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SCENE Devlog 001: A Real Plan

It feels like the weirdest thing to write a first post about a “new” project, when you’ve been working on it since last March. Might also be weird that some audio guys are writing a devlog for a sound library, that’s for you to decide. Our baby, currently with the placeholder name ‘SCENE’, is no normal library though. This guy is the Charles-Xavier’s-School-for-Gifted-Youngsters graduate of the library landscape, and he’s got a superpower.

Unlike other sound libraries, SCENE is designed to be easy. Each bundle gives a full sonic picture for your project. Perfect loops. Perfect mix. For any format. There are very few uses for albums that only offer a single sound type, so why do so many exist? SCENE seeks to address as many of your audio needs as possible in a single bundle. Music. Sound design. Effects. We have it covered, and delivered, in perfectly mixed 360-degree ambisonics, surround and standard formats.

We’ve never kept SCENE a secret, check out website if you don’t believe us, but we haven’t been overly public either. Call this our official journey start. But why now after all this time? Because it literally took a year of getting things right and wrong in order to create a minimum viable concept, never mind a product. To those who already have too many tabs open and don’t want our website thrown onto that heap, SCENE is (from what we can gather) the first truly accessible immersive audio library for creators. NOT just audiophiles. This collection is for the VR devs, the 360-video creators, Audiobook producers, Theatre directors, editors of all platforms. Immersive audio sometimes feels like a dark-art, only known by the true believers donning Bose AR Audio glasses and bouncing audio around their living room with thousand-pound sound bars. On top of this, a lot of those who attach themselves to the spatial-sound cause just seem to climb higher and higher into resolution arguments, HRTF debates and ‘my microphone has more capsules than yours’ battles. Audio leaders in the field are often doing research that drives research, rather than creating something that we can all understand and…well, use.

SCENE may not be the tippity-top that spatial audio has to offer from an R&D perspective, and that is not because we’re some immersive sound part-timers. It is plainly and simply down to the fact that we prioritise accessibility in the adoption of immersive sound. Here are a couple of questions we asked ourselves back in March ’20 and throughout the last year.

Standing Up For Ourselves, To Ourselves

There are already ambisonics/immersive sound libraries out there, and many are free, you just said yours is the first you phoney!? There are a number of libraries out there (RODE in particular have a great big free library available here), and they’re good. BUT, an ambisonics library is a spherical audio recording of a space. Do you really want to download a gigabyte of 50 different sounds of a waterfall, or a museum, or the wind, for one scene in a project? Digging through libraries for the ‘right’ (spoiler: there isn’t a right one) ambisonics file is just time-consuming and a chunk of lost storage space. SCENE is purposeful, it is not an audio file dump and we don’t include sounds just because we recorded them. SCENE is the first immersive library that gives creators the path of least resistance to immersive sound.

The RODE Soundfield ambisonics library. For some this is an important foot of difference. For many, it will be another sound that takes up precious hard-drive space…

What is this? Is it a music library? A sample library? SCENE is an immersive audio construction kit, meaning you have all of the sonic elements needed to create an audio environment. A SCENE ‘pack’ will be created with two elements in mind: a location and a mood/genre. Every pack gives you perfectly looping audio files for music and sound design, along with additional FX returns and one-shot samples for you to personalise your soundscape. Don’t need the whole picture? No problem, you can select the whole pack or just a single element and receive it in stereo, ambisonics and binaural formats at no extra cost. So, to answer the question ‘is it a music library, a sound library or a sample library?’ I would have to say… yes.

Early binaural sample of ‘Woodland Tension’.

How can it be a ‘drag-and-drop’ audio solution? I’ve literally never seen a 4-channel audio file until now, it can’t be that simple. Ok well it’s not strictly drag and drop, you will need to setup your chosen software to support ambisonics. Once that’s done, having followed our how-to YouTube series (coming soon!), it is quite literally a drag-and-drop job. All of our ambiences, music tracks and effects loop seamlessly and have been mixed to sound perfect from the moment you pull it into your game engine, video editing software or DAW. Even if you’re working in screen-based production, it’s just as simple to use our stereo or binaural loops that have been mixed with as much care as the 3D audio tracks.

