3D Music Albums

All photos by Scott Wilkinson

AIX Records is well known among audiophiles as an excellent source of high-resolution surround and 2-channel music on DVD-Audio/Video and Blu-ray. In addition to audio, these titles also include video of the sessions, with high def on newer releases. Now, AIX has taken a giant step into the future, becoming the first label to shoot 3D video for a series of "3D music albums" to be released on Blu-ray later this year.

AIX owner, engineer, and producer Mark Waldrep—who has been a guest on my podcast—captures complete performances in acoustically rich spaces, relying entirely on the artists' superb musicianship. The result is a "private performance" by the artist for those with a home-theater system.

The 3D sessions were recorded over three days at the Colburn School's Zipper Hall in Los Angeles, California. I've performed in that hall, and it's among the finest in the area, so when Waldrep invited me to attend, I jumped at the chance.

L-R: Laurence Juber (acoustic guitar), Rita Coolidge, Oren Waters (backing vocals)

The day I was there, Rita Coolidge was recording an album of Memphis-style R&B. Other artists on these sessions included multi-platinum country star Mark Chesnutt, jazz/classical group Free Flight with James Walker, guitarist Laurence Juber, The Old Towne String Quartet, and the AIX All Stars with various top-notch artists combining their talents.

Four Panasonic 3D cameras caught the performance from many angles.

Waldrep managed to finagle four prototype 3D cameras from Panasonic for the three-day shoot, along with four prototype 3D LCD monitors that employ passive-polarized glasses. The cameras use AVCHD compression and store the data on 32GB SD memory cards, one for each eye. (Data wrangler Brent Curtis, whose regular job is authoring AIX DVDs and Blu-rays, had his hands full keeping track of all those memory cards and backups!) Each camera sent the left and right images to its corresponding monitor via separate HD SDI cables.

DP Greg Le Duc

Director of photography Greg Le Duc decided to shoot at 1080p/30 rather than 1080p/24 in order to capture smoother motion, especially from the drummer and the guitarists' fingers. The video will be interlaced to 1080i on the discs, since Blu-ray doesn't support 1080p/30, and of course, it will conform to the Blu-ray 3D spec.

Stereographer Dave Gregory (L) and producer Mark Waldrep watched the 3D monitors with passive-polarized glasses.

All four cameramen and stereographer Dave Gregory agreed that the Panasonic cameras were a real boon, requiring very little learning curve and taking no more time to shoot than 2D would. Not only that, they are far less expensive than 2-camera beam-splitter rigs would have been—$21,000 each, which is peanuts in the world of professional video.

Cameraman Andy Parke

Of course, shooting in 3D requires some care in order to avoid problems unique to stereoscopic images. For example, the convergence—which determines where the screen plane is along the depth axis—was normally set and left alone, but it needed to be adjusted for long and extreme zoom shots. Also, they kept the cameras at least 10 feet from the subjects in most cases to avoid parallax problems.

L-R: Kevin Axt (bass), Dean Parka (electric guitar), Laurence Juber (acoustic guitar), Julia Waters (backing vocals)

Regarding the audio, Waldrep always records uncompressed PCM digital audio at 96kHz/24 bits, which he refers to as "high definition" rather than "high resolution." After all, he says, many audiophiles consider vinyl records and analog tape to be "high resolution" in a sense, and he wants to differentiate digital recordings that are originally made using higher sample rates and longer word lengths than CDs offer.

For these sessions, he recorded 36 tracks on a PC-based Nuendo digital-audio workstation, using lots of dual-microphone pairs on the guitars and percussion. He prefers to capture the acoustic sound of each instrument, even electric-guitar cabinets, which creates an open, live sound and allows the musicians to better hear each other.

Like other AIX titles, several mixes of each tune will be provided on the discs, including 5.1 mixes from the audience and stage perspectives as well as a 2-channel version. Why not 7.1? Because 5.1 matches the label's other surround mixes, and many home systems don't have the extra back-surround speakers.

Jib cameraman Kelly Herrin

A few 3D music movies have already been produced by artists such as U2, Hannah Montana, and Kenny Chesney, but these are all live concerts with full audiences. AIX will be the first label to offer 3D music albums that provide a more intimate private performance, and I can't wait to see—and hear—the final result.

Greg's picture

What excellent and detailed reportage of the event.

Dave Gregory's picture

A very enjoyable shoot, and I'm looking forward to doing more. Of course, it was just as important to have my polarized glasses off half the time to see the actual amount of parallax between the images on the screen as it was to have them on to see the 3D effect. Panasonic's prototype equipment did exactly what they promised and the release versions are going to be quite good. Indeed, for those who bother to seek-out the information and test it, there are very viable techniques for shooting satisfactorily with a fixed interocular when necessary. -- Dave Gregory, Stereographer galaxiefilm@post.com

Jarod's picture

Another great article! As a musician myself, I would love to have some of my bands music recorded that way. It is great to see AIX on the leading edge of technology. Very cool stuff

Lawrence de Mar tin's picture

Great pioneering effort. However, you now have visually defined listener position that differs wildly from the microphone positions. There should be mic arrays at the camera position so that the soundtrack perspective matches the visual perspective. Sound changes with distance, and the subtle cues that determine, for example, the size of the source are going to be distorted from spot microphones that are within a whisper distance. You also get proximity effect unless they set the pattern to omni or figure 8.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Lawrence, interesting point, except that all music videos, movies, etc. take the sound from optimally placed microphones while the camera moves all over the place, and no one complains about it. People are used to this, so I don't think it's a big deal. Besides, the primary objective here is to present the best possible sound, which could not be achieved if the mic was on the camera.

Clint DeBoer's picture

And All of AIX Records' HD music videos have been like this. Adding the 3rd dimension doesn't make it any more or less awkward looking at a guitarist and hearing a cymbal crash on the incorrect side of the room. I think, as Scott indicated, the idea is that you are getting a beautifully mixed and engineered piece of music with some bonus video - now in 3D... Music first, then video as the value added, which I think is how Mar k has always positioned his products.

Gregg Kubera's picture

Regarding Lawrence's point...the Grateful Dead did exactly this in their first live concert film. The effect was "trippy"! JERRY LIVES!!

willdao's picture

One is reminded of the care what went into the sonic staging of "Sessions at West 54th Street," which was exemplary from a sound engineering perspective (especially the first season, whic hwas uniformely excellent; successive seasons were sometimes hit or miss, depending on the artist/week). These look to be keepers: the 3D video is merely, IMHO, just icing on a great cake. Didn't even know these videos existed--and I'll definitely have to check out the 2D offerings. How did I miss these guys?! Thanks, Scott.

Bruno's picture

Very interesting article. ¿Is actually any tittle already recorded by AIX available in stores?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Bruno, you can certainly order many titles from the AIX website at: www.aixrecords.com

Mar k Waldrep's picture

To the point about the POV of the music vs the POV of the video, I believe Scott and Clint stated the realities quite well. The music comes first. I'm an audiophile and AIX Records has built a reputation of superior, purist, real HD surround music productions. Due to the way we record our projects, it has always been possible to capture video (because everything is captured at the same time)...and now we can do it with 3D cameras! The mixes are locked and the video changes POV to maintain interest and visual flow. It would be too awkward to move the mix to match the visuals. The results of the post process has been amazing...and I've learned a lot about 3D in a very short time. I should have the first available as a BD 3D disc in less than a month.

makiem's picture

this is totally amazing. a behind the scenes of creating a beautiful pov.. :)

increase soundcloud followers