On Working Between the Ears (producing binaural audio recordings)

 

From time to time people ask me for advice on making binaural (or “3D” or 360-degree) audio recordings.

First — have a read through Wikipedia’s ‘wiki’ page for binaural recording

Second — it needn’t be expensive (although it certainly can be). So listed below are some of the hardware and software tools that I have first-hand experience with over the past few years. Please note: none of these companies are endorsing me or paying me for mentioning them or their products. 

Third — I will update this page as I come across other tools and strategies.

But in the meantime, if you have questions just send me an email.

Have fun!

Field Recording

Microphones

(previously) SP-TFB-2 – Sound Professionals – Low Noise In-Ear Binaural Microphones

(currently) Soundman OKM II Classic Binaural Microphones

(DIY alternative) If you have 2 identical microphones (ideally of the large capacitor type), a binaural audio experience can be created by positioning the microphones at the same vertical height but facing out in opposite directions from each other. The distance between the two microphone’s capsules should be the same as the width of the average human head. Then fill that space with materials having an equivalent material density (try a pillow or the head of a mannequin or wig display)

If the DIY approach appeals to you, Rob Cruickshank’s infinitely wise Musicworks tutorial How To Make Binaural Microphones is a must-read.

Sound Recorders

Zoom H4N

Software-based Encoding

For arranging pre-existing, non-binaural audio recordings into a binaural /3D audio format I’ve had good results from the VST implementation of the Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation.

Lately, I’ve also been doing binaural audio work inside the MaxMSP programming environment through a very useful library of Higher Order Ambisonic encoders by these lovely folks:

Recording Collections

My own (growing) collection.

You can also search the Freesound collaborative database of Creative Commons Licensed sounds for binaural recordings  — just make sure that if you end up using someone’s recordings in your own work that you adhere to the Creative Commons license stipulated by the recording’s creator!!

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Recent binaural field recordings

For best results, listen on headphones…

Hulaboom binaural

For best results, listen on headphones. In this demonstration:

• The audio signal is fed through digital processing software via binaural microphones worn by the drummer. This enables the drummer to influence the mix of acoustic kit instruments to be processed – including the degree of sonic detail and relative strength of the signal as it enters the processing chains – by adjusting their physical proximity to the kit (i.e., head related transfer functions).

• A collection of household ‘foley’ sounds (stored in a granular synthesis engine) are activated by an acoustic MIDI trigger mounted on the kick drum. This offers the possibility of using drum velocity values to trigger looped and often unmetered textures which the drummer can then play in counterpoint with.

• The current ‘soundscape’ of this kit borrows from traditional ‘dub’ processing techniques (echo, feedback, band-pass filters coupled with envelope followers, ‘spring’ reverbs), yet also attempts to infuse each instance of a dub echo with different sonic information, such as discreet ‘foley’ sounds, voices or harmonic ‘augmentations’ generated by a vocoder.

• Gated ‘ghost tracks’ are also revealed through changes in the drummer’s loudness levels. In this demonstration, the ‘ghost track’ is an archival interview recording of early jazz drummer Warren ‘Baby’ Dodds for the Folkways album “Baby Dodds – Talking And Drum Solos” (Folkways Records – FJ 2290, 1951)

Performing Site-Specific Theatre article

ImagePalgrave Macmillan has just released Performing Site-Specific Theatre: Politics, Place, Practice (Anna Birch and Joanne Tompkins, editors) – an anthology of writing investigating the nature of the relationship between ‘site’ and ‘performance’.

Among the collected writings is an article written in collaboration with Bruce Barton (University of Toronto Drama Centre), in which we explore the theory and practical (creative) application of immersive audio technologies in site-specific performance. Entitled Immersive Negotiations: Binaural Perspectives on Site-specific Sound, the article places a large emphasis on my sound design work for site-specific performance collective bluemouth inc (who also feature prominently in an another article in this anthology by Keren Zaiontz). It’s a rather brief article, focusing largely on the confluence of immersive audio design, mobile audiences, and trompe d’ oreille (deception of the ear), in creating heightened sensory experiences.

Here is the publisher’s description of the book:

“Performing Site-Specific Theatre turns a critical eye to the increasingly popular form of site-specific performance. By re-assessing this contemporary practice, the book investigates the nature of the relationship between ‘site’ and ‘performance.’ Site-specific performance operates differently from performance that takes place within a theatre venue because it seeks to match form and content (and place and space) more finely than does theatre that takes place inside conventional venues. Yet the form also encourages an investigation of how we might understand ‘site’ as less fixed or less specifically geographical; it broadens the types of relevant ‘spaces’ we might consider. The form also enables us to address a range of performative issues, from the development of site-specific ‘soundscapes’ to the role of the spectator in site-specific performance. The contributions in the book from leading theorists and practitioners demonstrate how site-specific performance extends theatre’s potential engagement with its geographical and political communities, and cover an exceptional range of innovative performance practices. Students, scholars and practitioners of contemporary theatre and performance, space and place, and site-specific performance will find much to value in this timely interrogation of current trends, practices and implications of performance in which site/landscape is central.”