Dolby wants to bring the third-dimension into your club experience. The company has announced the adaptation of its Atmos sound technology — a “three-dimensional” sound system originally designed for movie theaters — to music production software, giving producers and DJs the means to “target” the individual elements of their songs to specific areas of a space.
A movie provides little room for play when it comes to this sort of technology; the buzz of a swarm of bees behind the camera should be placed behind the listener/viewer, and move sonically around the room as the swarm does visually on the screen. Those limitations don’t apply to music creation — the only thing dictating the “location” of a sound is the whim and inspiration of the person making it. Giving these artists a new dimension to play with would no doubt be intriguing.
(That is, as long as the club that DJ is playing has installed overhead speakers and has licensed the “box” which powers Dolby’s technology through the room… and that the DJ has played around with the software overlay, the “Atmos panner,” which powers it in a live setting. These all require working with Dolby on installation.)
Gabriel Cory adapted the Atmos technology for production on his own, amazed at the equipment his job at Dolby had given him access to. “I was staying late on my own time to develop this — I thought it was really exciting.” (Hours later, in a quality control room the size of a master bedroom in New York and designed to approximate a club environment, Cory would be grinning ear-to-ear, demonstrating its sonic, and visual, capabilities. “Nice drop,” I yelled, to which responded with two thumbs, way up.) After his initial excitement at the technology’s musical possibilities, a Dolby team began to build its use
He was also responsible for bringing in the first producers to play with his new toy. One in particular seemed apt; Amon Tobin, whose Isam record was taken to (truly) new levels live via a multi-story stage, projection mapped into oblivion. The preview of Tobin’s experiments with the third-dimension were impressive, though obviously more lark than composition. Music written in this way would require an approach from the ground up, much like Tiesto’s “elastic” compositions for Spotify’s running app.
Dolby isn’t the first to experiment with three-dimensional audio experiences, of course. Edgar Choueiri, a literal rocket scientist, created an algorithm which tricked the human brain into ignoring “cross talk,” or input coming from one side of an area going into the “wrong” ear. In the early ’90s, QSound Labs worked on similar technology. Both of these technologies were designed to be widely adaptable, something Atmos is not. While those software-based solutions will do in a controlled environment, Dolby’s new tech is meant to require some investment — and provides a sonic return on that investment in the way of a far more sophisticated playground for producers.
“The best advice I was given,” Cory says, “was to find artists who really want to push things.”