Neil Young: Gold Rush
To call Archives merely a “box set” would be to miss the point entirely; it is, in essence, the most panoramic, comprehensive-to-the-point-of-obsessive audio-visual product ever issued by a recording artist.
“What we’ve done is something that’s never been done before,” Young says matter-of-factly, sipping a Guinness in the lobby of the Four Seasons hotel in Dublin on the afternoon prior to the O2 show. “ ‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’ I guess is the phrase. And that’s where this came from. I needed this.”
The invention that Young refers to is Blu-ray, his preferred platform for viewing and listening to Archives. In edition to offering superior sound—state-of-the-art 24-bit/192kHz ultra-high resolution, compared with DVD’s 24-bit/96kHz and CD’s 16-bit/44kHz standards—the format allows two additional features unavailable on any other platform. Unlike DVD, Blu-ray lets users listen to music and scroll through documents simultaneously. This means that while playing the audio track to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio,” the listener can also peruse, among other things, recording information about the track, photos of the band onstage at the Fillmore East in New York, Young’s original handwritten manuscript of the lyrics, Time and Life magazine covers about the Kent State University shootings that inspired the subject matter, and a copy of the 45 single and sleeve. There is also audio of Young discussing the song in a radio interview, and video of CSNY performing it at a show in Boston, with the audience singing along to every word.
The other technological development at the center of Archives is BD-Live, which enables Blu-ray users to download free updates in the form of additional songs, videos and other documents, as Young makes them available. Once downloaded, these materials appear in their appropriate chronological spots on the interactive timeline.
As Young explains, BD-Live makes it possible for Archives to be an evolving, evergrowing project. “It takes a certain kind of organization to come up with that stuff,” he says. “These aren’t things that somebody kept; these are things that everybody kept. And we had to find each person. We had a scanning network out there. And the reason it’s so detailed is because we took a lot of time. A long time. So new pieces of material are always being uncovered. And because of BDLive we’ll be able to continue getting it out there forever. It’s never finished.”
That said, Young has already moved on to the second installment of Archives, which will take him into the early Eighties. He expects it to be assembled in less time than Volume 1. “It’d be hard to not be quicker.” He laughs. “That one was, like, 20 years. I think we’ll see Volume 2 in about two or three years, tops.”
Young recently sat down with Guitar World for his first, and only, comprehensive interview about Archives Volume 1. In the following wide-ranging discussion, he expounds on the classic songs and great musicians heard on the collection. He also delves into the guitars, amps and recording techniques that went into creating the timeless music, and speaks candidly about songwriting and his own instrumental abilities.
Most of all, Young was eager to talk about the Archives project itself and in particular how, in his view, the benefits of the technology offered by the Blu-ray format will reverberate far beyond his own music.
“People don’t understand the value of sound anymore,” Young says. “But somebody’s going to have to have the nerve to rescue an art form. My responsibility here is to show that music can be supplied at a higher quality, and with deeper content. I’m making it available.”
He continues. “Where I came from, music was God. So I must be a dinosaur, you know? Like my day is over. But the fact is, my day is still ahead of me.”
GUITAR WORLD You’ve been talking about the Archives project for close to two decades, and countless release dates have come and gone. Now that it’s finally here, one of the things I find amazing is that as far back as the early Nineties you were adamant that certain technologies—such as the ability to scan documents onscreen while simultaneously listening to the music—needed to be in place in order to deliver the project as you saw fit. You knew what you wanted, but you needed to wait for the technology to catch up.
NEIL YOUNG I knew that it had to be this way, and I believed it was gonna happen. I just thought it would happen sooner. I actually thought DVD would do it. But DVD didn’t cut it. So Blu-ray came along just in time. It was only about two years ago that we really saw what we could do with this format. And then it was only more recently that we discovered the BD-Live feature and the possibilities there. That was something that we uncovered while putting together the timeline that binds all the discs together. And new discoveries keep popping up. It’ll continue to grow as the Blu-ray standard grows.
The thing with Archives is that you’re not just getting a music Blu-ray; you’re getting something that no movie Blu-ray has ever done, that no educational Blu-ray has ever done. On a broader scale, we’re trying to create a new flow of information. In my case, the music is the glue that holds it all together. But it could be anything—it could be art, it could be film, it could be history. As far as I’m concerned Archives is a great opportunity to build this platform, and we’ve pushed the walls of the technology already. And the developers love that. We’re helping.
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