At this year’s Tribeca film festival, there was something entirely new: a virtual reality music experience, Hallelujah, a Within Original created in partnership with Lytro.
Within chose VR audio specialists EccoVR, the virtual reality arm of Man Made Music to create the spatial sound experience. This paired with Lytro’s volumetric Light Field VR solution, Lytro Immerge, was captured in detail by Sennheiser microphones, including the AMBEO VR mic.
Featuring an a cappella performance of Leonard Cohen’s classic song ‘Hallelujah’ arranged and performed by Bobby Halvorson with the aid of a 16-person choir, the viewers first find themselves in the middle of five instances of Halvorson, each of which performs a different vocal part of the song in harmony against a black background.
At the climax of the experience, after the verse has finished, the lights in the virtual space quickly fade to black and the performance stops. The viewer is held in a dark void. After a few seconds, the lights come roaring back up and the viewers are facing Halvorson and a 16-person choir in a grand cathedral as sound resonates through the space for the final chorus.
Faced with the challenge of capturing a live, studio-quality recording of 17 singers in an acoustically complex, reverberant space, EccoVR / Man Made Music reached out to Sennheiser for their expertise. The companies collaborated to formulate a strategy for audio capture that utilized Sennheiser’s AMBEO VR microphone supplemented by Sennheiser clip-on and shotgun microphones.
The AMBEO VR mic, developed by Sennheiser in cooperation with VR content producers and fine-tuned through their feedback, can capture a fully three-dimensional multichannel sound field that can be played back binaurally, simulating the experience of listening to sound within a three-dimensional space using only headphones.
Featuring four matched KE 14 capsules, the AMBEO VR mic also excels at capturing subtle detail, making it the perfect choice to record the singers’ performances and the surrounding space with accuracy.
To further ensure a studio-quality vocal recording, Sennheiser MKE 1 clip-on mics were placed on Halvorson and each choir member, reinforcing their individual voices. Their compact size allows them to be placed out of sight of the virtual reality camera. An MKH 416 shotgun mic was secreted out of sight as well as a backup capture for the lead vocalist. Sennheiser’s 2000 series wireless transmitters and receivers were employed to transmit the audio from the MKE 1 microphones to the recording system.
The audio performance was recorded fully live without editing, then brought into an audio post-production workflow wherein the team positioned each individual MKE 1 microphone at the correct point in space to correspond with the 3D capture of the AMBEO VR mic for a cohesive sense of space.
For the finished experience, viewers were equipped with both VR headset and a Sennheiser PXC 480 headset. As the film plays, they are able to turn their head and move about in reactive 3D space, perceiving completely natural changes in sound and visual as they get closer and further from each singer.
“Many viewers were moved to tears by the performance and the incredible immersive sound,” says Joel Douek, EccoVR co-founder and Man Made Music head of VR. He also praised Sennheiser’s contributions for EccoVR’s success in this project. “Sennheiser’s involvement was central to EccoVR’s success on Hallelujah. In addition to providing an amazing array of high-end microphones perfect for the situation, including the AMBEO VR mic, it was invaluable to have them on site with us during the recordings to provide support and ideas. A live, volumetric VR capture of a musical performance had never been done before and having all hands on deck was an incredible asset.”
This experience fulfills the promise of the AMBEO VR microphone as a critical tool in crafting immersive sound in film and other media.
“For Hallelujah, a Within Original created in partnership with Lytro, our AMBEO VR mic excelled in capturing every detail of the physical space,” says Brian Glasscock of Sennheiser’s AMBEO team, who was on site to help with the recording. “The result is a first of its kind Light Field VR experience using new audio capture techniques that transport the listener to a truly immersive, original performance of the song.”