Some years ago at Paramount Pictures, a guy announced that he was stepping out of my office for 5 minutes as he placed earphones on my head, then he left, closing my office door. I was sure I was alone — at first. But soon, I was spinning around in my chair to learn who had entered. I was alone. My ears lied, having been fooled by an audio technology we now called “binaural.”
At this technology’s core is the essence of how sound is recorded and played back — differently. For the past 120 years, live sounds have never been recorded and played back. Instead, we hear electrical impulses disguised as sounds. Why? Sound wave impulses are recorded with diaphragm microphones and then played back through cardboard cone speakers. Human ears discern actual sounds by sensing sound waves and air pressure variances caused by factors like vibration, impact, etc. Our ears can also hear and understand mechanical playback devices, like cardboard speakers. Our brain processes these as similar, but entirely different events. Just as movie cameras (prior to immersions) simply record actions for later playback, but do not re-create the phenomenon of action.
Our ears act as microphones, yet human ear canals are vastly different in design and function from a microphone. So, what happens when microphones share the same design and function as human ears? The difference between live physical sounds and recordings becomes blurred. Whether it’s live or a recording is no longer so obvious. And that’s where binaural audio gets really interesting. Just as the medium of immersion draws us a quantum leap closer to visual reality, binaural audio draws us closer to audio reality.
With our new immersion (VR movie) currently in production, Triple-i combines immersive visuals with binaural audio, bringing the viewer two steps closer to reality. This requires more work and diligence, because for the first time in history, we must now strategically “place” individual sound effects in the scene, just as we’d place our lighting.
So here’s your buzzword for today — binaural audio. And if you’re curious (as well you should be), here is a demo…