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On Site: AES 2014

A highlight for me was the Auro-3D demonstration at the 137th AES convention.

On the Circuit, November 2014

Nov 6, 2014 5:04 PM, Cynthia Wisehart

The most fun thing I did at AES this year was go to Auro-3D’s listening suite to hear 17-time Grammy-winning producer Morten Lindberg talk and demo his work for the Auro format.

The promo for the session included this quote: “Recorded music is no longer a flat canvas, but a sculpture you can move around.” In his session Lindberg explained how he executes that with players—literally manipulating on X, Y, and Z axis by where he places the humans and the microphones. He pointed out that the technique of positioning players thorough risers, and at different proximities to each other and the audience, is an ancient performance technique. He’s doing a modern twist on that to exploit the nuances of Auro-3D, in particular the vertical channels.

You may know that I am a former theme park designer— I’ve had a lot of strange aural and 3D experiences, some of which never made it past the mockup. My job before that was ballerina, so I have also had the privilege of working to some extraordinary live and recorded music, and with some remarkable musicians and sound professionals. The visceral and physical experience of music in space has been an essential thread of my life, continuously since I was 9 years old. I have always listened in motion.

For me, Lindberg’s session was something of a revelation. It was fascinating to experience how he shaded the recordings, knowing what the Auro system would be able to play back. It was at times profoundly warm and deeply relaxing, especially when the full orchestra seemed to fill up all the available atoms with sound. At other times it was difficult to listen to because of the intimacy of some of Lindberg’s choices, particularly with soloists. We’re not used to that. In a way, it was almost an abstraction, compared to some of the conventions of recording and playback.

I’ve only seen 3D visuals once that actually altered reality (as opposed to representing it). That was the IMAX Solido format long ago, where you were so enveloped in the experience that it became something new. Lindberg’s session was the audio equivalent. The sound was not “better,” “higher fidelity,” or “more lifelike.” It was materially different from live music or any recorded music I have heard or danced to.

I imagine if you’d lit up a brain scan on me, you might have found that my feeling of altered state was physiologically real. I’m sure an acoustician could have measured something that would help quantify the experience. But how do you measure the alchemy among Lindberg, the composer, the players, and the technology? The Auro system was like another voice in the mix. It reminded me of how communication is passed from the composer’s mind, hand over hand, and into the listener’s mind, and how that experience is the summation of, and dialogue between, every facet in that chain. Now that’s what you want from an AES session.

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