Crafting Your Sonic Signature with Audio Design
We live in a time that’s hard to impress when it’s easy to feel as if we’ve seen it all. But we definitely haven‘t heard it all, and that’s at the core of this particular moment in time, one increasingly defined by sound and sculpted by audio design.
HDTV, 4K and 8K video and cinema — our visual senses have been inundated with ever-higher resolutions that approach and in some cases exceed reality. That’s a trend that’s found its way into live events, as well, as videowall pitch aspires to ever-higher values even as the screens themselves get ever larger. But sound remains largely a relatively new realm for development, as far as its use as an engagement medium goes. Sure, there’s usually a voiceover and perhaps a generic underscore, but sound had historically taken a back seat when it comes to helping corporate messaging reach deep into our collective limbic systems.
“The Era Of Audio Design Has Arrived.”
Not anymore. Event-production professionals now have a host of new audio technologies at hand with which to design aural environments compelling enough to rival towering video walls and large-scale projection mapping.
“In short, sound can now be designed, just as lighting, video, and scenic elements are,” says Philip Barrett, Director of Audio at Creative Technology, and responsible for the direction, expansion, and day-to-day operations of one of the largest corporate and special event audio staging operations in the world. “The era of audio design has arrived.”
Most notably, immersive sound is no longer the province just of the cinema and high-end home theater. Systems from leading live-sound manufacturers such as L-Acoustics, d&b audiotechnik, and Meyer Sound now allow sound designers to create sonic environments that envelop event attendees whether they’re centrally seated or walking around a venue space. Whereas simple stereo PA systems delivered a left-right image perfectly only to a narrow slice of an audience, immersive systems such as L-Acoustics’ L-ISA and d&b’s Soundscape assure excellent stereo imaging anywhere in the room, along with sound from the rear and from overhead. And that’s all from systems that cost little more than conventional left-right line arrays.
Immersive sound systems arrive on the live-event landscape enabled by advanced DSP processing that allows precise and automated placement of audio elements in a 360-degree arc. Furthermore, with astute programming of the system ahead of time in and for the space it’s to be applied to, these immersive systems do not require advanced operators to run them, further saving on costs while delivering a much enhanced sound experience.
The same developments in DSP have also contributed to another aspect of audio’s new era: virtually pristine sound quality. Software can digitally map a space and predict where problems, such as nulls and bass bumps, might arise. Better speakers and enclosures are now able to be aimed and steered precisely, keeping sound off of the reflective surfaces of venues, such as walls and floors that cause sound-smearing reflections and echoes. Quite literally, live sound now compares favorably with hi-fi music systems.
The Big Break
And therein lies the opportunity. Event producers can leverage this new era in audio design and sound quality using audio design technologies and techniques to shape new kinds of sonic environments.
An excellent example of this was a live BMW event that featured an immersive soundscape produced by Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe Award-winning film composer Hans Zimmer. The event was held at CES-2022 in Las Vegas to showcase BMW’s connected in-vehicle technology. For it, Zimmer created an immersive 18-channel soundscape that Barrett and Creative Technology executed using a palette of immersive-audio tools comprising Creative Technology’s custom Funktion One F5 micro-monitors, fed from a multichannel QLab playback engine and controlled using a Meyer Galaxy system processor.
In a different part of the same event, a large circular audience area comprising three separate projection zones, Outboard’s TiMax spatial audio processor, and careful speaker positioning were deployed to emphasize the sound in each zone and reject the sound from the other zones, creating three distinct and discrete audio environment in a single, uninterrupted, 360-degree open-projection environment
The result of both of these immersive audio environments was as dazzling to the ears as the visuals and lighting were to the eyes. Audio had, Barrett says, finally achieved parity with those other elements.
“Audio design will allow event producers to create sonic signatures for venues and for events,” Barrett explains. “Using the tools that have arrived on the market in the last several years, you can add an entirely new dimension to live productions, one that simply wasn’t there before.”
And now it is.