Interview with KamranV

Tomorrow marks the beginning of our 2018 programming.  In addition to live acts performing quad material, we’re excited to be able to host Canada’s quadraphonic premiere of LIVE – Suzanne Ciani’s new recording. We chatted with producer KamranV to find out more about what into this landmark new vinyl record.

Synthèse Montréal: Can you tell me a bit about your background and how it led to your involvement with this project?

KamranV: I’m a music producer and technologist. You can see some of my past work. I used to run Moogfest and got to know Suzanne when we invited her to an event series called It ended up being her first solo Buchla performance in 40 years. Back in the 60s and 70s she performed her Buchla shows in quad and wanted to do the same for this. The team made it happen and for the past two years, every show since then she’s exclusively been preforming in quad. If you haven’t experienced her live show, its is so inspiring. She’s both performing AND mixing the space, all live.In may further distant past, I also ran a live recording label and fortunately insisted we record all of these events.

After the Dial-Tones event, we did an experiment at the North Carolina Museum of Art where we set up system to played back the show in quad in a public space. It was at that experiment, combined with my past producing DVD-Audio and SACDs and a life changing trip to Athens, GA with my friend Kai directly after that it all “clicked” for me. I realized what Suzanne did (and has always been doing) in quad could show the way to a more creative approach in creating music in “spatial sound;” looking back to look forward. To me, VR sound, DTS:X, Dolby Atmos and even back when I was doing 5.1 releases; it hasn’t quite work. There are so many barriers that stifle the creative process in music. My thinking is quad is effectively the most basic form of Spatial Sound. Let’s start with that.

Also, Suzanne’s performances couldn’t be a more perfect example of the creative possibilities.
For spatial sound to really come into its own, especially for music:

  1. Artists need more practice in spatial work. Suzanne meeting Don Buchla back when, gave her the opportunity to explore. Today adding an extra set of speakers and having an interface with a couple of extra outputs isn’t a big deal.
  2. Because the quad Regular Matrix format that we used can be distributed through any  current digital or analog platform, it means that the work can be enjoyed by anyone anywhere…

Doing this project with Suzanne on vinyl illustrates the creative opportunity perfectly.

SM: Can you remember the first time you heard a quad recording?

KV: Funnily enough, it was technically working on this. I was born just after the purely quad era. No one had a system. Closest that I got was with Flaming Lips put out the four cd album Zaireeka where you needed four boomboxes to play them all at the same time. Quad of a different sort (four CDs+four boomboxes). That really warped my mind in a very good way.

SM: What would you say led to your specific interest in spatialisation?

KV: I remember when I was a young kid, growing up in Oklahoma, that our neighbors Ron and Pat Smith had gotten an early Dolby Pro Logic system. Ron was showing off that scene of the planes roaring in Top Gun. It was on VHS. Of course the scene was a little cheesy but damn it was effective. It hit me the right way and I it must have been then that I aspired to make music in surround sound. It wasn’t until I was working at Interscope Records, working on DVD-Audio releases that I was able to actually work in spatial music. Working on releases with Beck, Nine Inch Nails and others was and meaningful privilege.

SM: Have you attended live quadraphonic concerts before? How did you find the experience?

KV: It wasn’t until Suzanne that I had ever heard a true quad live performance. Maybe Cirque du Soleil was something close. Really innovative spatial sound stuff happening with them in the 90s. Sadly, I missed going to those cool Flaming Lips parking lot experiments before Zaireeka came out but I heard all about them and it really fueled my thinking. That was a very inventive way to experiment in spatial sound.

SM: How would you describe to someone new to all this what the quadraphonic listening experience has to offer over stereo.

KV: Its interesting, the Regular Matrix encoded stuff ends up with a pretty convincing psycho acoustic effect. Not as good as the decode or even the discrete files, of course, but pretty good. Much better than just mixing down the four channels to stereo.

I like the idea of more people mixing and writing in quad while being able to reference easily what it will sound like folded down in this format… or even using the automation from their mixes to convert the work easily into a higher resolution, object oriented format like DTS:X or Dolby Atmos. Imagine making a quad record but then having the moves interpreted to multi-dozen channel systems. Its like getting more pixels on your monitor.
SM: Many of the technical challenges presented by analog quadraphonic formats and decoders should have potentially disappeared with the introduction of digital formats, why do you think that hasn’t led to multichannel gaining more popularity?

KV: Its seems to be capitalism: Format wars. High cost of playback and creation systems. Spatial music hardly had a chance. The beauty of the situation that we have in front of us now is its a lot easier to pick a format when the math is in the public domain like it is with Regular Matrix. No company agenda on which way to go. Getting four powered, wireless speakers, for instance, costs a hell of a lot less than the quad and 5.1 systems back in the day. The quad math could easily be embedded in these systems to decode quad. Also, the barriers to create and distribute music now are so low the issue of having enough music out there for people to care can go away quickly. I’m working on a FREE plug in right now so that folks can skip all of the challenges I had and more easily get their music out in quad.

SM: What would you say makes now a good time for quadraphonic to return?

KV: VR/AR is on the rise. Digital distribution is ubiquitous. Technology is less expensive. I’m hoping this project is the creative spark that inspires people to see the opportunity. The future of being a working musician, engineer or producer is working in spatial sound. That’s where the paying gigs seem to be going. Let’s practice now an and prepare for a beautiful future that come from the creative side a least equally to the tech side. Right now, it seems to be all tech driving.

SM: What was the biggest surprise for you throughout your time with this project?

KV: How long it took. It was much more complicated than I though it would be. The research to decide on the best approach took quite a while and then once I decided what I wanted to do, finding the right partners and people from all of the world to help execute it took a great deal of time. Now that its real, my next challenge is making it easier for everyone else.

SM: Were you surprised at Suzanne’s passion for quadraphonic performance?

KV: Yes and no. “Yes” in that until we decided to book her for our event, I had really only knew her as a “New Age” artist. Of course, once I knew the details of her history, it made absolute sense why she is a master in spatial sound. Don Buchla had the 227 quad module in there for quad to happen. Suzanne is a master of the Buchla… Suzanne+Bucha. There is the quadraphonic math.

SM: Of all the challenges that were overcome during the realization of this project, which one stands out for you?

KV: Its the place I’m in now. I’d really love to have the vinyl already in people’s hands but organizing global manufacturing timelines has been quite challenging. With that said, everyone I’ve worked with has been incredible collaborators. I just underestimated what it would take to do this right.

SM: What resources will be available for artists who are interested in using the encoding method used for LIVE – Quadraphonic?

KV: As you may already know, people can currently encode in three (soon to be four) different ways.

  1. A vintage analog QS encoder: They’re expensive and rare but really cool. Similarly, we worked with a brilliant person in Japan named Odaka Shuichi who ran our tracks through a rad custom analog encoder that he made.
  2. Software encode: I worked with Richard Brice Pspatial Audio who did a reverse of the work he did with his Stereo Sauce decoding software to do some early tests. There is also this site that has a java app encoder. Its a little wonky but it works. Problem with both of these is that they aren’t in realtime, so it makes it difficult to monitor and make creative decisions in the mixing and mastering as you work.
  3. Involve Audio: These are the folks that we worked with on the quad decoder included in the LIVE Quadraphonic vinyl packages. The also have this cool encoder/decoder product. We used a version of it for the bulk of our encoding. I really love working with them.
  4. With all of this said, I’m hoping getting the FREE, realtime plug-in finished will really help make it easier for everyone. We’re looking to get it done in less than a year. Anyone who wants to be on the beta can hit me up on my contact page and I’ll reach out when we’re ready for testing.