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Globule warming: BluBubble bursts onto multichannel landscape (pt2)

Posted on: Friday 22nd of March 2019

Phil Ward continues his singular journey into an immersive experience, courtesy of French innovator L-Acoustics

L-Acoustics’ new L-ISA ‘Immersive Hyperreal’ sound system can be experienced at the company’s generous demo facility in Highgate, North London, where company founder Christian Heil established a new generation of live sound reinforcement loudspeakers beginning some 35 years ago. Having transformed that market, Heil is now aims to raise the reproduction bar much higher. He’s working with talent from the European industry, including Egyptian-born stadium sound guru Sherif el Barbari and fellow Frenchmen Guillaume Le Nost, director of R&D, and Sylvain Biguet, a recording and mastering expert.

There is obviously process and workflow to create the domain which was discussed in part 1.

Mixing focuses on Pro Tools and the REAPER DAW by Cockos – very popular with VR developers – but Nuendo, Logic Pro and Ableton Live are also available. “It’s just a matter of workflow,” confirms Biguet. “We send multitracks to the L-ISA processor, which is exactly the same one used in live sound by the PA companies. If the engineers arrive with their own computers we simply provide a MADI interface.

“There is a basic plug-in to access the automation engine of the DAW, so we can program some trajectories and automate them from the workstation. But there are many other ways to create trajectories; automation helps with the more complex patterns. In live sound, the rendering goes out to the PA; in the studio it comes back to the monitors. We don’t want to invade any established workflow – it needs to be an efficient use of the DAW.

“Of course, monitoring on 18-plus speakers is a new way of listening, and it changes the way we master the tracks from stereo to 18 channels. I have been a mastering engineer myself, and BluBubbles is a huge contrast of different headrooms. We’re trying to achieve a level between types of Bubble, and sometimes smooth out the spectrum of dynamics to avoid massive peaks. The Island is a very powerful playback system not shy of delivering a huge dynamic range right down to 17Hz!”

Amplification is exclusively L-Acoustics LA4X, although this is not mandatory as long as, once again, you stick to the specs. After all, this is an ecosystem in the metaphorical sense now applied to branded, integrated audio, so to guarantee optimum results it’s usually wise at this stage to stick to the blueprint. The future adaptability of L-ISA to alien planets, studio and live, will be discussed at many more strategy meetings to come.

Let’s be clear: this is no back-catalogue bonanza, no remix renaissance. “To achieve the separation and localization necessary, you need to record with spot microphones and close-miking – not necessarily the techniques used to record traditionally,” Barbari continues. “The results we’ve had from recordings of, say, 13 channels have been enjoyable, but nothing compared to a recording with 60 or 70 microphones to create all the objects. If the source material does not have the separation, we cannot add the separation. We can replicate the original in a higher resolution, with better transients and so on, but only as it was captured before. The main challenge is to gain access to the highest quality sources – and to secure rights permissions to exploit the new format.”

“Obviously we come from the live sound industry,” adds Christian Heil, “and we started L-ISA mostly to cover this sector by proposing different principles of sound design. But I saw there was another angle too: to get closer to the production of music content, to the artists and composers, and help them to learn new mixing tools and open the way for multi-dimensional solutions for any mix.”

Applied to the earlier process of content creation, the BluBubbles dimension to L-ISA is of clear appeal to adventurous, technically minded musicians and sound artists of the kind who like to push envelopes and make waves. Culture and commerce will likely fight over it as they do, but as long as the format is handled with the professional care it deserves it will win hearts.

“We’re not naïve enough to imagine it will take over the whole market,” admits Barbari (pictured). “As Christian says, it’s for someone for whom music matters – in a way like a racing car is for people who care about performance rather than looks and comfort. It’s for collectors, and those who relish listening to the playback as if they were actually there among the musicians. Obviously only some will be able to afford such an installation.”

‘As if they were actually there…’ If that sounds a bit like our old friend the Edison Tone Test, well, that’s because fidelity has always been the selling point of reproduced sound – from Nipper the mongrel staring at His Master’s Voice to SACD’s single-bit, pulse-density modulation and high sampling rate for more ‘lifelike’ digital audio. There’s no doubt that the audiophiles will quake in their sandals, and the turquoise ink will fizz in their fountain pens. But we will only truly blow BluBubbles when we learn to paint with it in the way Brian Eno describes when he says he wants to paint with sound: to take the new dynamics and the extra nuances into soundscapes that intoxicate reality as well as just teaching a new dog the old trick of trying to bottle it.

The Highgate BluBubbles Sound Art Gallery is open to visitors on Friday afternoons from 2pm-5pm.



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