Let’s talk about surround sound systems for a quick second, shall we?
A modern surround sound system, in its simplest form, consists of six channels; Left, Center, Right, Left Surround, Right Surround, and the Low Frequency Effect channel. The first five channels are all fairly self-explanatory, denoting the location of the speaker itself and the channel’s location in the sound field. That last one, the LFE, is a little bit more complicated.
A quick roundup of the independent sfx libraries to have hit our inbox this month.
Blastwave FX – Heroes & Villains
Blastwave FX have launched a competition to coincide with the release of their latest library collection, Heroes & Villains. You will need to call upon your most potent and deadly super power for a chance to win: entrants have to post a video of themselves reading a list of sound effects included in the library… in less than 60 seconds.
Metamorph is the brand new sample library from San Francisco instrument software makers Twisted Tools. With over 2GB of audio at 24bit/96Khz, Metamorph’s mash-up of electroacoustic and designed sounds was developed by Italian sound designers BJM Mario Bajardi and Paolo Bigazzi (aka Komplex).
When designing a set for a film, the art director tries to use what is good about the real world place where the scene will be shot, but also tries to avoid being straight jacketed by what is there. The cinematographer usually has a similar approach in deciding what to shoot and how to shoot it. The director may want to put some local people in a scene, but they probably won’t be leading characters.
Sound design should be the same, I think. With the proliferation of multi-channel microphones in recent years, some with “5.1” channels and more, the promise of being able to capture and reproduce the aural sensation of being in a real place with three dimensional acoustics is definitely closer to being real…but is it desirable? I’d say the answer is usually “no.”
One of the hot topics at AES this year…and by “hot,” I mean a subject that had multiple conference sessions devoted to it…was the concept of adding height to the spatial information presented by multi-channel surround formats. I’m sure a fair bit of the enthusiasm for this subject is caused by the announcement and release of Dolby Atmos earlier this year.
My experience with Dolby Atmos prior to AES was non-existent. To date, there are only 14 theaters in the U.S., and one in Canada, currently equipped for Atmos playback. The closest theater to me is in New York, and that’s not exactly a short trip from the Washington, DC, metro area. Thankfully, my trip out to San Francisco for AES provided me with two opportunities to listen to the system at work. The first was a technical demonstration at Dolby Laboratories, scheduled as a “Technical Tour” within the AES events program. The second was the AMC Metreon, which had two daily showings of Chasing Mavericks; the latest film release to be mixed in the new Atmos format.
Just imagining all that could be done in creating subtle backgrounds and ambiences, I was excited to hear what this system could do…though I fully expected the bulk of the examples that Dolby would be showing would tend toward spectacle. That proved, for the most part, to be true. Which made the opportunity presented by Chasing Mavericks all the more important; a chance to truly hear how editors and re-recording mixers would make use of the system throughout the course of a story. Before I get too deep into those experiences though, let’s talk about some of the interesting technical abilities of the system.
Since we hear all around us, while seeing only to the front, sounds have long been used to alert us to danger. In Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the battle scenes are shot from the shaky, glancing, and claustrophobic point of view of a soldier on the ground. There are no sweeping vistas, only the chaos of fighting as it is experienced. The sound for this movie, therefore, had to set the full stage of battle, while putting us squarely in the middle of it. I can honestly say that this film could not have been made in the same way if it were not for the possibilities of theatrical surround sound. If sound could not have expressed the scale, orientation, and emotion of a soldier’s experience, the camera would have had to show more. Yet it is a point of the movie to show how disorienting the visual experience was. Sound becomes a key storyteller.