Surround sound? For home theatres, we’ve seen playback systems move from 2.1 to 5.1 to 7.1 to Dolby Atmos, each technological development adding more channels to listening/viewing environments. More channels allow sound designers to better localise sounds for a more audibly immersive viewing experience. The downside? More channels means more loudspeakers, more wires and greater expense. Moreover, surround sound-encoded audio can’t be properly decoded by headphones, which are, by definition 2.0: left and right channels.
Headphone listeners seeking greater sonic immersion look to binaural recordings: sound is captured by two microphones placed a head’s width apart or on/inside a dummy head’s ears. The aim is to preserve the interaural time and sound level differences heard by each ‘ear’.
When we playback a binaural recording through a pair of headphones – any headphones – our brain is tricked into thinking that the sounds we hear are localised in the space around us, just as we might have heard them been had we been present at the recording. The downside? Loudspeakers can’t properly relay a binaural recording’s spatial cues and binaural recordings of music are few and far between.
The last few years have given rise to a YouTube phenomenon called 8D audio where creators use software to apply stereo panning and reverb effects to individual elements of an existing song to create the illusion of a binaural recording. Headphones are again mandatory but as you might expect, results vary according to the creative decisions made by the software user.
Electronic music producer Max Cooper – whose recordings have often shown surgically precision in their multi-instrument layering to communicate a melodic/speckless gestalt – has tapped into the spirit of the 8D audio phenomenon to rework four tracks from his extensive back catalogue as proper binaural recordings. Cooper (presumably) went back to each track’s original stems to apply stereo panning and reverb effects to individual sonic elements.
From Cooper’s Facebook page:
“I’ve made a full 3D/binaural/headphone surround sound EP of 4 tracks and added it to Bandcamp.
“The technique taps into what we experience all the time without realising – we’re such a visually focused society in our language, “I see”, when we understand something, for example. But actually our hearing creates a lot of our experience of the space around us, and it’s those (binaural) cues which we can embed into music in order to create the feeling of a 3D sound world.”
“This release is an extreme spatial experience, lots of flying around and hard panning, I was taking the lead from the recent “8D” audio stuff being shared where the simplest of binaural pans caught everyone’s attention because it was such a clear example of the experience. I wanted to experiment with a similarly brash approach, but in the context of a richer sound field with many interacting parts.”
Anyone who enjoys melodic tech/house served with a side of spatial audio trickery is directed towards Cooper’s 3D Reworks 001 EP as evidence of what’s possible when a binaural mindset is applied to electronic music. At the time of writing, the EP is a ‘pay what you what’ download. Don’t dawdle.
Further information: Max Cooper’s Bandcamp