May 21, 2020

Berlin, Germany—April 2020…

Given his background mixing front-of-house for rock bands, it’s no surprise that when Sphereo sound designer and 3D audio operator Jonas Gehrmann discusses immersive audio, he focuses a lot on music use cases. “In the end, immersive audio for concerts should be about music and not about technology,” he insists. “If you make an immersive concert mix where stuff is flying around, after two minutes it’s boring. We might use FLUX:: Immersive’s SPAT Revolution to create a more 360 degree image of the stage from the viewers position, so you are standing next to the guitar player and you hear the drums and guitar from there. We can use it to create a space for the in-ear monitors, where you usually wouldn’t hear the onstage sound. We create an immersive experience on the stage, but it’s still within the music; it’s not a rollercoaster ride.

Gehrmann uses SPAT Revolution to create immersive environments in a variety of venues, ranging from concert and theater venues such as Berlin’s historic Friedrichstadt-Palast theater, where he is a member of the sound designers’ team, to planetariums and other settings. “When you’re providing an immersive experience, every sound has to reach every point in the audience,” he observes. “When you do that with regular level panning, if you make it loud enough to hear in some places, it’s much too loud in other places. With SPAT, it’s possible to do an immersive experience where the mix is very accurate everywhere in the theater. We use SPAT to give the audience a natural sound; the people should think there’s nothing on the PA. What I do and what Fabian [Gehrmann’s Sphereo partner, room acoustic engineer Fabian Knauber] does has to be about music and to involve natural hearing.

Another advantage of SPAT is that it’s scalable and can be used in venues of varying sizes and with different loudspeaker systems. “For the immersive planetarium shows I did with pianist Kai Schumacher, we did 15 shows at 6 different planetariums over a couple of years,” Gehrmann recalls. “Every planetarium was different. Sometimes the people just sat in rows or in a circle because the stage is the dome. Schumacher is playing the piano live, and the sound goes to speakers in the roof. We had a 12-, a 16-, and a 24-speaker setup that we carried around to cover the various planetariums and other venues. With SPAT, we were able to provide a great sounding immersive experience in all of them.

That’s not to say it’s always easy adapting to different speaker systems. “Each type of loudspeaker gives you different results because of the loudspeaker’s design, so you have to account for that,” notes Gehrmann. “Compression, distortion, and phase issues can affect your results. Older halls where you have a a combination of different types of speakers can be especially challenging. We’ve worked in spaces where the differences between speakers weren’t correct for the room, some speakers were an odd shape, and we had totally weird problems. But SPAT makes those issues much easier to deal with than other immersive systems.

To date, all of Gehrmann’s projects have been for stationary audiences but he is eager to try new things. “I want to do an installation with SPAT where people can move around,” he muses. “One of our ideas is to put audio on headphones for people in an audience and track their positions as they move around. The sound will change along with their position.

SPAT is a professional tool, Gehrmann emphasizes, and to get the best results, you need to understand what you’re doing. “It’s not a trial-and-error tool for people who aren’t willing to learn how it works,” he asserts. “You have to know about room acoustics and which features will do what you want. But once you learn how to use it, it’s a powerful creative tool. SPAT gives you ideas and inspiration for new things you can try because it can do so much. It’s a big playground. And if you suggest a good idea to the people at FLUX:: Immersive, they will implement it, so you can directly influence the product. That’s very different from other companies.