Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Sound & Motion: Volume 1 (2000)
Studio Line: Palm Pictures

Sound & Motion: Volume 1
1. The Chemical Brothers, Block Rockin' Beats. 2. Fatboy Slim, . 3. Jacknife Lee, Bursting Off The Backbeat. 4. Josh Wink, Simple Man. 5. The Crystal Nethod, Busy Child. 6. The Prodigy, Poison. 7. Mocean Worker, Detonator. 8. Goldie, Temper Temper. 9. Dieselboy & Technical Itch, Atlantic State. 10. Photek, Two Swords Technique. 11. Roni Size/Reprazent, Brown Paper Bag. 12. Adam F, Circles. 13. Talvin Singh, Jaan. 14. Sly And Robbie, Superthruster. 15. Underworld, Push Upstairs. 16. Deep Dish W/EBTG, The Future Of The Future.

Director: Various
Cast: Various
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1 & PCM Stereo; subtitles none; single sided - single layered; 16 chapters; rated NR; $19.95; 5/2/00.
Supplements: Trailers.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/A-/D-

A few years ago, electronica was viewed as the "next big thing". Everyone was convinced that Prodigy would be huge and that techno would rise above its isolated popularity (mostly amongst young "ravers").

That never happened. Prodigy's The Fat of the Land sold decently but the group have essentially vanished without a trace since then, taking Liam Howlett - "The Prodigy" himself - and his ego along with them. (I recall being annoyed by his arrogance; both Madonna and Bowie had made overtures to have him work with them, but he refused because he didn't want to "give away" his precious sound. Keep telling yourself you made the correct decision when you're selling sneakers at Foot Locker, Liam.) Electronica's definitely still out there, and it's a fairly popular form, but it hasn't reached any sort of mass success, and most of its practitioners remain more or less unknown to the general public.

Sound & Motion Volume 1 provides a nice overview of the style. We find a whopping 16 videos on this DVD:

The Chemical Brothers "Block Rockin' Beats"
Fatboy Slim "The Rockafeller Skank"
Jacknife Lee "Bursting Off the Backbeat"
Josh Wink "Simple Man"
The Crystal Method "Busy Child"
The Prodigy "Poison"
Mocean Worker "Detonator"
Goldie "Temper Temper"
Dieselboy and Technical Itch "Atlantic State"
Photek "Ni Ten Ichi Ryu (Two Swords Technique)"
Roni Size/Reprazent "Brown Paper Bag"
Adam F "Circles"
Talvin Singh "Jaan"
Sly and Robbie "Superthruster"
Underworld "Push Upstairs"
Deep Dish w/EBTG "The Future of the Future (Stay Gold)"

The styles vary a bit but tend toward semi-trippy visuals accompanied by fast-moving beats. I was actually surprised how many of these songs I recognized; tunes like "Block Rockin' Beats" and "The Rockafeller Skank" will be immediately familiar to a lot of non-fans like myself.

While I generally enjoyed this collection, it wasn't enough to sell me on electronica. A few of the songs have some potential, but the medium seems too dance-floor oriented for my liking; the tunes lose a lot when you sit and watch the videos. The clips tend to be fairly inventive and interesting; "Simple Man", which creates a story of a radio that becomes a star and features cameos from Kurt Loder and Charlie Rose, easily is the most fun of the bunch, but others like "Temper Temper" are entertaining as well. (By the way, if Goldie looks familiar, he also appeared in the last Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough, as Mr. Bullion.)

This collection probably is best taken in small doses, as techno music tends to run together after a while. That's fine on the dance floor, where the beat rules all, but it's not as charming at home. The general level of the production is top-notch and the videos are mainly good when viewed in appropriately-brief measures. Sound & Motion may not make many converts to the techno revolution, but already-established fans will be happy to have a nice collection of videos, and those who'd like to know more about the format will find this DVD to provide a nice primer about this former "next big thing".

The DVD:

The videos of Sound and Motion appear in a variety of aspect ratios. Most of them utilize the standard 1.33:1, but we also see ratios of approximately 1.66:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 as well, depending on the video and the director's mood. None of the letterboxed images are enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the quality of the pictures varies wildly, I believe that all of them appear largely the way they were intended to look.

As such, that means that some of the videos seem insanely colorless or fuzzy or distorted or blurry or even grainy. It all depends on what the director wanted. The best I can say for this collection is that I never felt any outside factors influenced the appearance of the videos; each one seemed to cleanly represent the original product.

At their best, some of these clips look terrific. The better-looking videos - such as "Block Rockin' Beats" or "Bursting Off the Backbeat" - were razor-sharp and boasted bright, vibrant colors, deep blacks and no video interference. The only complications I witnessed came from jagged edges, which tend to be more pervasive in fast-moving camerawork such as we find here; quite a few jaggies appeared, and these proved slightly distracting. Nonetheless, I found the overall quality of the visual aspects of these videos to seem superb.

Also terrific is the more important domain, the sound. Although each of the videos is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, don't expect that to mean much more than glorified stereo. All of the songs seem true to their original stereo roots, and the surrounds essentially do nothing more than lightly reinforce the music from the front speakers. This is fine with me, however, as it adds a nice layer of dimensionality to the mix but the rears don't overwhelm the track. Some other faux-5.1 mixes - such as those found on some volumes of video magazine Circuit - duplicate the front tracks in the rear in what I call "double stereo"; that effect can be annoying and distracting. The songs on S&M keep the music at the front where it belongs but they add a mild ambiance that works nicely.

The degree of stereo separation depended completely on the song in question but usually was wide and broad. Some tunes came across as almost monaural - The Prodigy's "Poison" stands out in that regard - but most appeared well-defined and excitingly spatial.

The quality of the sound seems consistently strong. At times I wished for more low end - the styles of music on this DVD are extremely bass-heavy - but I think much of my dissatisfaction came from the limitations of my system; I lack a subwoofer, which may have added a great deal of the desired "oomph". Even without that extra speaker, I thought the songs sounded clear and well-defined. As with the visual quality, I noticed a lot of flaws in the audio, but these were all clearly intentional, as these styles of music tend to use a lot of distortion. The tunes appeared to accurately represent the original recordings and they consistently sounded great.

(For the record, S&M offers both DD 5.1 and PCM stereo tracks. I only listened thoroughly to the DD mix, but I flipped to the PCM version at times. It seemed clear and rich as well, so I don't anticipate it would present any problems.)

As far as supplemental features go, keep dreaming. All we find on S&M are for a few other programs: the anime hit Ghost In the Shell, hip hop drama Thicker Than Water, and the Talking Heads' concert classic Stop Making Sense. We also discover an anti-drug public service announcement from Public Enemy's Chuck D.

Despite some reservations, Sound and Motion makes for a solid primer on electronica and is an interesting package. Most of the songs and videos are fairly solid, and both picture and sound quality are strong. Fans of the genre should be very happy with this package.

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