The State of Surround

As the Surround 2002 conference approaches, presenters and panelists muse on how far we’ve come — and where we still need to go.

The Surround 2002 Conference offers the opportunity to hear some of the top talents in the industry reveal how they ply their trades. And since we had this vast brain trust at our disposal — many of whom were there from the start of these new formats — we figured we’d get them to also give their opinion on why they like surround, where we as an industry have been, where we are, and where we’re going.

Murray Allen
Since 1993, when video games were distributed on disc, we at Electronic Arts have utilized surround technology in most all of our games. We are now able to create the audio for our games utilizing 5.1 technology. The XBOX contains hardware for encoding Dolby Digital. DTS has software available to encode their technology on the Playstation 2. We have taken full advantage of these technologies. The critics love it. Talking about NHL 20002, Greg Bottorff writes, “The sound is engulfing, as players appear to approach you from each side of your living room.” Brian Gray writes about Pirates, The Legend of the Black Kat, “This is a step we hope to see all games going in the future.”
Murray Allen will be holding a Master Class on “5.1 in the Gaming World” on Friday, Decemeber 13, at 10 AM.

Gary Baldasarri
My experience with multiple channel production and reproduction started with the Walt Disney Company in 1978. I have experienced, copied, and enjoyed many of the complicated and surreal surround techniques that the industry’s leading engineers have developed and shared. Currently, I am enthralled with the ability to capture the “just like live” perspective through a simple, straight-forward, “total vectoring” mic technique. Total vectoring not only delivers a great phantom center in the front left/right, but does the same front-to-back, side-to-side, and angle-to-angle — without the use of a center channel. The technique requires high-definition omni microphones placed in a square where the size of the square — ten inches or 100 feet — dictates the size of the experience. It’s as simple as that. Used as a stand-alone main sound design or an ancillary component to enhance a traditional design, total vectoring requires little processing and, due to the nature of omni microphones, works well outdoors and indoors, too.

Gary will be presenting a Master Class on “Surround Miking for Television” on Saturday, December 14, at 10 AM

Michael Bishop

We’ve spent years perfecting the art of making stereo recordings of an acoustic music performance with some sense of realism, depth, and width. Mic techniques, pan pots, delays, reverb devices, and other effects are used to place all the performance and soundstage between two speakers and still get separation and articulation of all the parts in the arrangement. No wonder we’re sometimes disappointed that the recording doesn’t sound much like the original event!

Multichannel surround recording gives us the opportunity to present the original acoustic event in a far more realistic manner than stereo can offer, but surround recording has its unique challenges. Instead of creating an acoustic image between two points, there can be ten possible imaging combinations. We now have to deal with psychoacoustic and phantom imaging problems that are never encountered in stereo reproduction. Additionally, we can present direct sound and ambient “layers” of the performance working from the front to the rear of the recording space. We need to acknowledge these challenges and obstacles in making a surround recording, yet still make a musical-sounding and interesting presentation.

Understanding surround microphone techniques — with a strong foundation in stereo techniques — is key to making a successful surround recording.

Michael Bishop will be holding a Master Class on “Orchestral Surround Miking Techniques” on Friday, December 13, at 11 AM

Ed Cherney
We are currently living in a messed up age for audio. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, audio production was an art — it was a Golden Age for engineers and producers and artists…and record companies. Now, we are in a Graceless Age of audio, with many people striving for maximum level — not striving for dynamics, quality, and depth. Thanks to surround and high-resolution audio, the circle is going to come around. Composing, arranging, conceiving, and mixing in surround can bring about the art of great audio again because, for this medium to work, it has to be stunning. People need a reason to buy it, and that reason can only come from quality productions. I think that SACD and DVD-A are eventually going to be the savior of the record business, but consumers and record executives still have to be educated. Having a surround setup in cars will open a lot of possibilities, but an educated public is key to the success of these formats.

