Keynotes: What I Said and Learned About 3D Audio at a Taiwanese Music Conference

Last month something awesome happened. I received an email from what I thought at the time was was a spam site, inviting me to speak at the Taiwan Beats International Festival For The Future of Music and Technology in Taipei, Taiwan. I thought they had made a mistake. How could Hooke Audio, a company pushing such a new and still relatively unknown technology like Bluetooth binaural 3d audio recording, be considered as the main attraction of such an event?

Then I read the mission statement on their website:

“Music flows, so do the times.
 
Everyday we put on our headphones, exhilarating music flows into our ears with the surging pace of trends. For the past two to three months, we’ve been through the death of the MP3 and iPod, the struggling of Soundcloud, the release of the first and ever Blockchain album, and the domination of Hip Hop in the mainstream market… Each Era begins and ends so suddenly that we couldn’t react promptly, yet another is at hand.”

I realized Taiwan Beats saw what I’ve been seeing for years: the next step in music listening and production is binaural. And it’s coming quicker than I ever anticipated.

Something I’ve noticed in the past three years of developing Hooke Verse is how many more people are using headphones to create and consume content. Even more, how many more people now owning multiple pairs of headphones at once. Just as the stereo system brought us Rock ‘n’ Roll with it’s two-channel playback and ability to make a four-piece band sound like they were playing in your living room, mass headphone listening is inspiring artists to create content in new and unique ways that are optimally enjoyed on headphones.

Behind me, I exemplify the Broadway productions, Grammy Award-winning musicians, and BBC Television shows that have all created in Binaural THIS year.

Since the late 1800’s, the devices we’ve used to consume sound have inspired the ways in which artists of the time created content. Whether or not they realized it, artists were making music with a specific listening experience in mind. We didn’t make a lot of Rock ‘n’ Roll during the time of transistor radios because all of that noise coming out of one speaker would have sounded like mud. That’s why we heard radio dramas and singular musicians like Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, whose music was dominated by a singular voice. When two-channel stereo entered the world, our music changed because we could get away with more. In the early days of the iPod, the music that began dominating the charts sounded the same whether you listened to it as a 2mb .mp3 on crappy earbuds or as a 2gb FLAC file on Grado Audiophile headphones.

This new era of music is no different. The iPod is dead. The .mp3 is dead. Yet podcast listening is skyrocketing and about a third of the adult population now listens to radio and music via headphones. We at Hooke Audio have always seen this trend approaching, and it’s exciting to see companies like Taiwan Beats pick up on it too.

Watch with headphones on

We’re not alone anymore. In the last five years, we’ve seen artists in every major medium create in binaural, knowing that most of their audiences would be watching with headphones on.

In 2016, Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness, a binaural film, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival.

It tells the story of a writer and theologian named John M. Hull, who, over the course of many years, documented his steadily deteriorating vision on audio cassette. Notes on Blindness mixes those archival recordings with binaural audio and 3D animations to immerse you in Hull’s “world beyond sight.”

 

In 2012, Audio Tour Hack created “Artobots” at the Guggenheim Museum.

It re-imagines sculptures of crushed cars by artist John Chamberlain as remnants of a fictional war straight out of Transformers: “Commissioned by Megatron, Leader of the Decepticons, this exhibition celebrates the Decepticons’ annihilation of their archenemies, the Autobots.

 

Earlier this year, the BBC broadcasted a spookier binaural version of their “Knock Knock” episode online, which marked the first time a TV show has ever been produced in immersive 3D audio recording.

As one excited fan said: “When you think that something is there with you, your body immediately thinks you’re in danger. It brings the actual fear that they’re feeling in the show to you. Any minute, the monsters can come after you.”

With the success of Dr. Who in binaural, the BBC — which started putting out binaural radio dramas back in the ’70s — is now making a concerted effort to offer more of its radio programming in binaural.

About a third of the adult population listens to radio via headphones, so it’s incumbent on artists to start creating personalized immersive 360 audio experiences.

Witness the creation of new companies like The Owl Field, which exclusively produces 3D audio dramas in various genres (horror, fantasy, action & adventure).

Accompanied by a binaural dummy head on a bare-bones stage, Simon McBurney tells his headphone-wearing audience the true story of a National Geographic photographer who found himself lost in the Amazon rain forest.

“Surely, no production on Broadway has ever thrown the doors of perception open as widely as The Encounter.” — The New York Times

There’s no doubt that a market is forming for 3D Audio recordings and it’s exciting to see organizations like Taiwan Beats pick up on this trend. One important thing to remember: every major format of the past has given consumers devices that let them create content easily and consume it easily. Binaural 3d audio is no exception. Just look at the past.

 

In order for binaural 3D Audio recordings to become the next step in music listening/creation, just like Taiwan Beats anticipates, we need a better commercial solution for binaural creation. We need a device that doesn’t add another piece of gear to our lives, but rather, one that enhances the gear that we already use.

You can see my full presentation at Taiwan Beats below (skip to 1:54:44 for my section)

『Taiwan Beats 國際論壇暨媒合會』下午場:14:00-15:30 讀懂粉絲的心:BandSquare 帶你分析數據天書15:30-17:00 讓錄音從此不一樣:Hooke Audio 的 3D 環繞音訊科技

Posted by Taiwan Beats on Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The next audio format is upon us, the next listening trend is upon us, the next creation tool is upon us. Binaural audio is the logical next step, and I couldn’t be more excited. See you at a music conference soon. I’ve got a lot to say!

From One Ear To Another,
Anthony Mattana
Founder CEO, Hooke Audio