Addicted to Immersive Sound

Ferry Corsten and Ronald Prent mixing Blueprint in 9.1

They both strive for one thing: The Best Sound Experience Ever.
And they do that in Auro 3D at Sonic City Studios (home of Abbey Road Institute Amsterdam).

Ferry Corsten’s deep urge to create an album that will give the listener a full musical experience is becoming reality. The successful DJ, producer and remixer teamed up with sound engineer Ronald Prent to turn his album “Blueprint” into a full 9.1 immersive music journey.

With over 15 years of experience in surround sound mixing and working with artists like Rammstein, Richie Hawtin and Tina Turner, Ronald Prent is certainly the right man for the job. Ferry and Ronald recently mixed the album at the Amsterdam-based Sonic City Studios, which earlier this year opened its facilities as part of the famous Abbey Road Institute’s European campus expansion. The studio offers music producers the opportunity to mix in full immersive sound by implementing an Auro-3D PMC sound system, developed by Auro Technologies.

“Instead of a collection of songs and music, I wanted to make an album that creates a more intense experience to the listener. With Auro 3D you get this immersive experience, which makes you become part of the story” said Ferry Corsten when we interviewed him. “And working with Ronald Prent is really great. He has lots of knowledge, understands the product and has a true passion for it.” And for Ronald, doing projects in Immersive Sound is really addictive.

But how do you start a project like this, what are the challenges and what makes it so special? We interviewed both Ronald and Ferry about this amazing project at the Sonic City Studios in Amsterdam.

Ronald, we are currently sitting in the control room of Abbey Road Institute, surrounded by PMC loudspeakers. Can you explain us what you are working on?
Ronald Prent: “We are currently remixing Ferry Corsten’s album ‘Blueprint’ to 9.1 Auro 3D, which will be released on pure audio Blu-Ray. As a listener you can choose between Stereo, 5.1 and 9.1. The general term for this is ‘Immersive Sound’. Blueprint is a concept album, which is basically a musical story with music, soundscapes, dialogs and a narrator.”

How much does the storyline influence your mixing process?
Ronald Prent: “Electronic music gives you a lot of freedom to experiment with 9 (+1) speakers. Depending on the ‘atmosphere’ of the story, I can place instruments and sound effects on different places. For instance, I can go extreme, where I place the sounds or instruments across all 9 speakers at the same time. Or I go full mono, if I want to create a certain impact in the mix. But this can be very subtle. It’s very easy to make the sound ‘fly’ across all speakers to create an impact, but that’s interesting only once or twice. After that it becomes a gimmick. I really want to prevent that. I let the music and the story decide what the overall dimensions and placements of the sounds and instruments will be.”

What makes this project unique?
Ronald Prent: “The 9.1 format creates a virtual dimension, which gives a total new experience to the listener. Electronic music has no boundaries or rules when it comes to sound placement. If you for instance record a classical orchestra, you have to ‘reproduce’ the room or hall acoustics in the mix. But the orchestra is still placed at the front of the listening circle. If you change that, it sounds strange to the listener.”

“But in EDM music, if you have beats or synth leads coming from the back, it creates a wow-effect and the dimensions becomes much larger. I believe it really enhances the music. And EDM is perfect for that. Especially Ferry Corsten’s theatrical productions and his approach to music makes it very interesting to be played back over more than 2 loudspeakers.”

What is your approach, how do you start?
Ronald Prent: “First I receive the audio files and the stem mixes. Ferry’s productions can reach up to 400 tracks, so he mixes certain groups and instruments to stems, which I combine in the 9.1 mix. Additional to the stems I receive all the narrator, ambiance and effects tracks separately. For instance, Ferry separated all the keyboard riffs, effects and delays. I can place these tracks freely in the sound field and gives me the possibility to play with the ‘dimensions’.”

