Zylia: Tell us what is the story behind your project?
Yao: Last spring, I was 9 months away from graduating from Berklee College of Music, and the panic of post-graduation uncertainty was becoming unbearable. I was struggling to plan my career and I wanted to do something different. I spent a whole summer researching the ins and outs of spatial audio and decided to do my Senior Portfolio Project around my research. What I have found is that spatial audio is often found in VR games and films - recreating a 3D environment. It is rarely used as a tool for music composition and production. I saw my opportunity.
With the help and hard work of my team (around 60 students involved), we succeeded in creating ‘Unraveled’, an immersive 360 audio and visual experience, where the audience would find themselves at the center of all elements, being surrounded by choir, strings, synths and imagery. My role was the project leader, composer, and executive producer. I found a most talented team of friends to work on this together: Gareth Wong and Deniz Turan as co-producers, Carlos Del Castillo as visual designer, Ben Knorr as music contractor, Paden Osburn as music contractor and conductor, Jeffrey Millonig as lead engineer and Sherry Li as lead vocalist and lyricist. Not to mention the wonderful musicians and choir members. I am truly grateful for their hard work, dedication and focus.
‘Unraveled’ also officially kickstarts my company ICTUS, a company that provides music and sound design content specializing in spatial audio solutions. For immersive experiences such as VR, AR and MR, we are your one-stop audio shop for a soundscape that completes the reality. We provide music composition, sound design, 360 recording, mixing, mastering, post-production, spatialization and visualizing services tailored to your unique project.
We are incredibly humbled that 'Unraveled' has been officially selected for the upcoming 44th Seattle International Film Festival, which runs May 17 to June 10, and to have been accepted for the Art and Technology Exhibition at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery, from Saturday May 26 to Sunday July 1.
"Get a pair of headphones. Cave in somewhere quiet. Alone. Empty your thoughts and… Allow yourself to dive into something new. A pristine place that will truly disconnect you from the daily frenzy of life."
‘Unraveled’ has been officially selected for the upcoming 44th Seattle International Film Festival, which runs May 17 - June 10, with more than 400 films from 80 countries, running 25 days, and with over 155,000 attendees!
Zylia: Recording so many people at once must have been challenging. How did you organize this?
Yao: I worked very closely with Paden Osburn, the conductor and music contractor, to schedule, revise, coordinate and plan the session. Paden is a dear to work with, basically allowing me to focus on the music while she coordinated with the rest of the amazing choir members. We had developed a great workflow.
I also had many meetings with the team of engineers as well as many professors to figure out the simplest, most efficient way to record. It was indeed very challenging and stressful to pull off, but it was also one the most magical night of my life.
Behind the scene, photo by @jamiexu0528.
Zylia: Tell us more about the technical part of this project.
Yao: On October 27, 2017, we had a recording session of the choir parts with 40 students from Berklee College of Music. The recording was done using three ambisonic microphones (Zylia, Ambeo, TetraMic). We tried forging a 320 piece choir by asking the 40 students to shift their positions around the microphones for every overdub. We also recorded 12 close mic-ed singers to have some freedom spatializing individual mono sources.
The spatialization was achieved through Facebook360 Spatial Workstation in REAPER. Many sound design elements were created in Ableton and REAPER. The visuals were done in Unity. We basically created a VR game and recorded a 360 video of the performance. Carlos Del Castillo did an outstanding job creating an abstract world that had many moments syncing with the musical cues.
Zylia: What are your plans for future? Any interesting projects on your mind?
Yao: My long-term goal would be to establish my company ICTUS as one of the leading experts in the field of spatial audio. We are currently working on an interactive VR music experience called ‘Flow’ with an ethnic ensemble, GAIA, and the visuals are influenced by Chinese water paintings. The organic nature of this project will be a nice contrast to ‘Unraveled’s futuristic space vibe.
Another segment of the company is focused on creating high quality, cinematic spatial audio for VR films and games. We are producing a 3D audio series featuring short horror/thriller stories with music, descriptive narration, dialogues, SFX and soundscapes. Empathy is truly at the heart of this project, some of our stories will have a humanitarian purpose and we will be associated with many organizations that are fighting to end domestic abuse, human trafficking, rape, abuse and other violent crimes. We hope to bring more awareness and traffic to these causes with our art. Spatial audio is incredibly powerful, it really allows you to be in the shoe of the victims and without the visuals, I swear your imagination will go crazy!