For a brief moment in early 1997 Mark Waldrep, Ph.D had the DVD market to himself. A few days later, Warner Bros. launched its DVD-Video catalog, and a new segment of the entertainment industry was born.
Waldrep, chief engineer and founder of AIX Records, took his brief monopoly in stride. This is a man who is used to leading the pack. A previous venture, Pacific Coast Sound Works (PCSW), purchased one of the first Sonic Solutions CD pre-mastering systems, plunging Waldrep headlong into the world of digital entertainment. In 1995, his AIX Media Group introduced the first enhanced CD (ECD), utilizing proprietary technology.
In 1997 the company produced and co-released those first DVD-Video titles. Waldrep was first with DVD motion graphics menus. Then, in 2000, AIX Media Group spawned AIX Records, the first label dedicated solely to the new DVD-Audio format, the first to release DVD-A discs with MLP, and the first to produce hybrid, double-sided DVD-A and DVD-V (DVD-14) discs.
Waldrep had been satisfying the growing demand for mastering, authoring, graphics, menus, and other enhanced features when he decided to expand those services into content creation. Having occupied the former New England Digital studio in West Hollywood, CA since 1992, it was a relatively simple matter to fit-out the space with state-of-the-art, high-resolution audio equipment, including a Euphonix System 5 console and R-1 recorder.
It seemed to me that, if youre going to introduce a new format, somebody ought to be making recordings specifically for that format, observes Waldrep. It was a conscious effort on my part not to go out there and just rehash.
Not that theres anything wrong with delving into the back catalog, he says: For those people that are well versed in the protocol of 5.1, and can do a sensitive job, with or without the original talent or the original producers, more power to them. But I have staunchly maintained that this, by my definition, is not high-definition.
Take a 30-year-old analog 24-track tape. No matter what you were doing with that tape with Dolby, or high-speed, or elevated level, youre not coming close to the dynamic range and frequency response thats available if I make that same recording on a piece of equipment like the Euphonix R-1. For me, a high-definition recording must originate with musicians in front of equipment capable of delivering advanced resolution.
And that is exactly what AIX Records has concentrated on, creating a catalog of 40 titles, at the rate of two or three a month, consisting of classical, jazz, and acoustic vocal, folk, blues, bluegrass music performed mainly by lesser-known musicians.
Uniquely, each disc includes a DVD-A side, offering the highest resolution 5.1 audio with MLP, while the DVD-V side includes in-close stage and more distant audience perspective Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS-encoded mixes as well as a stereo 96/24 PCM version.
The DVD-V side of each disc is packed with additional material. Multi-camera setups film the recording sessions and even the rehearsals. There are featurettes, printable tab notation, interviews, biographies, photo galleries, bonus performances, and Web links. The labels Start Here sampler includes over 600 screens explaining high-res formats and technology and forms the basis of Waldreps teaching curriculum at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
The extensive rich content of AIXs releases has not only won plaudits from fans and critics, but also garnered the label several awards, including Best Additional Features and Best of Show for Nitty Gritty Surround (featuring John McEuen and Jimmy Ibbotson) at the First Annual Surround Music Awards.
The music, played acoustically, is captured live using a minimal, very high quality signal chain incorporating Neumann, AKG, and Schoeps microphones, Neve, Audio Upgrades, and John Hardy preamps, and the R-1. Waldrep has recently experimented with electric bass and Fender Rhodes piano, and with overdubs. The venue of choice is the 400-seat Zipper Auditorium at the Colburn School of Performing Arts in downtown L.A.
We dont put an audience in there, he says, but I really like the sound of being in a space where, when you hit a drum, it does bounce off of something and come back. Theres no EQ, or minimal EQ if theres a problem rumbling or floor transmission. I dont use artificial reverberation. I mix in the space of the hall, and I dont use any dynamics compression.
The aim is hyper-realism, he says. My goal is not to use the technology to re-create the acoustic experience as a documentary. He explains, I use a lot of ORTF stereo pairs. I got my Ph.D in binaural audio from UCLA in my composition degree.
When it comes to his 5.1 mixing philosophy, Waldrep observes, I have an environment now thats broadened because of the surround speakers. Drums are typically panned to the front right corner on an AIX release, piano to the front left. Soloists are featured centerstage, where Waldrep uses the System 5s diffusion and focus controls to spread the image.
I mix from the perspective of 5.1 onstage first. I do direct low-frequency instruments and boost that sound to the LFE channel. Im doing quasi-bass management during the mix. I treat the speakers as if theyre full-range. Then all Ive got to do is start bringing things forward and adjusting for the audience mix, bringing up those mics that I have in the back of the hall. Then, I just collapse the whole thing into stereo and readjust.
Waldrep observes, Im not alone, but I have the biggest catalog of new stuff by absolutely unknown people.
They may be little known, but AIX titles from artists such as Jim DeJulio, Laurence Juber, Cheryl Bentyne, and Dorian Michael have been featured on critics top 10 lists along with Queen, the Eagles, and Sheryl Crow even picking up unprecedented five-star ratings.
Theres no economic base for doing what Im doing, admits Waldrep. We sell a few thousand of these things. But if you havent heard an AIX Records recording of a DVD-Audio product, you havent heard what DVD-Audio can do.