Initially skeptical about the merits of 5.1 being applied to the studio wing of Rush’s recorded legacy, Geddy Lee has since come around to embrace the concept quite wholeheartedly. “Oh yeah, I think they sound pretty cool—if you have the right setup for it,” the bassist/vocalist told me during a June 2019 book signing for his hardcover tome Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass. When Lee and I first spoke about having the concepts of surround sound and Rush appear in the same sentence in 2000, he poo-pooed the idea (“I’m still on the fence”), but was much more behind its merits in 2015 (“For audiophiles in particular, it takes them on an interesting journey”).
Helming seven Rush studio-album 5.1 mixes to date is Toronto-based producer/engineer Richard Chycki, who’s done the hi-res surround updates for the aforementioned Fly by Night, 2112, A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Moving Pictures, Signals, and 2007’s Snakes & Arrows, the latter of which he’s particularly fond because “unlike the vintage remix/reissues, S&A was done in the same era as the original stereo master mixes.” (Surround guru Steven Wilson was enlisted to re-do the 5.1 on Blu-ray for 2017’s A Farewell to Kings box set, but Chycki’s 5.1 interpretation is still available by way of DVD within the 2011 Sector 2 box set and on the individually issued Kings 2015 High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray.)
“Prior to the Sector box sets becoming a reality, a discussion to repurpose Rush’s past works into new and exciting listening formats and experiences landed many of Rush’s original recordings in my studio for remixing into 5.1 surround,” Chycki reveals. “It’s a surreal and powerful experience to hear their solo instruments and vocals for the first time. From Fly by Night to 2112 to Moving Pictures, each album’s multitrack masters represent a clear snapshot of the band’s profound creative journey. Plus, the masters tell a technical story of the state of recording technology and ingenuity of each album’s era.”
My own personal favorite Rush-in-surround moments include the soothing waterfall break during the title track to 1976’s 2112, the abject all-channel majesty of A Farewell to Kings’ “Xanadu,” Hemispheres’ no-holds-barred 18-minute cosmic thrill ride known as “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres,” Moving Pictures’ off-kilter 360-degree sine-wave reading of “Vital Signs,” and Snakes & Arrows’ mega-maelstrom in six channels, “Spindrift.” Chycki has his own faves too, of course. “I have an attraction to all of Rush’s surround works for many reasons,” he reports. “I like 2112 for the enigmatic, sci-fi theme coupled with studio experimentation and Hemispheres for its uber proggy-ness, stratospheric vocals, and great guitar tones. However, Moving Pictures in 5.1 holds a particularly close spot for me as it is Rush at their pinnacle, combined with the surround mix being the only true 96kHz/24-bit masters currently in existence mixed from the analog multitrack recordings.”
Chycki describes the care he takes to get these surround mixes up to snuff. “I recorded Rush’s Time Machine back in 2011 in Cleveland and mixed it in both hi-res 5.1 surround and hi-res stereo for the pending Blu-ray release at that time,” he details. “Typically, I don’t remix a project for one medium or another unless there’s a delivery-format development—i.e., expanding from stereo to 5.1 or to Dolby Atmos. My mixes are delivered as hi-res discrete 96kHz/24-bit WAV files. From there, the files are mastered and adapted to the file format and resolution suitable for the particular delivery medium. Without exception, my preference would be to have the original mix quality maintained at 96/24 WAV.”
What can we expect to emerge next from the master Rush vaults? If history is to be our celestial guide, it stands to reason that 1980’s Permanent Waves would be the next album in line for the 40th anniversary box-set treatment in early 2020 (if not sooner, given the impending holiday season). While Chycki coyly demurs from confirming the idea himself, Geddy Lee was quite specific when I asked him face to face at the earlier-noted Ontario book signing which Rush album he’d like to see reissued in upgraded form next: “Oh, Permanent Waves. That would be cool,” he replied with a smile. Looks like making modern music sound open-hearted and bristling with hi-res energy in 5.1 is a chosen path that’s clear.