At the special April 27 meeting...

Motion Picture Sound

John Allen reprises his popular seminar

By Paul Beck

Saturday, April 27, 1996 brought the New England Section of SMPTE together with members from the Acoustical Society of America, the Boston Audio Society and the Audio Engineering Society. As he has on many previous occasions, distinguished audio engineering consultant and designer John F. Allen attracted an almost standing-room-only attendance.

The event was held at the General Cinema Framingham 14 Cinema Complex, using the Allen-designed HPS-4000 theater speaker system. The meeting event had John Allen discuss in great detail the formulae which are conventionally applied to the tuning of theater sound systems, both with microphones placed in monitoring positions of near and far-field applications.

John explained and audibly demonstrated why these conventional formulae may be flawed, resulting in unreliable and unnatural acoustic results. Several 2-3 minute scenes from recently-released popular movies were screened, each with the system tuned to various industry-standard configurations. The final screening for each segment was tuned using John Allen's approach, each yielded dramatic improvement in audible clarity, bass response and presence. In most cases, the audience heard sound elements such as birds, wind or rain which had not been discernible on the previous screenings. Audience reaction to this demonstration was enthusiastic.

After a brief intermission, John Allen introduced Mr. Dan Taylor of Sony Corporation, providing a brief follow-up on the Sony SDDS Theater Sound Format, which was used for the additional screenings during the previous demonstrations.

This was followed by John Allen introducing Mr. Steve Cohen, a senior sound editor for Sony Pictures Company, through the courtesy of Sony Studios VP Michael Kohut.

John and Steve jointly presented a thorough demonstration of what it takes to produce a six-channel final mix, as typified in a recently-
released motion-picture film. The demonstration involved a 32 channel mixing console erected in the center of the audience area, along with four Tascam DA-88 multi-track digital audio recorders and a professional videotape recorder with SMPTE time-code which provided the picture signals which were screened using an AMPRO video projector.

This complex demonstration took the viewer through the entire layering process for each scene within a short 3-minute piece of a feature film. Separate screenings showed the original actor's dialog tracks, the various dialog replacement tracks, many varied sound effect enhancement tracks, various music tracks, and finally, from a total of over 100 separate sub-tracks, the fully-mixed six-channel surround-sound stereo sound track, played in the Sony SDDS format.

In a word, this was the most complete and enlightening tutorial on motion picture sound which the New England SMPTE Section has ever participated in.

Special thanks to Mr. John F. Allen for his supreme efforts, spanning over four months in conceptualizing and coordinating this unusually wonderful meeting event.

Hearty congratulations also to John for his accomplishments at General Cinema in Framingham with his HPS-4000 Theater Sound System. It provided simply fabulous sound quality.

Thanks too go to Mr. Rex Hescock of the Framingham General Cinema, Mr. Michael Kohut and Mr. Steve Cohen of Sony Pictures Corporation, and Mr. Dan Taylor, representing Sony SDDS Theater Sound Systems.