a multitude of surround mixes and formats, so a quick explanation follows.
5.1 Surround Mix
The 5.1 Surround Mix of the album created by James Guthrie for the 2003 SACD is available on DVD (disc 3) in Dolby Digital quality which is 448 kbps (kilo bits per sec). A slightly higher quality version at 640kbps is also available, however not all players will support this bitrate, hence the inclusion of 448kbps, which is a universally supported standard. DVD-Video does not support what audiophiles would call ‘high-res’ audio, but Blu-ray does. Which is why on the Blu-ray disc (disc 5) the same 5.1 surround mix is available at 96khz/24 bit which for comparison is 13824kbps. The Blu-ray disc also contains a stereo version of the album in high-res audio, so even if you do not have a surround set-up the quality is superior to CD (CD is 44.1khz/16 bit).
4.0 Quad Mix
Quad was an early incarnation of surround sound and The Dark Side of the Moon was released in this format on LP and 8-track Cartridge. It is a four speaker set-up with two at the front and two at the rear. There is no subwoofer or centre speaker, hence 4.0 rather than 5.1. Alan Parsons supervised the Quad Mix which has remained in the archive since it’s original release in 1973. The Quad Mix is available in the same formats as the 5.1 mix – ie two bit rates on DVD and hi-res on the Blu-ray.
The two mixes make for interesting comparison, but the 5.1 mix has the benefit of being mixed from the original first generation tapes (pre-bounce), which were laboriously tracked down and re-synched to ensure the absolute optimum sound quality. This was not the case for the 1973 Quad Mix. The 5.1 mix from 2003 probably the ultimate way to listen to this album and the quality of sound on the Blu-ray is stunning – at least as impressive as the SACD from 2003.
There are a couple of live tracks from Brighton 1972 (in stereo only) – Careful With That Axe Eugene and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun. This is old-school Psychedelic Pink Floyd, and while the clips are nice to have, it’s hard to understand what they are doing as part of this set. There is no video footage of the band performing any The Dark Side of the Moon tracks which seems like a major omission.
The included documentary is basically an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) to promote the 2003 SACD of The Dark Side of the Moon. The band are interviewed separately, and to be fair it’s quite an interesting little film, but it’s very short and at times does come across more like a sales tool to promote SACD. Could be confusing to some, given there is no SACD included within this box set. Some good comments from the band though, including David Gilmour generously acknowledging that Roger Waters’ “coming of age, lyrically”, and Money being a successful US single, were massive contributing factors to the success of the album. The 2006 documentary Which One’s Pink? would have been preferred though, especially since it was post Live 8. It wasn’t The Dark Side of the Moon specific, but it’s a great overview of the band.
The final inclusion, again on both DVD and Blu-ray, are the Concert Screen Films from the British and French Tours of 1974 and the North American Tour of 1975. These are a fascinating mix of animation and live action film footage and vary in length and quality. For example the French Speak To Me is 3.10 while the British version is 4.20. Both rely heavily on graphics and animation, while the US version is completely different with footage filmed inside a stark and shiny hospital. Be prepared to allocate a whole evening to flicking around between tours and films! In general, by 1975 the budgets were bigger so the US films tend to be the better watch. Audio is available as LPCM Stereo or 5.1 Surround (48 khz/24 bit).
The box comes with two glossy large format booklets (36 pages and 24 pages) featuring the photos of Jill Furmanovsky and design of Hipgnosis. CDs 1 & 2 with the two DVDs sit recessed at the very bottom of the box. To access the discs you have to take everything out. For all the high quality design served up by Storm Thorgerson, it seems that practical access to the music and video – the reason we are buying the box – was not top of the list of priorities. The Blu-ray disc and CD 6 are left to float around amongst the contents in the kind of card slip case which CDs are given away free, by national newspapers.
Packaging quibbles aside, this box ultimately comes highly recommended. The main reason is that the bonus content is of such high quality, that it is likely to be played regularly, rather than being a once-only curiosity satisfying exercise. In particular you will find yourself regularly going back to the live concert and early version of the album. The attention to detail, in areas such as audio quality, remastering, surround sound and high-res audio is stunning.
So put down your iPod, forget about MP3s, get hold of this box, send the kids out of the room, put on the DVD (or preferably Blu-ray) and Immerse.
For: High-Res audio, Surround Sound and truly excellent previously unreleased audio content.
Against: Two redundant DVD discs for Blu-ray owners, and useless marbles.
Order The Dark Side of the Moon Immersion Box by clicking here.