Putting the surround in sound

Berlin's music trade fair Popkomm is normally a place to discover new bands – not technologies. But when Neale Lytollis heard the man behind the MP3 audio format was setting up a 3-D sound system at the city's legendary club Tresor he had to check it out.

Putting the surround in sound
Photo: IOSONO GmbH

Each autumn, the Popkomm trade fair brings music industry types from around the world to the German capital in search of the next big thing. It can be a great place to see up-and-coming musicians before they’re big and famous, but a newfangled sound system? Isn’t Hannover’s CeBIT the trade fair for high-tech gear?

Maybe, but the club debut of the IOSONO proved to be one of the highlights of this year’s Popkomm. Heralded as the next big thing in audio technology, the sound system is based on the concept of wave field synthesis – which is a fancy way of saying it recreates natural sound waves instead of merely amplifying music like your average PA.

Another innovation is the way in which sound is dispersed within the club. DJs use multiple audio sources in conjunction with a multitude of speakers – in Tresor’s case 800 of them – to position and move sounds to create a more textured, 3-D aural experience.

“I think it brings a lot of creative potential for the music industry, not just for the club,” said Dimitri Hagemann, owner of one of Berlin’s most famous locations for techno music. “It has already proved its potential in museums and in cinemas but this is an experiment in a club. I think it’s a start and I am happy that it takes place at Tresor.”

Four CD sources, six computer servers and those hundreds of speakers were installed for the system’s debut at Tresor. Although the system is already in use in a limited number of locations – the Haunted Mansion at Florida’s Disneyland being one of them – the Popkomm special was the first time it’s been pressed into service in a club.

Karlheinz Brandenburg, the man who gave the world the MP3 audio format, is also the brains behind IOSONO. He appeared especially pleased to see his system used in this way. “For me the basic idea has been a dream for a long, long time,” he said. “When we speak of hi-fidelity it’s two parts; it’s cleanliness of sound and it’s really immersion, the idea of being somewhere else. With Wave Field Synthesis this dream really became true. And I think it’s the next big thing in audio.”

The business development manager for the project, Gerald Moser, explained how DJs can use the sound system to a whole new creative workspace. “For example here are using four CD players; two in a simple way creating their main mix and use the other two to play new sources into the system,” he said.

The system – which costs around four times what a normal PA does – is so complex they had to develop a new interface with a touch screen to control it all. “The artist just touches the sound sources and moves them on the screen which moves them in real time across the dance floor,” said Moser.

The assembled crowd were ushered into the centre of the dancefloor, surrounded by the freshly installed battery of speakers. At first guests were treated to a jungle-themed presentation where animal sounds and the noise of rain appeared to move around the room. It was hard for people not to turn their heads to locate the sounds as they swirled around them.

Then the DJs took to the decks to show how IOSONO can be used to build on the concept of the traditional music set. Certain elements of the tracks were then keyed into the room from different locations – basslines appeared to throb overhead, breaks and beats shot from one side of the dancefloor to another, electro clicks and pops rippled through the room before shooting to the opposite side.

“It’s amazing. It’s just really mind-blowing,” gushed Berlin DJane Fidelity Kastrow. “You just get so many ideas of things you want to prepare and how you want to change making tracks.”

But she also said the technology was still quite a way from becoming commonplace at clubs around the world: “It’s still a work in progress. It’s not done, it’s just beginning to develop.”

Still, even if IOSONO might still need some technical tinkering, it didn’t seem to bother those on the dance floor enveloped in the new system’s 3-D audio experience.

“It’s kind of hard to tell what it’s going to become but I thought it was very impressive,” said one man after the presentation was over.

A woman standing nearby was more concise in her assessment: “The sound is everywhere!”

For members


EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.