BNRL3D - Immersive storytelling through spatial sound design

Imagine you are in the middle of an exciting experience, you are spellbound following the intense performance of a passionate theatre group. Or a very different treat for the senses - you are enjoying an excellent dinner. Now imagine the whole event is taking place in complete darkness. 

Teatro Ciego, a theatre group based in Buenos Aires, has been successfully staging Theater in the Dark and other Multi-Sensory Events for almost 10 years now. Recently, together with “theatreC”, they also launched an offshoot in New York - Pitch Black. 

Nicolás Alvarez is responsible for the immersive audio accompaniment of these productions, which in this context assumes a very prominent role. We talked to him about his work, approach, and workflow using Dear Reality’s plugin to get the most out of his immersive sound design.

Nicolás, in your daily work as a sound engineer, you are mainly involved in spatial and immersive audio projects. How did you come to specialize in this field of the audio industry?

I always liked to experiment with sound and especially spatial audio arrangements. I started  with quadraphonic and 5.1 systems. 

In recent years, the technological progress that has taken place in the field has been important for me and my creative work and has motivated me to continue researching and dedicate myself exclusively to this area.

Examples of these technological developments, for me, revolve partially around the expansion to more channels - like Dolby Atmos, or the complete detachment from channel-based limitations, which Binaural audio and especially today's high-resolution virtual audio environment simulation possibilities.  

Could you please give us a short introduction about yourself and your career?

At the start of my career, I dedicated myself to musical production until at one point I saw that everything was heading toward immersive audio. 

Because of my work with Binaural audio, Teatro Ciego called me to work at their company in Buenos Aires. I am currently a Technical Director and immersive audio designer, where theatrical experiences are performed in complete darkness. We have an office in NY called PITCH BLACK Immersive Experiences. We are a company dedicated to creating immersive sensorial experiences in complete darkness. 

The PITCHBLACK experience may be with others in a crowded room, with performers around you, or it may be alone in the comfort of your home - but it will always be in darkness. Darkness allows us to perceive the world in a new way, and we extend that perception into how we create our productions. 

Every PITCHBLACK production is a new world, a new adventure to be enjoyed beyond the limits of sight. Our completely immersive experiences will awaken your imagination and challenge your reality through your other senses, activating every inch of your body.

How do you manage a workflow combining pre-recorded Ambisonic Material with artistically spatialized audio using dearVR PRO?

I usually prerecord ambiance in 3rd order Ambisonics with my Zylia's Microphone. I think having an accurate and faithful ambient recording is essential for these types of mixes, and by using ambisonics, I can easily achieve a high level of realism.

I work my environments in Ambisonics, processing to a 7.1.4 system, and then I move over to a DAW with dearVR PRO for all the elements that I want to spatialize as objects. I always take care that the script and the scene that I am mixing are matched by the emotional and perceptual details created by the room simulations and reverb.

With dearVR PRO I can creatively work on these additional sounds, their acoustics, and reverbs to achieve the perfect and most realistic environment possible. This tool opens up new levels of creative expression for me, particularly when it comes to spatialization

How does the recorded audio mix with subsequently spatialized material and what does your workflow look like when placing these objects?

I work with Nuendo 12 and this year I started to mix all my work with Dear Reality's Spatial Connect controller solution. It gives me the freedom and comfort of being virtually directly in the scenery (using a VR headset), an experience I was not finding simply looking at a screen. I found  these systems complemented each other perfectly to reach the realism that I like to generate in my mixes.

Spatial Connect makes the process of mixing spatial audio feel completely seamless and natural. It doesn’t feel like you are interacting with an interface, which in turn controls the sounds. Instead, you just feel like you are placing and controlling the sound in space - this is truly an eye-opening experience for anybody who mixes spatial audio. 

How do you listen to your productions, do you also use monitoring plugins like dearVR MONITOR?

It depends on the job requirements - in my studio, I work with a 7.1.4 speaker system, but if I'm travelling I always use dearVR MONITOR

When I don’t have access to my main studio, MONITOR gives me the security that my mixes sound exactly as they would in a familiar environment. I don’t need to guess whether the mix will work in a certain space, I can instantly test it with MONITOR. 

Because MONITOR has a bunch of different speaker setup simulations, I can also test my mixes on these various channel formats. Even when I’m in a surround studio, this gives me access to any type of multi-channel speaker format I need to test a mix on.

Can you give us a preview of what you expect from 2023 in the field of Spatial Audio and specifically for you in your daily work? What exciting projects do you have coming up?

I think this year could be really exciting in the context of spatial and especially immersive audio. The number of users of spatial audio has never been as high as it is today, and with a bit of luck, we will finally take a step forward in the development of virtual, and especially mixed reality, solutions this year. 

It will also be a very exciting year for me personally too. We will premiere the first play in complete darkness with immersive audio in New York - Odd Man Out. We already did it in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and in Argentina. The feedback from the audience was amazing. So we are very happy to show it also in the special city of New York. 

We are also in the creative process for the premiere of three new plays with a speaker system and live actors in complete darkness - and one for binaural headphones.

Nicolás Alvarez
Starting his career dedicated to musical production, Nicolás is heading more and more to the growing field of spatial audio production. Nicolás is currently working as a technical director and immersive audio designer for theatrical experiences which are performed in complete darkness.

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