We explore Immersive Audio with musician and academic Gilbert Gabriel

We explore Immersive Audio with musician and academic Gilbert Gabriel

Dr. Gilbert Gabriel (MA Film. B.Mus) is a songwriter, producer and composer whose music and songs have featured in TV, Films & Radio around the world. He received an Ivor Novello nomination and was awarded Gold records and BMI certificates for radio play and sales.

His credits include; The Dream Academy (Life in a Northern Town, The Love Parade), whose music was included in the blockbuster Hollywood films Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; Trains, Planes and Automobiles and Diane Keaton’s Heaven. Independent films Paris (John Cale) and The Light Trap and collaborations with Massive Attack vocalist Shara Nelson, Polysterene (X-Ray Spex), Shola Ama and Kirsty Hawkshaw (Opus lll).

We caught up with Gilbert to ask him about his musical career, being signed by Prince's management, his favourite VSTs and the hot topic of immersive audio – an area that Gilbert is heavily involved in as part of an upcoming Immersive Arts event in Plymouth, Devon. Read on to find out more!

T+S: Hi Gilbert, let’s start things off by finding out about your music background – what have been the most prominent moments of your musical career?

GG: In the early days of my career in the 1980s music industry technology and Midi was just evolving. I emulated Alan Tarney’s production methodology (he produced Aha’s Take on Me) by buying a BBC Microcomputer, a Umi sequencer system and a module that contained 8 DX7s (TX816) and set out to make my demos. I remember David Gilmour and his engineer looking perplexed as they tried to sync the Umi system up to a 24-track tape machine on our first Dream Academy album.

Gilbert Gabriel Dream Academy

"It was exciting to use the Synclavier and Fairlight in the studio after the limitations of my Roland JX3P and Solina string synthesizer which I used on our worldwide hit Life in a Northern Town."

Working with David Gilmour as our producer on our demos at Henley-on-Thames was wonderful. He had one of the first Linn Drum machines and Peter Gabriel’s Prophet synthesizer (with lovely warm pad sounds) and a ‘souped’ up Fender Rhodes. Nick and I decided that we would form a duo performing over backing tracks of my keyboards, synthetic drums and SFX ( e.g whale sounds ) with dry ice to make our performance more magical and mysterious!

We played at iconic venues like the Titanic in Berkeley Square where we came on after strippers and industrial sculptors with flame-throwers. Hilarious, but fun memories. At the height of our success we had a Top 7 single in the American charts. Our promotion involved a one-day marathon flying session from Denver to Portland for a lunch-time press meeting, then finally, San Francisco in the evening. Although we crossed Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco that night, we were too exhausted to appreciate it.

The next day we flew to Los Angeles and then to New York to perform on Saturday Night Live. After the show we celebrated by dancing around a jewelled Cadillac at a prestigious nightclub to the sounds of Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime. The song encapsulated our elation.

In those days it was exciting to use the Synclavier and Fairlight in the studio after the limitations of my Roland JX3P and Solina string synthesizer which I used on our worldwide hit Life in a Northern Town. It was also amazing to be signed to Prince’s management and witness his amazing creativity and stagemanship at close quarters, especially his ‘after parties’.


I also did a seminal gig at the Brixton Academy with the wonderful Polystyrene of X-Ray Spex (who later came to India with us to feature in our video of the John Lennon song Love). Our band included Crispian Mills from Khula Shaker and my long-time friend Aidan Hoyle on Saxophone who now is XR21’s project manager.

As the music industry became more urban and audiences became more interested in dance music (rather than our dreamy pastoral sounds) I took refuge on Geoff Travis’s labels Rough Trade and Blanco Y Negro and co-produced with Alan Moulder (Smashing Pumpkins etc.) a single called England’s Dreaming. Dario G’s later remix of our song Life in a Northern Town became a club classic with an Ivor Novello nomination following. This enabled me to pursue my academic studies which culminated in a scholarship from Berklee Music College for Film and TV Orchestration and a Doctorate in Film Sound Semiotics.

