Stereo to 5.1–Creating an Immersive fold-out
Paul Novotny, York University, Toronto
Abstract: Look Ahead is a jazz piano and bass, duo recording of performance-music, tracked, mixed and mastered at 24 bit/96khz for stereo and 5.1 playback. Esoteric microphones and pre-amps contributed tonal diversity and contrary to standard practice, the stereo mix was folded-out to 5.1, rather than folded-down to stereo. It was pre-determined that a “sympathetic openness” in the playing and sound was a desirable aesthetic, thus the “performance oriented” physical setup was a blending of the traditional Oscar Peterson and modern Keith Jarrett piano/bass set ups. These choices set forth a coherent foundation toward an intimate, immersive and dynamic performance recording. The stereo sound-field begins at the phantom center position of bass and the 5,1 mix builds outward, maintaining a natural coherence between both versions. The upright bass was recorded with a carefully centered stereo ribbon microphone, a mono hyper-cardioid condenser and a “DI”— the piano utilized two outside mics (U87’s), providing a cohesive center image that is blended into an inside-placed “ultra-wide-stereo” Calrec-Soundfield mic, limited to approximately 90% of pan-width, reserving the outer L/R edges for reflections and reverb. Multiple reverbs were mixed and panned to avoid a dead-spot between the R-RS and the L-LS. Since there are no drums this “chamber” became a featured participant of the ensemble, providing unexpected and contrasting responses to percussive attacks.
The conclusion asserts that a stereo sound stage built on traditional performance and recording values provide a connecting foundational coherence when folding-out. A stereo to 5.1 fold-out, rather than a “5.1 fold-down”, offers additional immersive enhancement—specific to 5.1—resulting in diverse custom masters that share strong foundational innate commonality.
Paul begins with an anecdote of the first time he ever heard surround sound at a live performance, and he recounts the experience of looking for a sense of ‘ensemble’ when hearing early surround mixes. His creative goal with this project was to discover what his own music might sound like engineered properly in 5:1, and, as a researcher, to undertake a comprehensive autoethnographic case study and document the process.