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Technology, Theory and Design

Gary Mraz
(Multichannel Artistic Opportunites)


The hipster presence of Studio Voodoo's Gary Mraz was a refreshing plunge into the artist's perspective on emerging surround technologies. Where more conservative musicians might feel threatened by challenges to traditional recording and mixing approaches, Mraz embraces multichannel's new creative possibilities with the zeal of a kid in a candy store.

Along with partner Ted Price, Mraz composed, produced, and recorded virtually the entire contents of his first DVD-Audio disc, "Studio Voodoo." He enthused about the new medium's flexibility, saying that the ability to offer DTS ES 6.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 alternative tracks to the DVD-A mix posed no conflicts--he feels that each resulting version has its own artistic integrity. He even praised DVD-A's visual content (despite its requirement to use a display in a playback system), because it gave him the opportunity to include images from his favorite artists he felt complimented the songs.

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Mraz's mixing philosophy had some interesting contrasts to that of producer John Kellogg, whose presentation he directly followed. Unlike Kellogg, Mraz shows no mercy when it comes to the playback systems required for his material. When it comes to dynamics and low frequency content in each channel, he said, "I mix to the highest denominator." It was a sobering reminder for consumers to exercise caution in venturing into this new high-resolution frontier--a system that can handle one disc without stress could sustain damage from the next.

Though, like Kellogg, Mraz claims his approach is driven by intuition and feel of the music, he is also a technophile, fascinated by the electronic transformation of sounds. As examples of his favorite techniques, he listed "granulating" (dissecting a voice into successive EQ packets) and "tubing" (simulating a sound source entering a tube and traveling through it to the other end). On the "Studio Voodoo" disc, there are many ways to describe the impact of these and many other striking effects, but "organic" isn't one of them.

In a demo selection, a densely layered techno-funk beat emerged from a wraparound nighttime ambient soundfield. Sounds careened from speaker to speaker. The aggressive use of steering effects and omnidirectional instrument placement was nothing like a naturalistic live performance soundstage, but then the content was nothing like live music either. Although the unrestrained multichannel implementation would have been a gimmicky desecration if applied to music originally conceived for two-channel presentation, here it proved dramatic and effective when applied to material composed with surround in mind.

As we prepare for the impending flood of radical rethinking and experimental alternatives to the traditional soundfield spearheaded by pioneers like Mraz, the long-running debate over whether surround channels should be used for ambience or discrete sound placement will inevitably lose some of its urgency. Rather than holding the artist accountable to an a priori standard regarding the "correct" kind of soundfield, the more important question is whether the multichannel form is appropriate to the content. Or, as Mraz succinctly put is, "We're making the rules up as we go. []

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Show report last updated: 7th September 2003.

 

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