My latest challenge is to conceive, coordinate and produce an Immersive Arts Symposium at Market Hall, Plymouth Immersive Dome. It is with a very talented bunch of friends and talented artists. We intend to introduce exciting aspects of the new field of immersive sound and vision and we will unveil our new concept album The Art of Dreaming.

Gilbert Gabriel

T+S: As well as a successful musician/composer, you’re a ‘Sound Semiotician’ – can you tell us more about that and your studies?

GG: My doctoral studies in sound semiotics involved the communicative role of speech, music and sound (‘What sound says’). I focused on how both verbal and non-verbal sounds are signified in scenes of ‘altered states’ in cinema.

I examined how characters’ subjective perceptions were highlighted in dream states, intoxication, insanity and so on. A great example is the transition of Lester Burns accompanying soundscape in American Beauty as he fantasises about his daughter’s teenage best friend (his mid-life crisis) as the soundtrack shifts from normative everyday sounds of a basketball match, big band and audience to his inner fantasy.

As a camera moves to a close-up of him sitting alone, his inner soundtrack changes to a drifting tapestry of Thomas Newman’s composition before reverting back to the sounds of the school auditorium. If you wish to delve deeper I recommend reading my book Altered States: Altered Sounds.

T+S: Spatial and immersive sound is a hot topic right now, and also an area you have a personal interest in, for those who are unsure, what is the difference between Surround Sound and Immersive Audio?

Immersive Audio appears to be the new multi-dimensional approach to audio storytelling that immerses listeners in an expanded sonic field that goes beyond traditional surround sound.

The concept of Immersive sound encapsulates the idea of sounds that are emanating beyond a stereo system. It incorporates binaural, ambisonic as well as 5.1 and 7.1.4 surround sound. Whereas stereo has a 60-degree soundfield and Binaural a 180-degree soundfield, 5.1 surround sound covers a 360 soundfield but uses three of the five speaker configuration to cover a 60 degrees soundfield with only two remaining back speakers to cover the remaining 300 degrees.

This does not give much of an opportunity to suggest exactly where the sounds / music are positioned and emanate from. However, 7.1 surround sound configurations include two extra speakers to help suggest 3D sound via ‘localization ‘(listener’s ability to determine where a sound is coming from). Dolby atmos, RD3D and DDTX (Object based sound) are leading exponents of this precision sound ‘localization ‘. Dolby atmos has 128 channels to position ‘sound beds’ (stereo, 5.1 and 7.1) alongside sound objects.

Dolby Atmos

"We have a technological revolution as radical as my own previous experience of the emergence of midi, sequencing with the Umi system and the BBC microcomputer."

T+S: What are the benefits of Immersive Audio?

GG: The possibilities of using immersive audio in conjunction with immersive imagery is enormous. This will radicalise medicine, space travel, entertainment and so on. I foresee that filmmakers, musicians, artists, dancers and XR creators will revolutionise how they design and tell stories via the plethora of tools that are now emerging.

I think that just as VHS video became a popular medium of playback on a commercial level over the superior quality of Betamax or Mp3s over Wav files, the mass consumption of a user-friendly experience will prevail. Professionals will seek out audio and visual formats beyond 8k visuals and 96 khz for audio. Instead of reinventing the wheel I think that this article succinctly alludes to many of the forthcoming possibilities and articulates clearly how new technologies are constantly evolving as far as immersive audio and arts are concerned.

It appears we have a technological revolution as radical as my own previous experience of the emergence of midi, sequencing with the Umi system and the BBC microcomputer.

The enormous potential of ‘localizing’ (positioning sound objects in space) presents a wonderful opportunity for filmmakers, gamers, installation artists and so on, to create, immersive storytelling, experiences that enrapture, enchant and terrify their audiences.

T+S: Are there any plugins you use that are geared towards Immersive Audio?

