With the likes of Apple pushing the concept, spatial audio is fresh again. KamranV connects past, present, and future and talks to us about how we can get quadraphonic when we work, in advance of a free workshop online this Friday.

Spatial Sound workshop by KamranV, with EXP_
Friday, June 25
10 AM Pacific / 1PM Eastern / 7PM CET
Facebook link
Join on Zoom

LA-based KamranV, aka CyKiK, seems almost omnipresent in his technological pursuits. He developed his own home vinyl recorder, PHONOCUT. He’s working with automation … and holograms. He co-created SONOS studio in its original LA location and Bedrock.LA in Echo Park, and he’s on the board of the legendary dublab.

But this week, KamranV is here to help us explore the world of spatial audio – with a resume that includes producing that work for folks like Nine Inch Nails, Beck, and Suzanne Ciani.

Here’s the twist: in this age of hyped-up n-dimensional spatial complexity, he’s singing the praises of quadraphonic. Yeah, quad. That quad, to those of you who remember it from the first time around. The thing with four speakers instead of stereo’s two.

But no one does 21st-century quad quite like KamranV. So while we get ready to listen in on his free workshop this week, I thought it’d be good to have some assigned reading. He tells us a bit about what’s up to, and how it could impact our work.

And, bonus – you can use the tool he’s using, his own QUARK, aka Quadraphonic Universally Accessible Resource Kit, now in beta.

Peter: How did this project with Suzanne Ciani come about? Why is it relevant that it’s in quad?

Kamran: Suzanne is one of the most innovative artists that I have ever worked with. If there was ever a person to bring quad (and spatial music in general) to the masses, it’s Suzanne. I’m really just a fortunate partner here to connect the dots of the vision that she, Don Buchla, and others laid out so long ago.

I started down what became the QUARK path around 2016 when I first met her. When I was working on Moogfest we had some satellite events in different cities in celebration of the forthcoming festival. One of those was a concert in San Francisco at Gray Area. We invited Suzanne to perform her first solo synth performance in over 40 years. 

Fortunately, we recorded the show and since I had experience producing DVD-Audio and SACD releases when I worked at Interscope records, I became curious: How is it that Suzanne Ciani, who was performing in quad since the late 60’s on her Buchla 200 synth, could have never released a quad record? My wheels were turning so I did some research.

I met with the legendary mastering engineer Bernie Grundman to get his perspective – he mastered the quad of the 1970s. I spoke with a software engineer in France who made software for audiophile collectors to digitize and convert their old quad music. Through the web forum Quadraphonic Quad, I eventually spoke with some quadraphonic collectors named “Quad” Bob Herndon and Odaka Shuichi. They connected me with a company in Australia called Involve Audio that was actually making new quadraphonic hardware, using their modern take on the encode/decode math that the Japanese company Sansui made in the 70s – called QS or Regular Matrix. 

Once I had the research and tools in place, I worked closely with Suzanne, all of these people plus our mastering engineer Scott Sedillo (at Grundman) to make the album possible. It was an incredible experience, and I also learned that releasing quadraphonic was more difficult than it needed to be. This is why we made QUARK

QUARK beta I’m sure will excite folks. What is it; how can people get involved?

QUARK is 100% free. I developed it with my friend Brett Buddin who I met while I was producing Moogfest in North Carolina. In collaboration with the non-profit dublab, we secured grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and were not only able to make the plug-in but have also been able to build creative and educational opportunities around quadraphonic music.

Dumb question here, but presumably both QUARK and Suzanne’s release, for our audience of audio folks, if they have four monitors they can set this up and here the four-channel dispersion natively, right?

Yes. It’s actually easier than you might think. If you have four speakers, there are several ways to listen:

  • You can listen through a vintage QS decoder. There are tons on eBay; some work better than others. 
  • You can listen through really stellar modern decoders such as the Involve Audio Surround Master decoder. This is the best hardware solution and nearly identical to what we included in Suzanne’s LIVE Quadraphonic release. 
  • You can use nearly any receiver from 2001 to now using Dolby Pro Logic II Music Mode. It’s very close to the QS math.
  • Of course, you can try QUARK in your DAW and use things like [Rogue Amoeba] Loopback to route audio from Spotify or YouTube or whatever.
  • A couple of Quadraphonic Quad members named Franck Martin and BJMarsh helped sort out a very clever way to use QUARK without a DAW. There’s a QUARK FAQ with some links. [See the video below.]
  • The other cool thing is that the Regular Matrix method that we use actually produces some very impressive psychoacoustics… headphones and even two speakers work quite well to make space.

Check out more videos, including examples in a number of DAWs (Logic, Ableton Live, and Reaper).

What’s the role of teaching for you in promoting spatial audio?

This is actually the whole point of QUARK. There is a real future in spatial audio and if it’s truly going to become mainstream, it can’t be something that only the highest-end studios, engineers and producers have access to. It needs to be something nearly anyone can have access to.

QUARK is free. Many people have an extra set of speakers. Most interfaces have an extra couple of outputs, even if only headphone outputs. It takes little or no extra money to have a setup. The principles of making spatial music are all present and very simple in quadraphonic sound. Plus since we all work with DAWs with vector panners, the output possibilities are endless. [Ed. I was going to say, Ableton Live doesn’t have one but – yes, provided you have Max for Live, of course it does!]

And in the meantime, think of all of the films and VR projects that could benefit from quadraphonic music right now.

QUARK at work inside Ableton Live.

Any reaction to the Spatial Audio stuff from Apple, as well as their Dolby Atmos support? Where does it fit in; do you see some potential there?

I’m very excited about the possibilities. The announcement itself pushes forward incredible creative and career opportunities for musicians, producers, and engineers.

With that said, the business reality that Dolby and Apple have to have “known music” in this format means completely remixing existing tracks. No matter how talented the (re)mixers are, the music will always sound different and the magic of the original mix will always be missed.

To me, the real opportunity is to create new spatial music with Apple providing a very compelling reason to do so. It starts with the musicians and producers actively deciding that they only need to make one mix. No one has to make the emotional compromises of having different mixes. 

QUARK is a sturdy bridge to that. If the song is produced in quad, the mixer simply monitors how stereo and mono fold-down is processed, then the appropriate mix compromises can be made during the process; just the same as mixers currently do in stereo and testing mono.

Thanks, Kamran! Looking forward to Friday. Meanwhile, he shares a ton of resources for us:

Wired Interview – https://www.wired.com/story/suzanne-ciani-live-quadraphonic/

Pro Sound News  – https://www.prosoundnetwork.com/recording/the-unlikely-return-of-quadraphonic-vinyl

Cycling 74 interview https://cycling74.com/articles/talking-quad-an-interview-with-kamranv

Dawin Grosse podcast https://artmusictech.libsyn.com/podcast-353-kamranv

In Sheeps Clothing interview https://insheepsclothinghifi.com/in-conversation-kamran-v-quark/

Line Hotel podcast – https://www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio/exploring-boundaries-space-sound-kamranv/

Digtial Music News Interview – https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2018/11/01/quadraphonic-sound-podcast/

And see you Friday, thanks to EXP_, Your Mom’s Agency, and dublab

Check out QUARK:

And check his site for more (including the vinyl projects):