Opinion: Artists must take more audio risks

Immersive audio has come a long way in the past five years. Manufacturers are pushing progress and taking huge risks. PSNEurope’s Simon Duff argues for artists to do likewise...
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Simon Duff

Simon Duff

A very quick history lesson in six steps. The first orchestra was formed around 1500, then came the invention of recording around 1877, then the mass use of microphones in the 1930s, then the Les Paul guitar in the 1950s, stereo recording for the masses in the 1960s. Now immersive audio. “For me it’s a crusade. I’m fed up with stereo. We have used all of the effects and compression, it’s time for something else.” says Ralf Zuleeg from d&b audiotechnik. No question he’s right, although stereo will have longevity.

But the time for change is now. d&b’s Soundscape has been wowing audiences through its use by Kraftwerk for a good while now. L-ISA by L-Acoustics has been heard by some two million people over 600 shows. Claire Global looks set to announce its system in due course. One of my favourite immersive experiences in the past few years came in a small gallery type space in the form of a Funktion-One quad set up for a Hyperdub gig. Meyer Sound has been using its Constellation system for many years to help reinvent new acoustic spaces, allowing it direct access to architects.

Dolby DJ is used by many clubs, including the Ministry of Sound. Metricia Sound in Ibiza has created a stunning system called Sfear and Outline has been creating immersive experiences for years. Holoplot look set to be deeply involved in the MSG Spheres. A new type of venue is set to be built in Las Vegas and London.

These are exciting times. Object-based immersive recording, mixing and playback is a new force in the music business. It’s the manufacturers who are the brave powerhouses at the moment. In many ways they have only just begun. Major new loudspeaker manufacturing looks set to be developed and new methods will have to be acknowledged.

If this new world is to succeed I would argue that a new type of music needs to be created in order to seek a parity with the extraordinary work of the manufacturers mentioned above. They surely need to step up to the plate.

Over the many years of writing for PSNEurope, I have endeavoured to seek out the cutting edge of technical innovation as well as the the very best of cutting edge artists seeking to match the challenges laid down by manufactures. I am always hugely in admiration of the way that a composer like Hans Zimmer sets about his work. As an outsider, it seems to me, he almost starts at the end working back to his starting point. Sometimes, it seems to me, he starts at the end.

Burial is another artist, so keen to innovate and push new boundaries, inspired by a desire to translate an everyday simple emotion into something new and immersive. L-ISA’s BluBubbles label is making exciting progress. At PLASA, after his excellent talk, Justin Grealey told me about an ambitious tour he is planning for a well-known organist. He wants to tour with their own bespoke portable immersive venue.

All fantastic innovations. The new journey will be long, difficult, with many false starts and wrong turnings. But I am certain that where these end up will represent a new frontier for modern music.

Surely, a new contemporary classical music sound can be found; a new EDM music can be invented on laptops, costing nothing to realise; and new musical instruments can be invented, funded and able to thrive. A new Chinese Pop Aesthetic. New political Zeitgeists. That the work of everyone from George Martin to Martin Hannett can be re-thought, and new vocal styles and a new harmonic approach can be found. Perhaps new microphones and mixing techniques can be pioneered. It is, and will be, a brave new world. A new journey driven by a notion of immersive culture. I can’t wait.

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