GG: I really like the layout and user-friendly nature of NUGEN Audio Halo Upmix as a means of quickly ‘up-mixing’ stereo sound to 5.1 surround sound and I am in the process of evaluating if its 3D 7.1 capabilities are as useful and exciting as I anticipate. All I need is the electronic key for Nuendo to arrive. It would be nice to be able to use it directly in Logic but I suppose patience is a great virtue!

It will be interesting to see how Apple Music Spatial Audio, Facebook Spatial and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio work out. I am also tempted to investigate Reaper and Audition (within Adobe Premier). As far as hardware is concerned I recently purchased a Zoom H3 VR immersive audio, a Go Pro Max video recorder and am waiting for a Rhode Sound field NT-SFI to arrive in August because of a worldwide components shortage.

NUGEN Audio Halo Upmix

T+S: What are the possibilities of Immersive Audio, and what direction can you see it heading in the future?

GG: Immersive audio is already prevalent in film and games and as David Gilmour already reminded me a few days ago, The Pink Floyd used it a while ago (I still remember the excitement about quadrophonic sound).

I think the potential of ‘sound object’ based software where sounds are ‘localized’ so that the listener hears the actual source of a sound’s position rather than a general position is exciting and potentially an amazing resource for music, storytelling etc. It will add more dimension to musicians’ recordings and encourage them to adopt a more multi-sensory and conceptual approach to their work that is inherently multimedia rather than the old fashioned traditions of musician, video director etc. XR21 is excited to work with XR/VR, poetry, dance, gymnasts, conventional film, animation, sound design, speech, music etc.

T+S: You’re involved in an upcoming event – XR21 – in Plymouth on 25th September – can you tell us more about that and how it came about?

GG: The catalyst for XR21 was putting on an Oculus headset and then a while later meeting Brooke Einbender via a mutual friend called Todd. She is a XR artist who paints in virtual reality and has a wide network of collaborators and an open mind set.

We quickly gathered an amazing team around us and with the help of our Project Manager Aidan Hoyle formed a unique immersive arts startup. We have recently partnered with Real Ideas (a social empowerment engine for Southwest England) and hope to educate and entertain with our workshops and exhibition of XR artifacts.

Market Hall Plymouth Dome

T+S: How will musicians specifically benefit from the event?

Musicians, filmmakers and so on will have the chance to consider the role and function of immersive music and sound in the context of multimedia platforms such as film, gaming as well as become aware of the fast-changing landscape of the new music industry which will become multi-media as Crypto Art, Gaming, Film and immersive art forms transform the whole arena.

I am already in conversation about remixing previous work into immersive 3D sound at Real World studios in Bath, UK with the head studio engineer Tim Oliver, and looking at the possibilities of partnership with immersive art companies that didn’t exist a few years ago.

T+S: What are XR21’s business plans for the future?

GG: As a startup in the exciting Immersive industry (Apple, Microsoft, Amazon Alphabet and Facebook have generated over $41 billion in the past 3 months) we are looking at partnering and investment opportunities.

We are seeking partners that will value our unique, innovative approach to education and entertainment. It is a perfect time for us in this new arena of ‘immersive’ content and communication as we move towards the Metaverse (a collected shared space of virtual reality as a future iteration of the internet). We are presently expanding our immersive symposium event into an exciting live-immersive venture that incorporates circus aerobatics for a planned live show for 2022 in Europe.

T+S: Finally, you’ve have been a customer of Time Space for many years so we can’t leave this interview without asking what are your Top 5 T+S plug-ins/tools right now?

GG: I really love working with Halo, Omnisphere, Keyscape, Spitfire products, ProjectSam software, iZotope as well as a plethora of other software that I have collected over the last ten years. I would like to thank Time and Space for being my ‘go to’ company and always keeping me alert to exciting software products that have revolutionised my recording and music production methods.


For details about XR21 and to buy tickets visit: https://www.xr21.net/

Gilbert's record label: www.everdreamrecords.com

Market Hall, Plymouth: https://realideas.org/our-spaces/market-hall