Soundbreaking Blu-ray Review

A mesmerizing music doc with licensed songs from the Beatles to Adele

Soundbreaking is an extraordinary eight-part documentary series for music lovers. Subtitled ‘Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music’, it covers in glorious detail the craft of music production going back to the 1950s. Employing a litany of popular songs from major acts, Soundbreaking is immensely enjoyable viewing for casual and serious music fans alike.

Originally airing on PBS in the United States, Soundbreaking features dozens of famous musicians and record producers. They discuss in new interviews and rare archival footage the recording process behind their best-known songs. It’s a fascinating glimpse into their creation and wildly informative for serious music fans. The documentary lightly touches on the recording process with producers, musicians and industry executives without getting bogged down in irrelevant minutia.

Years in the making, more than 150 original interviews are combined with an extensive soundtrack featuring almost 300 songs. The stellar song list includes a who’s who of rock and pop music. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Bon Iver, Dr. Dre, Adele, Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Bob Dylan and many more have their biggest songs covered and celebrated. Name a popular musician since the 1950s and they are likely referenced or heard in some form, spanning the decades. Soundbreaking is unusually thorough in making sure almost every major pop act is included on some level.

The eight-part documentary surveys critical moments in recording history from the Beatles’ groundbreaking use of multitrack technology to the synthesized work of Stevie Wonder, from disco-era drum machines to the modern art of sampling in hip hop music. See footage of Brian Wilson directing the legendary Pet Sounds Sessions for the Beach Boys and Paul McCartney banging out a rudimentary “Yesterday” for the Beatles.

Soundbreaking is presented by Higher Ground in association with the late Sir George Martin of Beatles’ fame, produced and directed by Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmakers Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre. Martin was a six-time GRAMMY Award winner and recipient of the Recording Academy Trustees Award, and producer of more than 50 number-one hit records across the years.

It’s a love letter to music of nearly every variety that has dominated rock and pop charts

This is a truly groundbreaking music documentary that should become a part of any music lover’s collection. It’s a love letter to music of nearly every variety that has dominated rock and pop charts. Interviewing a wide range of music industry participants from executives like Jimmy Iovine to super-producers like Don Was and Rick Rubin, the documentary is elegantly crafted around its soundtrack of iconic hits. Broken up into eight parts with each episode having its own theme, Soundbreaking even covers the rise of hip hop and its emphasis on sampling.

Soundbreaking receives my highest personal recommendation as a joyous, insightful celebration of popular music. We’ve been looking as music fans for something like Soundbreaking to come along and it finally has arrived. If you ever wondered how the Beach Boys recorded the heavenly vocals of “God Only Knows” or the Beatles invented primitive sampling on “Tomorrow Never Knows,” Soundbreaking is absolutely essential for you.

Soundbreaking should be an integral part of every music lover’s collection. It’s the most encompassing behind-the-scenes documentary on rock and pop ever made. Soundbreaking would be a fine documentary without its loaded line-up of classic songs. Including hundreds of massive hits from across time makes it an incredible memento of popular music.

Soundbreaking Blu-ray screen shot 14

Video

RLJ Entertainment, through their boutique Athena label, distributes Soundbreaking on home video. This Blu-ray set has the eight episodes, each nearly running an hour, spread out over three BD-50s with generous AVC parameters. The picture quality is mixed. The newer interviews beam with clarity and definition befitting their digital video pedigree. Archival footage ranges from decent to tolerable in condition. Some of it only exists in standard-definition.

The entire documentary is presented at a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio in 1080P resolution. The producers have made the decision to size all footage to those dimensions, introducing aliasing for the upconverted SD footage. Soundbreaking also likes using split-screen, often with a modern talking head juxtaposed with the vintage recording footage.

Despite some concerns, Soundbreaking turns out rather smoothly in the video department. Vintage photographs and clips are nicely staged in sharp, vivid detail. Documentaries including a wide range of older archival material sometimes have a problem with consistency. Soundbreaking handles the jarring transitions in picture quality mostly without a hitch.

Audio

Featuring 300 classic songs licensed in various forms, Soundbreaking wouldn’t work without a fantastic sounding soundtrack and mix. Its 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio includes the original songs mixed in perfect clarity. This is an absolutely fun mix with excellent channel separation and a sweet soundstage. When a talking head starts getting repetitive, soon another classic song kicks in to jumpstart things.

Perfectly tuned bass and awesome dynamics make it a memorable sonic experience, giving viewers better insight into the recording process behind these hits. Hear master producer Phil Spector in scratchy recording quality shout at the studio musicians for another take. It’s the next best thing to having been in the studio when hits like “River Deep, Mountain High” were made. Dialogue is clean and clear for the new interviews, balanced in the dynamic mix without causing problems.

Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font. A secondary 2.0 DTS-HD MA stereo option is included but you’ll want the surround mix if possible.

Extras

Organized thematically, each episode of Soundbreaking tells stories of pop music icons recording and constructing their biggest hits. The main thing separating this Blu-ray set from the PBS broadcast is that everything is uncensored. That is most noticeable when the documentary covers N.W.A. and Dr. Dre.

Episodes include:

1. The Art of Recording
2. Painting with Sound
3. The Human Instrument
4. Going Electric
5. Four on the Floor
6. The World is Yours
7. Sound and Vision
8. I Am My Music

The three-disc set offers unseen bonus footage that didn’t make the final cut for various reasons. The extended interview with Ringo Starr is essential viewing for aspiring drummers. He explains his drumming style in lucid focus and gives a primer on different drum kits.

Soundbreaking comes with a slipcover and a 20-page collector’s booklet, excerpting material from the independently available Soundbreaking book.

Trailers (03:28 in HD) – Trailers for I Want My Name Back and Breaking A Monster play before the main menu of disc one.

Bonus clips:

  • Elton John & George Martin in Conversation (02:37 in HD)
  • Ringo Starr on drums (11:34 in HD)
  • Rosanne Cash on Sun Studios (02:33 in HD)
  • Linda Perry on writing “Get the Party Started” and Finding Pink (05:14 in HD)
  • Les Paul on Charlie Christian (03:27 in HD)
  • Tom Scholz Fires Up the Old Hammond B3 (03:57 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not influenced DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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