Michael Jackson's music reimagined in 'Immortal'

Michael Jackson's vocals were rebalanced to make him more dominant in the mix.

Story highlights

  • "Immortal" is the soundtrack for Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour"
  • The "Deluxe" 2-disc version includes 42 of Jackson's biggest hits
  • Music designer Kevin Antunes spent a year developing the music from Jackson's master recordings
  • Remixes offer "a lot more energy, more of a dance groove" than Jackson's original releases, Antunes says
Michael Jackson fans, who just endured six weeks of court testimony about his death, can enjoy a reimagining of the pop icon's music with Monday's release of "Immortal."
Epic Records, which is selling a "Deluxe" two-disc, 100-minute version and a less-expensive 78-minute, single-disc album, says fans will "experience his music in an entirely new way."
The "Deluxe" version is the soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour," which began a North American tour last month.
The 22 tracks include parts of 42 of Jackson's greatest hits, but "with a little extra or a little less than the songs you grew up with," said Kevin Antunes, who has the title of "music designer" for the Cirque project.
Antunes worked for a year with Cirque show writer/director Jamie King to choose from among 40 years of Jackson master recordings to design the "soundscape" for the live action acrobatics. The challenge was shortening the songs to fit the show, he said.
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It's "a reimagining of Jackson's music" put together for the Cirque du Soleil show, but Epic Records executives realized that the soundtrack would be a "powerhouse of a CD," Antunes said.
The Cirque du Soleil performance demanded "a lot more energy, more of a dance groove," than the previously-released Jackson songs, said Antunes, who has also worked with Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Madonna.
Jackson's vocals were rebalanced to make him more dominant in the mix, compared to the original tracks where Jackson often blended his voice with the instruments.
"Sometimes his hits were so big you forget about his vocal range, diction, his breathing," Antunes said.
Since Antunes had the multi-track master recordings to work from, he could strip away everything but Michael Jackson and rebuild songs, which he did with "I'll Be There."
The "Immortal" version of the Jackson 5's biggest hit is simply the 11-year-old Michael's voice as heard in June 1970 -- without the digital process that's routine in studios now -- and a single piano track.
"That's his vocal the way that it was, just genuinely beautiful," Antunes said. "A young Michael Jackson is still today schooling all the vocalists of our era."
The song, however, is not on the single-CD version.
Both versions do include a Jackson 5 medley that features Michael and his brothers on an alternative take of "ABC" found on the master tapes from a December 1969 recording session.
The "Immortal Mega-mix," which was released as a single three weeks ago, is a "completely uplifting, a big dance number," including "Can You Feel It," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," "Billie Jean," and "Black or White," he said.
Heavy D, who died this month, made it onto "Immortal" through his rap from Jackson's 1992 hit "Jam."
"The Immortal Intro" is a montage of sound from Jackson's songs, videos and TV appearances that longtime fans should recognize, including a snippet of Jackson teaching Michael Jordan to dance at the end of his "Jam" video.
Other tracks include sounds from Jackson videos that were not on the albums when they came out, Antunes said.
"Thriller" is one of them. "You're getting this huge, scary dose of Michael," he said.
Antune's most dramatic "reimagining" may be with "They Don't Really Care About Us."
Antunes found a master recording of a choir that Jackson recorded for the song, but it was never used. The new version has it. He also adds the dramatic marching sounds of the soldiers Jackson created for his "This Is It" show.
Jackson's died just days before his first comeback concert was scheduled.
Dr. Conrad Murray, who served as Jackson's personal physician while he prepared for the tour, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in his death this month and will be sentenced next week.
The Cirque du Soleil show, which focuses fans away from Jackson's death and back to his art, is on a year-long tour of the United States and Canada.
While the CD is its soundtrack, it is not exactly like the show, which Antunes said is still evolving. The show uses live musicians, while the CD's music is almost entirely from recordings made during Jackson's life.
No matter where you hear it -- in an arena, your car or on an iPod -- "it will touch you," Antunes said.