Tag Archives: Luke Allen

Recording live musicians in 360

By Luke Allen

I’ve had the opportunity to record live musicians in a couple of different in-the-field scenarios for 360 video content. In some situations — such as the ubiquitous 360 rock concert video — simply having access to the board feed is all one needs to create a pretty decent spatial mix (although the finer points of that type of mix would probably fill up a whole different article).

But what if you’re shooting in an acoustically interesting space where intimacy and immersion are the goal? What if you’re in the field in the middle of a rainstorm without access to AC power? It’s clear that in most cases, some combination of ambisonic capture and close micing is the right approach.

What I’ve found is that in all but a few elaborate set-ups, a mobile ambisonic recording rig (in my case, built around the Zaxcom Nomad and Soundfield SPS-200) — in addition to three to four omni-directional lavs for close micing — is more than sufficient to achieve excellent results. Last year, I had the pleasure of recording a four-piece country ensemble in a few different locations around Ireland.

Micing a Pub
For this particular job, I had the SPS and four lavs. For most of the day I had planted one Sanken COS-11 on the guitar, one on the mandolin, one on the lead singer and a DPA 4061 inside the upright bass (which sounded great!). Then, for the final song, the band wanted to add a fiddle to the mix — yet I was out of mics to cover everything. We had moved into the partially enclosed porch area of a pub with the musicians perched in a corner about six feet from the camera. I decided to roll the dice and trust the SPS to pick up the fiddle, which I figured would be loud enough in the small space that a lav wouldn’t be used much in the mix anyways. In post, the gamble paid off.

I was glad to have kept the quieter instruments mic’d up (especially the singer and the bass) while the fiddle lead parts sounded fantastic on the ambisonic recordings alone. This is one huge reason why it’s worth it to use higher-end Ambisonic mics, as you can trust them to provide fidelity for more than just ambient recordings.

An Orchestra
In another recent job, I was mixing for a 360 video of an orchestra. During production we moved the camera/sound rig around to different locations in a large rehearsal stage in London. Luckily, on this job we were able to also run small condensers into a board for each orchestra section, providing flexibility in the mix. Still, in post, the director wanted the spatial effect to be very perceptible and dynamic as we jump around the room during the lively performance. The SPS came in handy once again; not only does it offer good first-order spatial fidelity but a wide enough dynamic range and frequency response to be relied on heavily in the mix in situations where the close-mic recordings sounded flat. It was amazing opening up those recordings and listening to the SPS alone through a decent HRTF — it definitely exceeded my expectations.

It’s always good to be as prepared as possible when going into the field, but you don’t always have the budget or space for tons of equipment. In my experience, one high-quality and reliable ambisonic mic, along with some auxiliary lavs and maybe a long shotgun, are a good starting point for any field recording project for 360 video involving musicians.


Sound designer and composer Luke Allen is a veteran spatial audio designer and engineer, and a principal at SilVR in New York City. He can be reached at luke@silversound.us.

The sound of VR at Sundance and Slamdance

By Luke Allen

If last year’s annual Park City film and cultural meet-up was where VR filmmaking first dipped its toes in the proverbial water, count 2016’s edition as its full on coming out party. With over 30 VR pieces as official selections at Sundance’s New Frontier sub-festival, and even more content debuting at Slamdance and elsewhere, festival goers this year can barely take two steps down Main Street without being reminded of the format’s ubiquitous presence.

When I first stepped onto the main demonstration floor of New Frontier (which could be described this year as a de-facto VR mini-festival), the first thing that struck me was, why was it so loud in there? I admit I’m biased since I’m a sound designer with a couple of VR films being exhibited around town, but I am definitely backed up by a consensus among content creators regarding sound’s importance to creating the immersive environment central to VR’s promise as a format (I know, please forgive the buzzwords). In seemingly direct defiance of this principle, Sundance’s two main public exhibition areas for all the latest and greatest content were inundated with the rhythmic bass lines of booming electronic music and noisy crowds.

I suppose you can’t blame the programmers for some of this — the crowds were unavoidable — but I can’t help contrasting the New Frontier experience with the way Slamdance handled its more limited VR offering. Both festivals required visitors to sign up for a viewing time, but while the majority of Sundance’s screenings involved strapping on a headset while seated on a crowded bench in the middle of the demonstration floor, Slamdance reserved a quiet room for the screening experience. Visitors were advised to keep their voices to a murmur while in the viewing chamber, and the screenings took place in an isolated corner seated on — crucially — a chair with full range of motion.

Why is this important? Consider the nature of VR: the viewer has the freedom to look around the environment at their own discretion, and the best content creators make full use the 360-degrees at their disposal to craft the experience. A well-designed VR piece will use directional sound mixing to cue the viewer to look in different directions in order to further the story. It will also incorporate deep soundscapes that shift as one looks around the environment in order to immerse the viewer. Full range of motion, including horizontal rotation, is critical to allowing this exploration to take place.

The Visitor, which I had the pleasure of experiencing in Slamdance’s VR sanctuary, put this concept to use nicely by placing the two lead characters 90 degrees apart from one another, forcing the viewer to look around the beautifully-staged set in order to follow the story. Director James Kaelan and the post sound team at WEVR used subtly shifting backgrounds and eerie footsteps to put the viewer right in the middle of their abstract world.

VR New Frontier

Sundance’s New Frontier VR Bar.

Resonance, an experience directed by Jessica Brillhart that I sound designed and engineered, features violinist Tim Fain performing in a variety of different locations, mostly abandoned, selected both for their visual beauty and their unique sonic character. We used an Ambisonic microphone on set in order to capture the full range of acoustic reflections and, with a lot of love in the mix room at Silver Sound, were able to recreate these incredible sonic landscapes while enhancing the directionality of Fain’s playing in order to help the viewer follow him through the piece (Unfortunately, when Resonance was screening at Sundance’s New Frontier VR Bar, there was a loudspeaker playing Top 40 hits located about three feet above the viewer’s head).

In both of these live-action VR films, sound and picture serve to enhance and guide the experience of the other, much like in traditional cinema, but in a new and more enchanting way. I have had many conversations with other festival attendees here in Park City in which we recall shared VR experiences much like shared dreams, so personal and haunting is this format. We can only hope that in future exhibitions more attention is paid to ensure that viewers have the quiet they need to fully experience the artists’ work.

Luke Allen is a sound designer at Silver Sound Studios in New York City. You can reach him at luke@silversound.us