You said that SCENE will be accessible to surround sound production but I can’t download any 5.1, 7.1, etc files? You know how we said earlier that we’re tired of digging through sound libraries because there’s so much clutter? Well file formats contribute to this too, and that’s why we love ambisonics! There are multiple free ambisonic decoders (the RODE Soundfield being a great one), that effortlessly take an ambisonics file and magic the thing into any surround format you desire, including custom speaker arrays. Ambisonics make sounds more versatile, and save a whole lot of clutter in the process.

RODE’s Decoder plugin. Free, and decodes to 5.1, 7.1, 5.1.2, 7.1.2, 5.1.4, 7.1.4 surround formats.

Isn’t first-order ambisonics kind of crummy? Why aren’t you pushing for a higher resolution? First-order ambisonics get a bad-rep from the audio world at times, and sometimes it could be justified! Of course a 4-channel audio file will muddy spatialisation more than a 64-channel one (you’d hope so, with the difference of a 4 to 64-channel ambisonics track of 5 minutes being around 5 gigabytes!) . We have two answers for this one. Answer 1: a 4-channel ambisonics file is much more manageable format to those who wouldn’t call themselves audio professionals by trade. In order to make an audio library that’s accessible you need to consider who wants to use the materials, and also how many other plates they are spinning in the process. Most people need a reasonably lightweight set of files that can be implemented without too much faff, to allow time to focus on the visuals, the narrative, maybe even the programming/photography/casting/etc. First order-order ambisonics maybe aren’t as precise as spatialising your sounds individually in your project too, but you haven’t crashed your expensive computer because you made three cubes with individual reflections, occlusion and propagation. SCENE not only stops the creator getting bogged down in audio design, but also lightens the audio-load on the system and the target platform(s). Answer 2 (more to the point): Key softwares including Logic Pro X, Unreal Engine and Premiere Pro (supports 8-channels but only exports 4-ch ambiX) only have support for first-order ambisonics. We are happy with designing for first-order ambisonics for now, and that’s useful when there’s nothing we can do about it.

Won’t it be a risk to lock in sounds like that, so that the user cannot edit it? Our soundscapes are designed to set the scene, not narrate it. Don’t expect intrusive sounds unless they are completely necessary for the environment. Each soundscape, recorded ambience and music track also comes with alternative edits that exclude specific sounds in the environment that may not always apply to a user’s scene (for example- a sound scape with or without rain, or a music track with or without drums). We feel that in 9/10 cases these alternative edits ought to do the job, and hopefully you may be willing to prove our prediction by testing SCENE with us soon!

Lets Conclude Shall We

If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know I LOVE organising things, so it gives me great pleasure to present a visual representation of a single scene library. This diagram, I hope, will give a better idea of the versatility of SCENE when applied to a whole host of production formats. We will be showing off this versatility in upcoming videos of SCENE in action, and hope we can demo at a meetup, conference or expo near you soon.

All joking aside for a second, myself (Joe) and Ted have been brainstorming, conceptualising, prototyping, trying and often failing to bring this method of immersive audio production to light for a good while now. It’s taken a while because honestly, it’s been really hard to make the closest thing we can to an apply-to-all, drag-and-drop audio solution for VR, surround and immersive works. But now we’re in a position where SCENE actually functions, and we are just so excited to start sharing the journey to our audio network, immersive network and quite literally any creator that will listen to us. It’s a great time to be in the new realities!

Expect the devlogs that follow this to be more about the process, and if this all sounds interesting to you please let us know. We will need a good pool of guinea pigs some Q3, and would love to have you onboard with us on this ride. Thank you everyone for bearing with us as we scrambled for over a year, we want to blow you all away.

#foley #ar #virtualreality #music #audio #musiccomposition #xr #ambisonics #locationrecording #gameaudio #audiodesign #sound #immersiveaudio #fieldrecording #sounddesign #recording #composition #vr #gamedev

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