Heavenly Surround Page 3
Atlanta is planning a new Symphony Center, scheduled to open in 2008, and acoustic concerns are a top priority. In fact, the influence of surround technology is clear in the wording of the press material announcing the project. "Surround shape design" and "surround seating" are phrases that appear repeatedly. Said Spano: "We are all in the same room experiencing the sound together - rather than the sound happening here and the audience being over there."
Meanwhile, back at the current Symphony Hall, there were those "technical meltdowns" that producer Martone had mentioned. Could she elaborate? "The brass ensembles weren't lining up." In the hall, they were placed on the stage apron left and right and the first balcony left and right. And according to Michael Bishop, who co-engineered the Requiem with Jack Renner, "We had to concentrate on what was happening with the chorus and the main orchestra and hope things would come together with the brass ensembles."
In the end, they did indeed come together. The spatial relationship of the four brass ensembles can be heard clearly in the surround mix on the hybrid SACD (which includes a stereo mix for compatibility with CD players). You can also hear the depth of the timpani, which were placed in the pit in front of the stage. And tenor Frank Lopardo is appropriately high above the chorus and orchestra. In fact, said Renner, "we moved him up to the second balcony after we heard the first playback. But if we'd put the brass farther away, we never would have gotten them to play together."
Bishop had actually recorded a sixth, "height" channel, which could have been combined with a subwoofer channel for playback on subwoofer/satellite systems. "Unfortunately, I had to drop it to fit the entire Requiem on one disc. There just wasn't room for six full-range channels, or even 5.1, considering the length of the program" - nearly 80 minutes. "Believe me, I tried to make it fit! We're counting on people who don't have full-range speakers all around having bass management doing what it's supposed to do."
He shouldn't worry, because this five-channel Requiem is a thrilling success. In the months and years ahead, will we be able to say the same for the SACD format in particular and multichannel music in general? According to Martone, Telarc's commitment to surround sound remains solid.
"Our focus as a company is to bring surround forward. We've been on the bandwagon since the inception. Some of the recordings come out better than others. We're learning as we go - it's been an evolution. But we're behind surround more than 100%. This is our future."