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Shanghai Orchestra pioneer use of 3D audio

2013-11-15 14:51 CNTV Web Editor: Li Yan

Even if you haven't seen a 3D film, you'll have certainly heard about them. But have you heard of 3D audio? Engineers are now using the technology to enhance outdoor classical music concerts in Shanghai during the ongoing Shanghai Arts Festival.

Mixing classical music with nature may sound beautiful, but it's technically quite difficult when sound effects are involved. For the first time, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra has tried something different in presenting its music on the banks of the Huangpu River.

The more than 200 people in the audience could hear different musical instruments clearly no matter where they sat, with the sounds coming from behind, above and below. They could also hear the sounds of rain, thunder, and animals roaring as if they were in a real rain forest.

The audio technology is called weave field synthesis and 3D amplification. Its secret lies in the more than 130 speakers installed all around the perimeter, on the edge of the stage, and also above and below the audience.

"We not only will amplify the sound of the orchestra, but we'll also add the sense of reverberation and room into the entire listening area, with speakers completely surrounding the audience, and speakers even above the audience. So there will be a very very complete sound kind of presentation that usually you would only get inside a hall, yet we're outside in this beautiful outdoor spot, but we'll have the sense of being inside a great concert hall," said Jeff Levison, engineer of Iosnono sound.

To make it work, different instruments were miked individually with 71 microphones, so that the audio engineers could change the balance and adjust the overall perspective of the orchestra while it was playing. The speakers were carefully chosen for the application, and the audio engineers themselves have to be familiar with the musical instruments.

The technology has already been used in several western countries, including a recent opera performance at the Sydney Opera House in front of more than 3,000 people. Here in Shanghai, a concert hall normally holds around 1,000 people. One veteran conductor says the technology shows the future direction of audio development as a big step forward to expose the general public to classical music.

"To be honest, I was always worried about outdoor concerts. The biggest problem was the audio effects, as the music sounds less rich compared with a concert hall. Now I'm happy that the sound of the orchestra is made louder, with the sense of reflections," said Cao Peng, conductor.

"We take advantage of various physical phenomena, including differences of sound pressure, phase difference and time difference. The speakers are arranged precisely to achieve the best sound result," said Zou Siwei, project manager.

Zou says for now, the cost of large-scale commercial 3D audio concerts is still high, because the rental charge for speakers from abroad alone is 50 percent higher than for the domestic ones, and no one is making them in China.

Zou and his team are working with the Shanghai Conservatory Music to set up a studio to work on the technology, as well as to nurture more talent. The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra also says it plans to make outdoor concerts a regular event in the future.

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