As a longtime listener of electronic music, and music in general, I’ve always felt as though a specific piece of the potential listening experience was missing. When listening to more classic styles of music like folk, jazz or rock, the instruments are arranged in the sonic space to mimic a live performance. They’re placed specifically around the environment so that, particularly when listened to on headphones or a professional monitor set up, it sounds as if the full band is standing in front of you. In electronic music, especially more modern styles, this tendency is completely thrown out the window, effectively opening up an entirely new world of creative potential. Now, the space itself acts as one of the most important parts of production. Sounds can come from distant places ahead of you, swirl around the sides of your ears, explode upward and below and dance around the aural spectrum to foster completely unique environments for the melodies to dwell in. However, the aspect that always feels forgotten is “behind you.”
Using mono and stereo channels, with side-to-side panning, can only get you so far. Even the most full-sounding and dynamic pieces end at the sides of your head, never fully coming from the space directly behind you. To truly immerse the listener, I’ve always thought, this final piece of space needs to be utilized so that those in attendance feel as though they’re smack in the middle of a 360-degree sonic environment.
Lucky for those in London, however, the day has finally arrived.
Dolby, the company behind theatre and event space sound systems that’s long heralded their mastery of ‘surround sound,’ and with a massive $4bn market cap behind it, has just breached a new frontier in the form of London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub. Their new system, Atmos, has erased any and all preconceptions of how the closed venue listening experience has to be. They have now outfitted the famed club with 60 speakers, 22 audio channels, and a lighting arrangement that natively syncs to Atmos’s output. The result is baffling.
London Elektricity’s Tony Coleman described the experience of trying out the new arrangement for the first time.
“So when Dolby called and said, ‘Would you like to put on an event in our brand-new club surround sound format, and would you play a three-hour set?’ I naturally got rather excited. The next day, we were in Dolby’s demo cinema in Soho Square listening to the most amazing thing— drum and bass mixed in moving surround sound. How did it sound? How did it feel? My mind was blown. All I can think about is what I’m gonna play, which tracks would sound best in 22-channel surround, and how to mix them. This is the start of a truly new experience in club audio. Bring on next year, and bring on a night like you’ve never heard before.”
Each sound, they say, can now be independently thrown around the space, allowing attendees of Ministry of Sound to be transported right to the middle of an evolving, dynamic track.
In a video interview, producer Mark Radford reveals his own feelings behind Atmos. As someone who’s frequented the nightclub circuit for decades, he says, the concepts that Dolby has introduced come as a mind boggling and completely revolutionary way to think about performance spaces. While DJs have always been able to utilize the effects created through mono and stereo sound, and panning, the ability to truly place sounds independent from one another around the room has never existed until now. With Dolby’s new technology, he says, an entire spectrum of new and exciting possibilities has opened up.
Producer Yousef has weighed in as well, posting a video to his Facebook page that continues the dialogue. In it, he describes the true power and potential of Atmos, and the ways in which he’s already incorporated it into his own performances. Watch below.