Circuit 4

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Circuit Music Journal 4 (1999)
Studio Line: Warner Bros.

Circuit is interactive entertainment, where you choose what to see and hear at any time with alternative audio and video tracks, and 2.0 and 5.1 channel AC-3 Surround Sound. Ben Harper talks about his new album, plus a concert photo gallery and a previously unavailable music video. A live performance by G. Love and Special Sauce, plus a visit aboard their tour bus. A rousing game of basketball with BIS. Robyn Hitchcock performs live in a Burbank parking lot. Also: A 1980 club appearance by Mission of Burma, an exclusive music video from 60 channels, live performances by Luna and Justin Clayton, digitally enhanced dogs and more.

Director: Various
Cast: Various
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1 & Digital Stereo; subtitles none; single sided - single layered; no chapters; rated NR; 106 min.; $14.98; street date 12/7/99.
Supplements: NA.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B/C/NA

Another quarter, another review of an issue of Circuit. It's a quarterly music magazine that features songs from and interviews with a variety of acts, most of them not known to the mass public, and most of whom fit into some sort of "alternative" category. This issue is number four, and it offers various clips of Bis, Afghan Whigs, Ben Harper, Justin Clayton, Robyn Hitchcock, Luna, 60 Channels, G. Love and Special Sauce, and Undercurrent.

Here's a breakdown of what we see and hear from each artist. Each of the segments provide an "Artist Background" section; this piece offers four screens of text information about the act.

The "Bandwidth" section offers:

-Bis Play Basketball. We watch the Scottish band play basketball (badly) and also hear from them in some casual interviews; 7 minutes, 45 seconds.

-Afghan Whigs Tour Diary: A mix of footage from their "tour diary." We view them playing onstage and living off through a minor travelogue that shows them in locales such as New Orleans and Gettysburg; 14 minutes, 40 seconds.

-Ben Harper in LA: Purely interviews here for the most part, with some "talking head" shots of Harper as he discusses his music; 5 minutes, 30 seconds. We also see a video for "I Wanna Be Ready" (4 minutes, 20 seconds) and a photo gallery of 15 shots.

-Justin Clayton Plays Acoustic: Clayton does exactly what the title states, and he also speaks in some interviews; 9 minutes, 45 seconds.

-Luna in the Studio: This segment shows the band as they record and also includes a lot of interviews with them; 5 minutes, 40 seconds.

-Robyn Hitchcock A Parking Lot Performance: Another one that shows what the title states. Hitchcock offers renditions of "NASA Clapping" and "Dark Princess" in a parking space, witnessed just by the camera crew. The piece also features 2 minutes, 45 seconds of interviews with Hitchcock.

The "In Tune" area provides:

-60 Channels. We hear (without synchronized video accompaniment) an interview from 60 Channels' The Angel with Tre; this comes in two parts that total 7 minutes, 30 seconds. The piece also presents a cheesy video for "How's It Gonna Go Down", the visual part of which goes along with the audio interviews. The folks at Circuit seem awfully fond of 60 Channels; they're the only act that repeats from Volume 3.

The "Front Row" section gives:

-G. Love and Special Sauce Live at the El Rey Theater. They perform "Dreamin'" (4 minutes, 20 seconds) and also come up in 3 minutes, 50 seconds of interviews.

-Undercurrent Live at the Underground. This 1980 performance from a long-defunct band shows them playing "This Is Not A Photograph". We also get separate phone interviews with former bandmates Roger Miller and Chris Conley. Each of the three segments lasts 1 minute, 55 seconds.

In addition to these pieces, a number of advertisements appear. There's an ongoing string of Timex ads that are supposed to be from the Fifties (they're not) - these got tiresome the during the last Circuit DVD and are no more welcome here. A "trailers" section offers promos for Deep Blue Sea and The Shawshank Redemption.

Odds and ends appear in the "Junk Drawer." "Encore" offers a looping 1 minute, 50 second video clip of an upraised hand holding a lit lighter, ala the scene witnessed at the end of concerts. "DigiPet" shows a small video box in which a hand plays with and pets a dog. Finally, "Bumpers" gives us the "round card girl" openings to all of the different sections; these show bikinied babes who display "ring cards" with the titles. Call me a sexist pig, but this was easily the best part of the DVD!

As I whined when I reviewed Circuit 3, rating an anthology like this is difficult. Overall I have to say that the material included didn't do much for me, but I like the idea. A DVD such as this is a pretty cool way to introduce one to different artists and types of music. Although I'd heard of most of the acts on this disc, I hadn't actually heard all of them, so I liked being able to experience new music.

Ultimately Circuit 4 offers a good idea and it's well-executed. It's fairly easy to navigate the DVD, and the different features for the different artists are clearly marked. I didn't care for most of the content, but future issues may be more interesting.

The DVD:

Now for the hardest part of this review: rating the quality of the DVD. The problem stems from the fact that so many different sources of material were used. This isn't one coherent movie; it's a bunch of clips from a bunch of different folks. How can I give the disc one rating to cover all of that?

I really can't, but I decided to try. Circuit 4 comes with varying aspect ratios - though almost always fullscreen - on this single-sided, dual-layered disc. Because it's mainly fullscreen, the DVD has not been enhanced for 16X9 TVs.

Overall, the picture quality is really quite good. When it doesn't look so hot, that's usually intentional. For the most part, sharpness seems good, colors look accurate, and I saw no source problems. Jagged edges appeared more frequently than I'd like - those ring cards were awfully jaggie - but they weren't a terrible intrusion. Sorry for such a short description, but there's not a lot to hold onto here; the program offers such a mishmash of styles and formats that it's virtually impossible to pin it down.

The issue of sound quality is a little clearer, though not a lot. The program fluctuates between Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Pro Logic 2.0 soundtracks. The DVD's case makes it seem like you can switch between these tracks whenever you want, but that's not the case; each segment is either 5.1 or 2.0 and that's that - any attempts to change this will be rejected by your player. For the record, the performances or videos from Ben Harper, 60 Channels, G. Love and Special Sauce, and Undercurrent are 5.1; everything else on the DVD is 2.0.

With the previous issue of Circuit, there was a clear distinction between the audio of the 5.1 and the 2.0 mixes; the former always sounded much better. That's not the case here, mainly because the 5.1 tracks aren't truly 5.1. As odd as it may sound, these mixes sounded like "double stereo." In other words, the front speakers had a stereo mix and the rear channels duplicated it; no individually discrete audio seemed to occur. While this offered a full sound, it created a very odd effect. The quality was good but I didn't like this bastardized 5.1 effect.

The 2.0 mixes were a weakness of the prior Circuit, but while they still aren't great, they seem stronger here. The mixes tend toward basic stereo without much use of the surrounds, but the audio generally appears clear and relatively warm. One note: some of the audio sounds thin or harsh, but that's because of some cheap recording methods. For example, the Afghan Whigs tour diary all was shot on a camcorder, and that's what gives us the audio. When taped with better methods - such as the Hitchcock sessions - the sound seems fine. Overall, the audio is just average, but there are a lot of peaks and valleys in that assessment.

One area I did not attempt to review is that of supplements. This program was created expressly for this format, so there can't actually be any extras. As such, there's no rating for that category.

Circuit 4 offers a nice array of musical talent all in one package. While I didn't much like the content of the fourth issue of Circuit, it's possible that other editions may be more appealing to me. As such, I can't offer much of a recommendation for it, but I won't steer you away from it, either. If you like some of these acts, or if you just want to broaden your musical horizons and don't mind taking some chances, Circuit 4 may be something you'd like to pursue. It's a well produced compilation of music and something that potentially might be quite valuable.

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