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The Beach

Surround sound is the new and exciting frontier of audio. It is the future of the way music is recorded and reproduced. Simon Kong delves into his thoughts to share some ideas and ways to make surround part of your thinking.

28 Jun 2001

You ... have sat on a beach and listened to the waves break, you have heard the sound of a million bubbles bursting as the waves froth and curl to the peripheries of your audio perception. It is such a simple sound, quite, subtle and lush in softness, yet so immense in scale that only your presence confirms this. Each wave brings a variation of complexity that is infinite fact. Except to distinguish one wave from another by its sound is impossible.

You ... wish to capture this sound so that you can take it home and nurture it in the excellence of your home stereo. You take a mic and your recording device to the beach and carefully set it up to capture the wealth that riches your ears. With the level set you let the waves wash into your recording.

You ... hurry home the precious captured sound. Into your stereo you place the ocean and with out pause you play up the volume, anticipating to arrive back on your audio beach. Only you find yourself trapped in your home bombarded by what sounds much like static and hiss, a cold and lifeless stereo-chromatic reproduction of the beach.

Arrgggh ... !!

You ... could try it like this though ..

Go to the beach with twenty separate recording devices. Set them up every two meters along the beach. (by default every recording device starts at the same time) Sit, wait, enjoy, record!

Now don't go home yet. Try to borrow all your mates stereos. (yeah right) Set them up all two meters apart in a line and in the same order that you recorded, play it all back. (by default every stereo plays back at the same time)

What did you achieve by this ??

You will have created a virtual forty meter segment of beach which you can stroll along or sit and listen to. Not perfect but virtual, each point will be unique
and together it will sound like a beach.

You more accurately recreate the sound you hear sitting on the beach. This is because when you sit on the beach the sound you hear is from a broad sound field. You are not listening to one point on the beach. You are listening to all points on the beach within your hearing radius.

By recording the sound across a forty meter spread of the beach and reproducing it across the same spread. You will get a far more realistic sound field to the real beach. You will achieve depth and width of sound.

Also by isolating each recording and playback point you capture and create much more life like conditions. If you were to record all the mic points onto one recording your play back will sound like all the recorded points played back across all the play back points. This does not reflect real sound environments and conditions.

Surround does matter, the subtleties are important. The ability to isolate source point and playback point in an audio field is intrinsic to the future development of audio and music. Obviously the limits of this idea is technology and the number of devices required to achieve realistic sound environments.

However accepting this idea and incorporating it into the concept of producing music will change everything about music and sound as you know it.

Surround is not just Dolby 5.1 or THX or whatever the latest whiz-flash-dingle-bang device the market provides. These systems are built around the listener being in a fixed center point. They are effective and impressive but life and sound is not static. It is tactile, moving your audio perception is a fine tuned instrument able to adapt as you move through your environment.

The future is not static, you will not be sitting in one position. Why then should music be provided in a static format. Sound surrounds you, sounds approach you and depart you, as you move they move, you move in sound, sound moves you. So you should move sound! Technology and commercial viability has limits but imagination and creativity with technology has no limits.

I am sitting on this beach and waiting for the waves to break.. The waves where concepts of sound will be set free from it's stereo cage and understanding the dimensions of sound will no longer be feared.