“Since it’s over 1,5 hour of material, I start by listening to the individual songs and analyse the individual tracks for 2 days. On day 3, I start mixing from scratch. I do 3 songs per day, which is the maximum for me. Mixing on 9 speakers is quite intense, it’s an enormous challenge. It’s way more tiring compared to mixing in stereo.”

How come?
“Our brain is programmed in a way that when sound comes from behind, we go into a defense mode. As a mixing engineer or producer it is important to create a mix that is pleasant for the listener. One way of achieving this is by giving the listener some sort of audible notice before sound is coming from an unexpected direction. This is ‘psycho mixing’, which is something you have to learn. But luckily I have been doing this for over 15 years already (smiles).“

What makes it so special for you?
Ronald: “The music experience! For me this is the most beautiful thing there is.
Music has always been ‘crammed’ into 2 speakers, both for the professional and the listener. But Immersive Sound opens up a door. Once you have experienced music like this, there is no way back. I hear this from all the people I’ve worked with. It’s just fantastic, it’s a rush. It’s almost like drugs, it’s literally addictive. Going back to stereo feels like rehab (laughs).”

What are the challenges?
Ronald: “To make it immersive without being a gadget or a box full of tricks. Basically creating a sound experience without gimmicks.”

How is it for you to mix here at Abbey Road Institute/ Sonic City
Ronald: “It’s exceeding my expectations. First of all it’s very nice to have a classic Neve at your disposal to run the sound through it, giving it something extra before it’s placed in Auro 3D 9.1. And the acoustics of the studio are absolutely great. I played some of my mixes, which I’ve done in other studios, and I couldn’t find any inconsistencies. And it’s great to do this in an educational environment.”

What do you work with?
Ronald: “I basically work with ProTools and the Neve console. Then there is the full 9.1 set-up from PMC and a custom monitor controller from Dangerous Music. I use the Auro-matic (up-mixing) and Auro-panner (9.1 panner) plugins. It’s really great software. Besides that I use the Universal Audio plugin collection, which is very appropriate for this music genre.”

Thanks Ronald!

Now to Ferry…

Ferry, can you tell us a bit more about this project?
Ferry Corsten: “For a long time I had the urge to make an album that would give the listener a new perspective in music. To be totally immersed in a journey or story. I collaborated with David Harrington Miller, a scriptwriter from LA who wrote for TV series like Rosewood and House of Cards, and literally combined an audiobook with a music album. We wrote a Sci-Fi story and used it as an inspiration for the songs on the album and the emotion in the music.
The final interpretation is done by Campbell Scott, who you probably know from The Amazing Spiderman and the latest seasons of House of Cards. It’s basically a film without images.”

The album has a clear theme. What inspired you?
Ferry: “I’ve always been interested and inspired by everything that has to do with Sci-Fi and artificial intelligence. For me it was quite obvious that this album had to be about these topics. But I realized that pure Sci-Fi can be a bit abstract to people. That’s why I choose to turn it into a love story with Sci-Fi elements to still give it a bit of mystery.”

It is divided into chapters and has a cinematic feeling. Did you do this yourself or did you collaborate with other people?
Ferry: “I wrote the entire story of Blueprint together with David. After that I started working on it myself and divided it into chapters, so I could produce the music for the individual scenes. This gives each song a particular feeling and emotion that is essential for the different parts of the story.”

Why did you decide to mix this project in Auro 3D?
Ferry: “As I mentioned before, I wanted to create an album that gives a more intense ‘experience’ to the listener, instead of a collection of songs and music. With Auro 3D you get this immersive experience, which makes you feel as if you are part of the story.”

What makes this project (Blueprint in Auro 3D) special for you?
Ferry: “For me this is the future of how I will approach music from now on. By expanding the musical experience with all your senses, in addition to your ears.

How is it for you to work with Ronald Prent?
Ferry: “It’s really great to work with Ronald. He has lots of knowledge, understands the product and has a true passion for it.”

Thank you Ferry!

More about Ferry’s project: Blueprint.

Auro-3D Ferry Corsten Ronald Prent Sonic City Studios