Flux Pavilion Talks Revolutionary Dolby Atmos System at Ministry of Sound
The Atmos rig is a revolutionary soundsystem that gives artists the ability to control sounds within their music in 3 dimensional space, and it's installed at the legendary Ministry of Sound club in London.
Flux spent some time at Dolby's headquarters in London leading up to the night, working in their specially designed Atmos studio to prepare his tunes for the system. Working in the Atmos studio allows producers to separate elements of their tracks out to be controlled within the 3d space, either in preprogrammed automation or in real-time during a performance.
EDM.com: So you worked in the Dolby studio to prepare tracks for the Atmos gig, right? What was that like?
Flux Pavilion: Yeah, so we went into the Dolby studio in London to work it all out. It's a piece of software that Dolby have developed themselves. You separate your stems, as separate as you want, and then as a VST you put it on the audio track that you want to manipulate. Then you've got basically a little visual of the space, and you can either place it in the space, move it up or down, left or right, backwards or forwards, or you can automate that movement. So it's not something that you have to work out internally in your DAW, it's on their software which makes it really easy. You don't have to look at all your routing in your project to work out how to possibly route it.
EDM: But their studio is specially set up for it?
FP: Yeah, it's not something you can just download and do at home.
EDM: So how does it work in the DJ booth?
FP: In the DJing software that they've developed, it basically uses the CDJs and the DJM mixer as triggers. It's kind of like Traktor, using the hardware to control the software, but they've added the capability where you can take stems and work with them live. Pretty much using a controller, to on the fly choose a stem and make it fly around the room if you want. If you're not happy with the automation you've done in the Dolby studio, you can just piss about with it on the fly.
EDM: So Atmos is only at Ministry right now - but is it something that you could see being deployed at other clubs, or festival stages, and changing the landscape of live sound?
FP: I'm not too sure… My experience in the studio, Atmos-ing my music and then I went back to regular stereo, it felt like I was going from stereo to mono. You know, when you switch from stereo to mono, and you're like 'hang on, so much stuff is missing' - it was like that.
So in terms of being able to add an extra dimension of music in the studio, it was incredibly eye opening. It was a new dimension that I'd never had the opportunity to work in before… and that was really cool. But as a live performance thing, I think it feels better if there's less of them.
It feels better if it's an experience, for me it's more exciting if there's one club that can do it in a city, and you go check out a real tailor made experience. There's something about the idea of it just existing at Ministry of Sound that makes it more exciting… because… actually I don't know why [laughs]. But yeah, it would be a massive step.
I feel like if it did take over the world, the middle ground would be quite a strange thing, when half the clubs have got it, and half haven't. It would be good to just wake up and be like, it's just everywhere now. I can see from a studio perspective, and performing, there's no reason why it couldn't be everywhere - because it's awesome. But I like that it's just in one place, because it makes it more fun, more exciting.
EDM: So going from Atmos back to stereo is like going from stereo back to mono - that really puts it in perspective, just how big of a step it really is.
FP: Yeah… I'm excited about maybe doing a show every six months or every year on the Atmos system. But making it that everything I ever write is gonna be Atmos now, that'd be quite limiting - until it's everywhere. But yeah, it's like mono was a thing, and then they discovered/invented stereo sound and it was something that was completely brand new, that no one even knew was possible… and that's what I feel like Atmos is.
I feel like it's the next step along from there. We're all listening to stereo music, thinking 'well this is great, this is what music sounds like, how could it possibly be any better?' But Dolby who've discovered a way of doing it, they're like 'well here's what you do…'
And what I really like about it being in Ministry, is it's so finely tuned, it works so well. If there was just a guy trying to set up a whole bunch of speakers in a field, not really knowing what he's doing, trying to put on an Atmos show, it wouldn't have the same kind of class. They've really nailed how to make it sound perfect. Dolby and Ministry together have hit the nail on the head.
Normally when it's a piece of new tech you expect it to be a bit crappy, and then slowly get better. I walked in, and first time hearing it, it sounded perfect, it sounded exactly how they'd described it.
EDM: So when you were in studio, choosing what elements of tunes to manipulate, what elements did you find yourself choosing, and what were you doing to them?
FP: I did a whole bunch of stuff with drum fills, making them sort of spin round the room. And if there was a whole stack of sounds, like a guitar, and some brass, and some vocals all kind of doing a similar thing, you can kind of stack them up across the room, so when you're standing in the middle of the room they're coming from all different directions. But mostly, I was using it as a widener - to take all the sounds and make them come forward. Not necessarily in motion, I didn't want the sound to feel like it was moving the whole time - I wanted it to feel static, but be completely involved in the space.
Taking all the bass sounds, all the snares and everything, and just bringing them out in the mix. So you're mixing it in terms of distance as well as level. That was my main focus, but we did end up getting excited about some of the tricks, making stuff fly from left to right, spin round the room, that was quite fun as well. Take a big sweeping pad, in a breakdown or something, making all the effects come from the back of the room and sweep over everyone's head to the drop.
EDM: While you were playing, were you seeing it, feeling it's effect on the crowd, in a way that was different from what would happen on a normal system?
FP: I play a pretty hard set, so everyone kinda just moshes and goes mad anyway… so it it was still like that. It's a bit annoying, because I'm standing behind the decks, I don't get to stand on the dancefloor and hear it. It didn't make them stop dancing [laughs].
EDM: In the past when we've seen surround sound type systems used, it's generally been in the more artsy side of electronic music, ambient, atmospheric and that sort of thing. It's really dope to see Dolby targeting full on dance music with Atmos.
FP: That's what was really exciting to me. A lot of times it's the thinkers that tend to pick up on new tech and explore it, and sometimes the thinking goes way over everyone's heads. If you're not completely up to scratch with exactly what they're doing, you're kind of standing there being like 'I don't know what's happening… I don't understand this.' Like art, sometimes it can be so deep that you can't really get a grasp of what's going on, you can't really feel it. Whereas what I do is on the other side of the spectrum, it's all about not thinking.
I don't want to make people think, I want to make people forget about everything, and tap into the primal sort of energy… In that world there tends to not be much new tech. That was really exciting - rather than just making some little plinky sounds fly around the room, I get to make a wall of bass sounds and blast people's heads from every direction… which is quite an experience.