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Keynote Address: Don Was

I don’t know a lot about surround sound, but I’ve only had good experiences with it,” said Don Was as he kicked off his keynote address at Surround Pro 2002. Was was introduced by Lisa Roy, music writer for EQ magazine and recording production coordinator (she helped put together the Surround Music Awards). Roy touched on Was’ historic work with Bonnie Raitt and The Rolling Stones, though the legendary producer really needed no introduction; especially to this crowd.

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Nursing a broken foot wrapped in a cast, Was hobbled up to the podium and honestly discussed his limited exposure to music in surround. Liking the surround mixes he had heard so far because they “enhanced the original intention”, Was used that sentiment as a plea to those undertaking the responsibility of repurposing stereo music into discrete surround. “Be careful you zen-gineers” he warned, “you’ve got to respect intent; don’t take away that heart and soul.”

As examples of “that heart and soul” musicians have for their art, Was regaled the audience with stories about Sting and Marvin Gaye. Not satisfied with merely describing Gaye’s passion, Was held a small plastic boom-box up to the microphone and played ‘Let’s Get It On’ for the audience, describing the emotions that Gaye must have gone through when creating this song. “This was supposed to be a sequel to ‘What’s Going On’ and be about brotherhood and all that” he said, adding “but somewhere along the way this hot babe must gave walked into the studio and the song turned into this lusty ballad.” As Gaye’s voice reached a crescendo, Was told the audience “Listen to can tell this is the part where he rips his shirt off.” Click for a Larger Image

After the audience finished laughing and clapping, Was reminded everyone how emotionally close we got to Gaye during the song. “Surround will bring you five feet closer to Marvin!” he remarked when discussing how the song should be repurposed for a multi-channel mix. But more interesting than repurposing older music, Was seemed truly excited about musicians now “thinking in surround.” Less than fifteen minutes after he had started, Was ended his brief keynote address by again reminding everyone that we’d end up with great works of music in surround as long as we start those projects by respecting the intent of the artist. []

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Show report last updated: 2nd February 2003.


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