We caught up with Darran Clement, one of the sound team who worked on Surround Sound Shakespeare.
What is Surround Sound Shakespeare?
In what we believe is a world first for a feature length TV drama, we have done a ‘binaural’ audio remix of Russell T Davies' adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This experimental audio technique allows us to bring the sort of listening experience you get from a surround sound system to anyone with a pair of headphones.
You can watch and listen to the whole thing on BBC Red Button on Monday 30 May 8.25pm-11.30pm, but we’ve made this clip available so that the Taster audience can tell us what they think of it.
What on earth is binaural audio?
For decades people have recorded lovely inspirational things like nature and acoustic music performances with a life-size dummy head with microphones in each ear.
When these ‘binaural’ recordings are played back over headphones, the listener hears the sounds as if their ears have morphed into the same position that the dummy head's 'ears' were for the original recording. They hear the sounds all around, and from up and down directions, exactly as they happened around the dummy heads 'microphone' ears.
So, what’s new then?
Binaural recordings made with the dummy head are extremely life-like and are quite easy to capture, but they are not feasible in TV production where we are putting together sounds from so many sources and locations. Luckily, BBC Research & Development have created some ground breaking software that can take sound files such as dialogue, music and sound effects and position them all around the listener’s head to mimic the listener being right in the middle of the action... or wherever the writer/producer/director wants them to be.
At last we have a way to let people hear our surround sound mix the way we hear it in the studio, without the need for acres of cables, speakers and stands in their lounge...or they could be on the bus, or in the loo, or in the garden, or wherever today's mobile generations like to consume their favourite TV programmes. We can now genuinely have spacially 'massive' sound that we only normally experience at the cinema.
How was it made?
We started with the excellent Dolby 5.1 soundtrack mixed by my colleague Mark Ferda. We then disassembled the different sound sources and, using BBC R&D’s new software, we placed them in a 3D environment around the listener. Sounds simple, but to get this process working BBC Wales Innovation Lead, Catherine Robinson, had to set up a new binaural production facility in Cardiff, the first of its kind outside BBC R&D.
We then work alongside the video to make sure the sounds are positioned appropriately for each shot. Some things work particularly well, such when an actor’s voice is heard off screen, and we can place it behind you. But we have to be careful to be sensitive to the vision for the original mix, we wanted to add to your immersion in the drama and not distract you with gimmicky use of the technology.