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Edison Studio: hellish sound

Renowned Italian group Edison Studio has recently produced the live soundtrack for the historical film Inferno. Mike Clark reports...

Founded in 1993, Rome-based Edison Studio are internationally renowned on the electroacoustic music scene, thanks to numerous important awards received for various projects. All four members – Mauro Cardi, Luigi Ceccarelli, Fabio Cifariello Ciardi and Alessandro Cipriani – have been recognised in various fields, including production of electroacoustic projects for the likes of the Venice Biennale and Ravenna Festival, and research work with Rome’s La Sapienza University and other such institutions in Sweden, Finland, Canada, Germany and France.

Following their work on soundtrack projects for two other silent films, the expressionist horror classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and The Last Days of Pompeii, performed live by the Edison Studio group at International Computer Music Conferences in Sweden and Singapore, the composers’ latest project is a soundtrack for Italy’s first full-length feature film: Inferno by Francesco Bertolini, Adolfo Padovan and Francesco De Liguoro from The Divine Comedy.

More than three years in the making, it was screened for the first time in Naples’ Mercadante Theatre in 1911. Recently restored by Bologna Cineteca and the Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, Inferno has been released on DVD with a soundtrack of music and live electronics produced by Edison Studio and Ravenna Festival. The quartet has embarked on the ambitious project of performing and processing the soundtrack live in surround sound on the road.One recent show was hosted by Barcelona’s Centro de Cultura Contemporanea with the collaboration of the Italian Cultural Institute on the occasion of the city’s Zeppelin Festival.
 Ceccarelli explains: “I normally man the FOH desk for the initial part of the concert. When the output levels are fine-tuned to match the room’s acoustics with the audience seated, I join the other members of the group on our platform to one side of the screen, contributing to the soundtrack with sound and vocal processing. For the latter, I use Symbolic Sound’s Kyma-Pacarana interactive sound generation and manipulation workstation, as it has a very powerful system for real-time vocal analysis and re-synthesis.”
 The musicians create the soundtrack live following scores indicating speech, music and sound processing. Each of the four has a microphone (a set of Neumann KMS 104 was chosen, as the quartet believes them to be the best condenser microphones for vocals in live stage applications), with which he dubs the voices of the actors in sync with their lip movements. A computer or five-octave M-Audio master keyboard is used to trigger the Native Instruments Kontakt 4 soft samplers used by two of the group. Cipriani uses a Yamaha VL1 physical modelling synthesizer to recreate the sounds of traditional instruments and, by means of a Breath Controller, communicates the synthesizer the modulations of a real player blowing into his instrument, such as a flute.
 Each performer also has an Apple MacBook Pro and a Digidesign MBox 2 Pro audio production system, and processes his voice and sounds in real time, using Avid Pro Tools 9 with GRM Tools Special Transform and Classic RTAS plug-ins, Waves RTAS plug-ins, Antares Auto-Tune and Max/MSP. Each then sends his five channels of mixed surround sound to the FOH console.
 Ceccarelli continues: “Alongside the FOH desk – a Crest Audio X-Monitor 40 in/10 out console in Spain – used to mix the overall sound, another computer runs Avid Pro Tools 9 for the control of the 5.1 surround system, Digidesign DV ToolKit and Waves RTAS plug-ins. The PT system also has additional pre-recorded sounds and the film itself, which is fed to the show’s video projector by means of a Canopus/Grass Valley ADVC 110 video interface.
 The d&b audiotechnik surround system, comprising Q7 and Q-Sub enclosures powered by D6 amplifiers, is positioned exactly according to International Telecommunication Union 5.1 speaker placement standards, with the centre speaker positioned under the screen and the other four enclosures mounted on 1.7m stands.
 Ceccarelli concluded: “I always prefer to use d&b audiotechnik enclosures, as – for our type of application – I find them the best quality speakers for ensuring realistic sound without being too aggressive. We also take particular care with the overall sound mix, in order to extend the sensation of spatiality to the widest possible area of the room, not just the centre zone of the audience.”