Ed Cherney was originally scheduled to present at Surround 2002, but a schedule conflict forced him to pull out. But we know you’d still like to know what he’s thinking.

Joe Chicarelli
After working in this format for a few recent projects, I’m fully convinced of it’s promise for the future. It’s the perfect opportunity to achieve what we’ve been trying to do for years with stereo — captivate and involve the listener and make the music a more personal event for each individual. Balances, events, and effects that never quite worked in stereo now work effortlessly in surround. SACD and 24/96k formats finally deliver what digital has promised. With the growth of the gaming industry, live events, and HD broadcasts, my hope for the future is that manufacturers will be quick to support and implement a simple and inexpensive standard for both automobile and home listening.

Joe Chicarelli recently worked with Dweezil Zappa on mixing a Frank Zappa concert in surround sound. Click here for the story, and hear Dweezil speak about it during a Master Class on Saturday, December 14, at 4 PM.

Tomlinson Holman
The state of surround today is, frankly, a mixed bag. DVDs are coming out that are beating all previous records, and modern titles, of course, are all surround ( So there’s a lot of action there, and surround production is embedded throughout most of the visual plus aural entertainment programming industry. The music industry, on the other hand, remains in the doldrums, and few executives think surround could be a savior for them, although the sales of DVD players and 5.1-channel receivers show that there’s ever greater numbers of places to play surround, growing just about geometrically so that 5.1-channel decoders in consumer’s hands today exceed 38,000,000 (the sum of Dolby AC-3 and DTS Coherent Acoustics decoders).

Tomlinson Holman will be hosting “New Developments in Multichannel Recording” on Friday, December 13, at 1:15 PM.

Bob Ludwig
As a music lover, there is nothing that sounds as wonderful as surround sound done correctly. With our music industry in turmoil, surround and high-resolution audio offer the consumer something that is new, of high-quality, and difficult to easily poach. When people are exposed to good surround sound, they adore it. I feel the car will be the “killer app” for surround. When manufacturers start to offer surround car systems in 2004 there will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to offer only “universal” DVD-A and SACD players so there will be no format war, the consumer will buy the title they desire and know it will play in their car.

Bob Ludwig will be doing double duty at the conference, hosting “Mastering High-Resolution Music” on Friday, December 13 at 4:45 PM, and also presenting a Master Class on “Mastering in the 5.1 World” on Saturday December 14, at 4 PM.

Al Schmitt
The industry should be treating surround and high-resolution better, but they are starting to come around. Personally, I think it’s great, and now everything I do, I think of in surround. The first time I heard it, I realized how we could spread things out — it was like three-dimensional listening. The problem that we have now is that we have DVD-A on one hand and SACD on the other. We have to simplifiy for the consumer so that, regardless of what type of disc they buy in a store, it will play on their home and car systems. I’m also very concerned about record companies cutting corners and just upmixing stereo mixes. If that’s all there is, fine, but there is a problem when multitracks are available, but they aren’t used because of cost cutting. The record company has to get, at least, the producer, engineer, or artist involved in the original recording to be a part of the remix.

You can see Al Schmitt twice during the conference, first on Saturday, December 14, at 10:15 AM presenting “SACD — On Display for All to Hear,” and later that same day in a “Surround Q&A” Master Session at 2 PM.

Rich Tozzoli
I love surround sound. I love to record it, mix it, teach it, write about it, listen to it, and, most importantly, feel it. The immersive experience outside of stereo has literally driven my career path. “If you don’t change, you can become extinct,” is a phrase from a popular book that I often repeat in self-reflection. I feel basic multichannel knowledge is essential to anyone working in today’s music business, and those who do not even attempt to learn it will eventually be on display at the Museum of Natural History. Wake up and smell the tar pits! Change is good!

See Rich Tozzoli on Friday, December 13, at 11:15 AM as he discusses “Multichannel Mixing with the Home Theater in Mind.”

Surround Professional Magazine