Preaching to the Choir – and Beyond

“If you can read this, you’re not the President,” says the bumper sticker, and if you’re reading this column, chances are you’re not a Luddite record producer still entrenched in a land where life ceases to exist beyond stereo.

The very nature of Surround Professional means that our readership consists of those already working with multichannel music, film, or games. We are the converted, so it is our job to instil into the masses the earth-shattering news that 2-channel is no more lifelike than Michael Jackson’s nose and that this week’s new DTS format wasn’t only invented to generate more licensing income.

“Surround is a gimmick, it’s for movie explosions and nothing more.” Don’t you just hate that? Not only does the statement belittle the work of motion picture engineers, it also pigeonholes the entire concept, ultimately to the detriment of my first love, no, not Nicole Kidman, but music in surround.

The advent of DVD-Audio and SACD gave us a great opportunity to expand music’s horizons beyond stereo, but their impact on the general consumer has been negligible. Neither has enjoyed the widespread industry support that was expected, and the difficulties involved with DSD production tools aside, the reason largely comes down to the (on average) poor choice of albums and the repeated employment of the same handful of aging mixing engineers who always get to work on the big-name titles. Their creations all stay within safe confines and precious few of them could be considered inspirational.

How many high-resolution surround releases can you think of that appeal to the lucrative under-25 demographic? I’ll start you off: Moloko’s Statues, KAJE, Insane Clown Posse’s The Wraith: Shangri-La, Reanimation by Linkin Park, Tipper’s Surrounded…. As luck would have it – OK, there’s no luck involved as I’m trying to make a point here – the common factor among all of these fantastic mixes is that they hail from young talents: Matt Lawrence, 3Bone Audio, Nathaniel Kunkel and Mike Duval, Mr. Hahn and James Stone — men who have discovered that the black, mesh-covered box in-between their front left and right monitors is — drum roll please – the center channel, and it’s even got it’s own fader!

As is always the case in consumer electronics, surround formats abound. Together with established systems we now have Dolby Digital+, DTS++ (one “plus” better than the Dolby system of course), AAC with it’s potential to deliver 64 channels, Windows Media, and even MP3, but all this matters not one jot if the music is freeform jazz and the mix no more progressive than that of an ABC Quad release from 1971.

The first step on the road toward a wider acceptance of multichannel music has to be made by those of us with experience and those of us with enough connections to get up-and-coming artists interested and inspired. We should then move aside and give new talent a chance to shine; the future of music in surround is in their hands — not in any particular format.

Surround Professional Magazine