AES Section Meeting Reports

Pacific Northwest - January 3, 2019

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In January 2019, the Recording Academy PNW Chapter was joined by the AES PNW Section to audition Grammy nominees for Best Immersive Audio Album. This was held on the Microsoft Redmond campus in their Studio B Dolby Atmos screening room. Naturally, AES members were not voting unless they were also Recording Academy members. 17 AES members attended, and around 33 Recording Academy folks, plus a dozen or so Microsoft employees.

AES Life Member Rick Chinn reports:

We started by listening to some previous winners in the category. We were encouraged to move about the room, to experience the recording in different locales, not just in the sweet spot. Interestingly, that worked, and you could have a good listening experience in some place other than the sweet spot, much like you would in a concert hall.

One of the warmup pieces was from the 5.1 album "Sensurround" (like the old Cerwin Vega film sound process) by a Japanese artist Cornelius. The selection we listened to was "Symbol" and it definitely used the Atmos playback space. This was a pretty unusual piece, quite avant-garde. Another was the Jim Anderson/Ulrike Schwarz recording of Jane Ira Bloom, last year's Best Surround Album Grammy winner.

The last warmup was the Beatles, "Because" from the 5.1 LOVE soundtrack, which was George/Giles Martin's work. Glenn Lorbecki pointed out that the Dolby Atmos system has a front-end processor ahead of the amplifiers, and this processor made the decisions of how to process the incoming audio, whatever its format, into something that played in the Atmos space.

After the warmup, we listened to the nominees, which were selected from the submissions by a blue-ribbon committee. Glenn reminded us that what we were evaluating was the work of the surround recording engineer, producer, etc. and not the actual music or performance itself. It was a matter of how the mixing team used the surround/immersive media to their advantage to produce a recording that immersed you in the performance.

Initially, we got the name of the piece, the performer's name, and the record label name. The media played was not revealed. We listened to a timed block of selections. The material ranged from classical music to electronic and even rock via Alan Parsons "Eye in the Sky." Some of the pieces had visual content, but since we were there to audition the audio content, we deliberately did not see the visual content, lest it influence our decision.

The Grammy members were reminded to not discuss the recordings amongst themselves, that the voting was to be individual. As such, the assembled group did not really discuss their impressions of the recordings. Glenn did reveal what the input format was, some of which I was not familiar with, but there were Blu-ray, DVD, and SACD carriers.

Everyone was quite pleased with being able to experience the recordings in the Microsoft Dolby Atmos space, and I think that Michael Compton (Recording Academy PNW Chapter Executive Director) pointed out that this was pioneered by the San Francisco section, who have been doing this for 7 years. I found out later that (natch) their listening space was provided by Dolby Labs.

NB - The winner of the Best Immersive Album this year was Alan Parsons' "Eye In The Sky."

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