My Technology: Cian Ciaran

Cian Ciaran, the keyboard player with Super Furry Animals, talks to Jennifer Rodger about the highs and lows of working on Rings around the World, the world's first simultaneous album/DVD release
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The Independent Online

We first experienced Surround Sound when touring about three years ago with a system called Quad Sound: big speaker stacks in each corner of the venue sending any instrument or voice around the room. Now there's a format for recording in Surround Sound (we've used Surround 5.1) and, thanks to DVD players, it's possible to enjoy that recording in a home setting. It is radical, like the change from mono to stereo.

For recording an album, it's different because we have five speakers to play with instead of two. A Beatles album has a guitar and all the vocals on, say, the right speaker, and the drums and the bass on the left. When there are five speakers, we might be putting the vocal on centre speaker, piano on left, guitar on right and a vocal in front. It has taken more time (we started recording in April last year and finished mixing this January) because we were making two mixes: the stereo version and the Surround Sound version.

Surround Sound is like the experience at a UCI cinema when the UCI ball at the beginning flies around the symbol and the sound goes round your head. For mixing our Surround Sound version, we gave the engineers directions like: "We want that one bit of sound to travel from the centre, over our heads and finish on my right shoulder"; or "Let's have the main vocal in the middle, then each harmony in its own speaker." The idea of surround sound makes sense if you consider that, though we've only got two ears, our brains notice sound coming from other directions.

Because both the stereo and the Surround Sound version are on the DVD, from the buyer's point of view it won't be too elitist. We've created the DVD at a time when the prices are coming down for DVD systems, and you can buy whole packages, a player and all the speakers by Sony for example, for around £600. It's a lot of money, but good value for all the extra sound effects, information and visuals that are available on DVD recordings.

Our DVD is unique because, while other bands have brought out live albums or anthologies on DVD, ours has completely new material. The Super Furry Animals disc has 16 remixes by 14 different artists, which we have chosen to work as an album in its own right, rather than the usual formulaic remixes. If you include our ambient tracks which are used on the menu pages (about 40 minutes of music), there's three albums on one disc.

Eventually, the men in white coats told us we had to stop because there wasn't any room left on the disc. While initially the clarity of the sound was most important to us, we now feel equally passionate about the whole thing: the visuals, remixes, interactive elements and information. We were very hands-on, but because this meant we had to, for example, reject some of the film material created for the DVD, it was not always a nice position to be in, though necessary when it's our name on the cover.

The band created the sound for the menu pages, and we wanted exciting visuals for each page to make navigating the DVD interesting. After the storyboard and ideas were submitted, there was a lot of bouncing ideas back and forth, which took quite a long time. We're used to videos, where you get the treatment, do the camera work and see the finished thing. I went to film school for a year, and three members went to art school, so for us it's been a refreshing change to be so involved, like being the producers.

We brought the same principle to the DVD that separates a live performance and an album: it has got to be different because it's a different format. So when we gave copies of the songs to the directors, our only brief was to make the visuals as extreme as they wanted, if you like, so that they weren't just producing another pop promo. We didn't want our DVD to end up looking like MTV. Additionally, because the budget wasn't as large as it would be for a pop promo, the directors had to work even harder at creating something interesting.

DVD is the future – we had to use the technology that is now available, and, anyway, I can't imagine going back to just mixing in stereo. But it's not as if we've done it just to try to be "now", because the last thing we want is for our music immediately to become dated. Rather, the hope is that the DVD, with all its added extras, will have a long shelf-life. It has also meant that we can bring some of the product created for the DVD into our live performances. The Furrymania gigs were played in Surround Sound, with a screening of the DVD of Rings around the World also in Surround Sound.

If I'm honest, after having devoted so much time and juggled so many different ideas for this project, which sometimes felt like it would never end, I'm glad to get back to the music side. I've been preoccupied with things I wouldn't usually deal with, which was good because it gave me control. But occasionally I wished someone else would do it for me. I don't want to hear the word "DVD" again for quite a while.

 

Super Furry Animals' 'Rings around the World' DVD is out today on Epic Records, £18.99

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