Sound engineer Oli Jacobs gives us an insight into WOMAD 2015 and the process undertaken to create the superb surround Sound mix available from Society of Sound.
Rain. That was the theme of WOMAD UK last year, Peter Gabriel’s world music festival set in the South West of England. This, however, did nothing to dampen the spirits of festivalgoers who despite the weather, were still up for a party. With their remarkable sound system and a superb line up of musicians, the Bowers & Wilkins’ Stage was one of the highlights (and it was away from the rain under a tent!). Thanks to the easy integration with Solid State Logic’s live consoles, recording the show was fairly straight forward, with engineers Oscar Eriksen , Gavin Tempany, Jack Mills and Dickie Chappell taking charge of the tent’s sound system and recording.
The B&W stage is a bit different from other stages at WOMAD in that the custom built sound system is quadrophonic – there are two speakers in the traditional position either side of the stage, and two speakers behind the audience. This allows for a truly immersive experience with music coming from all around you through a sound system like no other – described as hifi sound on a festival scale. In keeping with this, I was keen for listeners with surround sound systems to be able to experience this same feeling of sonic envelopment – as if they were actually in the tent (but without the mud), while also having a captivating stereo mix for those listening on headphones or two speakers.
Mixing in surround
Like most engineers, I prefer to mix surround sound in a ‘natural’ way, as if you are standing in the middle of the audience facing the stage – in prime listening position. This means that the musicians are spaced in front of you and the ambience from the audience (applause etc) comes from all around. I must confess on this project I did have a bit of fun panning elements around – the odd synthesiser etc, it’s hard to resist having a bit of fun! Mike Large (Real World director of operations and audio guru) and I agreed that rather than mix in the more common 5.1 surround format, we would go for quadrophonic as this is what the B&W sound system is. With some help from our friends at Dolby, we have delivered the surround sound in several formats, in the hope that as many people can enjoy the surround mix as possible.
The stereo mix
Of course, for the majority of people (for example, those listening on headphones) the stereo mix of is of great importance. This mix is achieved through a fold-down of the surround mix; so the ambient microphones from the show itself are still very present. I always do the final mix-down on the stereo version, as any imperfections are far easier to hear.
WOMAD returns at the end of July, information and tickets can be obtained a www.womad.co.uk – fingers crossed for some sun.