OTHER WORLDS - BINAURAL MUSIC PRODUCTION
Two years in the making and exclusively designed for 3D binaural audio, "Other Worlds" by music producer Alejandro Mosso engulfs the listener with four immersive hypnotic pieces of music. Each composition offers a seamless blend of electronic and acoustic instruments merging into a slow and organic pulse. In this article, Alejandro gives insights into his creative binaural production with the 3D audio spatializer plugin dearVR PRO.
ABOUT THE ALBUM
Musically, "Other Worlds" is somehow inspired by Jon Hassell’s Fourth World music series, which he defined as "a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques”. Personally, the idea of making music for imaginary worlds is very exciting. I imagine it sounds like a melting pot of instruments, rhythms and harmonies from different music cultures.
Although the record is filled with traditional acoustic instruments from different parts of the world, it follows a more electronic production and arrangement style in many ways. Furthermore, the production took a whole new dimension when I decided to release it in binaural audio, which I believe gave the record a futuristic and technological edge, as well as a very fitting immersive ambience.
From the production standpoint, the four “worlds” are basically different instances of the same technique: mixing instruments and textures that one wouldn’t usually find playing together and creating a coherent piece of music out of it. Aesthetically, the four pieces also share the same meditative, repetitive, trance inducing and sort of “mantra like” mood. Much of the instrumentation selection was part of a larger and very enjoyable process. This process consisted of over-processing acoustic instruments to make them sound synthetic, while at the same time making synthesized sounds appear as real acoustic instruments with imperfections, instability and a great degree of modulation.
THE PRODUCTION WORKFLOW
By experimenting with different spatial audio formats, I quickly realized, that although binaural has some limitations, it is the easiest way to make 3D audio accessible to the general public. A good pair of headphones is all the listener needs to experience music as a 360° sound experience. When mixing acoustic recordings with synthetic sounds in the binaural format, it is important to have clean and clearly recorded sound sources with the minimum amount of reverberation possible. This allows you to blend the recorded sources in a virtual 3D space easier.
Other Worlds is the first record I released in a binaural format, so everything was sort of an experiment and was mostly based on a trial and error approach. I used spatialization in almost every channel of the mix down. Some of the instruments (mostly the bass and main rhythmic elements) are static in the sound field and mapped at fixed positions in the front and center. Elements that have more “decorative functions,” or that appear only in some sections of the track, usually have some sort of movement automation (e.g. circular movements, left-right, up-down, front-back).
I have tried many different solutions for binaural rendering. I find that the HRTF filters used by the dearVR plugins work particularly well, so that was very helpful for me. Also, the interface is very clear and pleasing to work with and the sound quality is in a super high-resolution range.
Aside from the reasons mentioned above, the fact that dearVR PRO allows you to render to multiple formats and channel setups with just one mouse click makes your project future proof. This, of course, is something very important in a field like this one, with constant advances and developments.
When it comes to the mastering, it is indeed quite tricky when working with binaural audio. I realized this when approaching the mastering of the record, which I did myself. I have done quite a bit of mastering in the past for club-oriented music. However, working with binaural requires a completely different approach.
Any compression, limiting or even equalization applied to the master will have a direct consequence on the spatialization effect. Therefore, you have to be extremely careful with the processing at this stage. I ended up doing almost all the compression and limiting at the source level, directly on the tracks (before the signal hit the dearVR PRO plugin). During the mastering process, I only applied a bit of limiting to control some peaks and a tiny bit of overall tonal balance with broad EQs.
Of course, the compulsion to wear headphones is a limitation, but at the same time, it is the only way for the general public to access this type of spatial audio illusion at this stage. To future proof your project though, it would be best to keep the original project in an Ambisonics format, which you might later render to different channel-based formats as needed. This is also easily possible with dearVR PRO.
Working on this binaural record has been sort of a side project to my usual club-oriented music output. But I see myself working on a follow-up volume to the Other Worlds project in the future. The reception of the record has been great and there have been requests for presenting it as an immersive live show, so that is really an encouraging and exciting prospect as well.