Mirek Stiles attends a panel at the Prince Charles Cinema to discuss 3 dimensional, binaural sound in horror films

Last week I was invited to join a panel discussion for the world premiere of a short horror film entitled Final Stop. The film was screened as part of Fright Fest hosted by the Prince Charles Cinema in London’s Leicester Square. This suspenseful short directed by Roxanne Benjamin was shot entirely on smart phones, with all the sound recording handled via the Sennheiser Ambeo Smart Headset. The fact this beautiful looking film was shot entirely on a smartphone is reason enough to be a topic of interest, but I was there because the movie’s soundtrack was a fully 3 dimensional, binaural mix designed to be experienced via headphones. The Ambeo Smart Headset allows the recordist to use their head and ears as a microphone, resulting in realistic spacious recordings that take sound to another dimension. The horror genre is perfect for this type of intimate sound production, resulting in a heightened experience that plays well into the psyche of fear.

On the panel I was able to discuss the invention of stereo by EMI technician Alan Blumlein, who conducted the first stereo music recordings at Abbey Road Studios in the mid-1930s. Alan called his invention Binaural Sound, or in other words ‘two ears’. Although this early example of stereo was crude by today’s standards, Alan also patented systems that tried to mimic how the human head and ears hear sound – an early attempt, not a millions miles away from today’s emerging standards of binaural rendering. Alan was obviously way ahead of his time, as stereo was not introduced to the general public till the mid-1950s and certainly wasn’t mass adopted till the late ‘60s. I thought it was particularly appropriate to talk about Alan Blumlein as he came up with the idea of stereo sound when he was in a movie theatre. He noticed that as a character walks from one side of the screen to the other, the sound stayed in the middle. Why not have two speakers Alan thought, then you could pan the sound across the screen from one speaker to another to follow the visuals.

I want to thank both Sennheiser and Roxanne Benjamin for inviting me to be a part of the panel and I really enjoyed the movie; it had a rather nice twist at the end. I hope more artists look into binaural sound for their productions as it’s a perfect way of taking the audience to new levels of immersion.