Polar Knights, PART II: Binaural audio in the indie, pop and rock music market
Welcome to Part II of our interview with Jess Cooper – multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer for Australian indie band Polar Knights. Jess was the driving force behind the band’s production of “Burst at the Seams,” one of the very few binaural indie recordings on the market.
In this part, we’ll get a little more detail about Jess’ own impressions of the recording, their fans’ feedback, and her thoughts on binaural recording in popular music in general.
You’ve done some recording with another dummy head as well – “Angelina” – how did you find it compared to working with Fritz?
Jess Cooper (JC): Angelina is my attempt at a homemade dummy head from this tutorial (which is really good) and she works, just not as well as Fritz.
It’s easy to compare an old cut out mannequin with $70 microphones to a $10K Neumann microphone that has been researched and refined over decades! Angelina is good for experimentation but I don’t think I’ll be using her to make many musical recordings.
So overall, would you consider “Burst at the Seams” was a success?
JC: I’m happy with the recording and I have achieved what I set out to do, which was to create a multitrack binaural recording that could be acceptable to fans and radio stations. This recording has been distributed to fans of the band and played on radio stations so I guess that’s a success.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from your fans – especially from those who didn’t know about binaural audio before hearing your single?
JC: A lot of people have told me that they freaked out when they heard sounds coming from behind them that were actually in the recording.
[A note from Alex: “We get that a lot too!”]
You mentioned on your website that you’re hoping to do more binaural recording in the future – can you give any details about what you plan to record, and when?
JC: I am! It all depends on if I can get my hands on Fritz again. We hope to make a musical binaural recording each year as we all enjoy the recording process and our fans enjoy the recordings.
THE FUTURE OF BINAURAL POP MUSIC
We stumbled upon what we’d call a controversion video last week about the future of binaural recording in pop music, and thought we’d ask Jess for her thoughts on it. In the video, Rob Taylor at the University of Sydney documents his experiments recording a rock band (Kids at Risk) binaurally at Studios 301 in Sydney, Australia.
In it, he concludes that:
“It really didn’t come out that well. …I dont think that binaural and the acoustic fiction of commercial music production come together in any way, shape or form …I don’t see this as being at all an applicable process to add to music production, when you’re talking about a rock band or pop music production.”
Quite a contrary point of view, beside Polar Knights’ clear binaural success.
Here’s a link to the video:
So, what do you [Jess] think of Taylor’s conclusions, based on Polar Knights’ experiences with binaural recording?
JC: I think [it’s] a bit dramatic. I understand where he is coming from though, as I have experimented with other binaural recordings and failed abysmally. I actually think he did a really good binaural recording!
So in general, do you think that there’s a demand for binaural audio in popular music?
JC: At the moment in musical recordings, binaural audio is being used for drum overheads or in orchestral recordings or as an ambient effect, but we don’t often hear a recording that has been made purely using binaural recording techniques. Pearl Jam has made a binaural album and Radiohead uses binaural techniques in some of their drum recordings so it’s already out there, it’s just not as popular as other stereo techniques.
I think we will have to wait a little longer before binaural audio becomes more common in contemporary music recordings but I am hopeful that we’ll hear more of it in the years to come. I know that the fans of Polar Knights enjoy our binaural recordings (we’ve made two so far) so we’ll keep making binaural recordings for as long as we can!
Here’s the link to the actual binaural recording Taylor made, and below it, another link to “Burst at the Seams,” for easy comparison.
So now, what do you think?
Was Taylor’s recording a flop, or did you enjoy it? (Try to think outside of whether you like one band more than the other.)
Do you think there is a future for binaural recordings in indie/pop/rock music?