AES 2016: An overview of the key talking points

Mel Lambert reports back from the four-day AES Convention, which took place at the LA Convention Center last week and concluded yesterday.

For a number of reasons – not least being the outstanding work done behind the scenes by its volunteer planning committee – the 141st AES Convention, which ended at the Los Angeles Convention Center yesterday, delivered on its promise. The four-day attendance was outstanding, with a good representation of overseas visitors, while a wide cross section of brands showed their wares on the exhibition floor and companion demonstration rooms.

The icing on the cake was the co-located Audio for Virtual and Augmented Conference, which drew standing-room-only attendance in a lecture theatre and companion paper room. The inaugural two-day event was expected to attract some 290 attendees; aggressive marketing and outreach to the VR and AR communities proved so successful that pre-registration had to be closed at just over 400, with sponsorship by such companies as Dolby, DTS, Gaudio, Audiokinetic, Dysonics, Occulus, Source Sound, Nokia, VisiSonics and Sennheiser.

This groundbreaking conference was aimed at the fast-growing field of virtual/augmented reality audio, with programme content that focused on the AR/VR creative process, applications workflow and product development. “Film director George Lucas once stated that sound represents 50% of the motion-picture experience,” stated conference co-chair Andres Mayo. “This conference demonstrates that convincing VR and AR productions require audio that follows the motions of the subject, and produces a realistic immersive experience."

The event was bookended by two fascinating keynote speeches. The first, presented by Philip Lelyveld, virtual reality/augmented reality initiative program manager at the USC Entertainment Technology Center, Los Angeles, on ‘The Journey into Virtual and Augmented Reality’, defined how virtual, augmented, and mixed reality will impact entertainment, learning and social interaction. “Just as TV programming progressed from live broadcasts of staged performances to today’s very complex language of multithread long-form content,” Lelyveld stressed, “so such media will progress from projecting existing media language into a headset experience, to a new VR/AR/MR-specific language that both the creatives and the audience understand.”

The closing keynote from George Sanger, director of sonic arts at Magic Leap, and titled ‘Future Nostalgia, Here and Now: Let’s Look Back on Today from 20 Years Hence,’ attempted to gauge where VR/AR/MR will be in two decades. “Two decades of progress can change how we live and think in ways that boggle the mind,” Sanger acknowledged. “Twenty years ago, the PC had rudimentary sound cards; now the entire ‘multitrack recording studio’ lives on our computers. By 2036 we will be wearing lightweight portable devices all day. Our media experience will seamlessly merge the digital and physical worlds; how we listen to music will change dramatically. We live in the Revolution of Possibilities."

Above (from left): AVAR co-chair Linda Gedemer, George Sanger and AVAR co-chair and former AES president Andres Mayo

During the convention’s opening ceremonies, current AES president John Krivit, who is also associate professor at the New England Institute of Art and a faculty member at Bay State College and Emerson Colleges, Boston, paid tribute to Norman C. Pickering, a well-respected inventor, educator and the Society’s first secretary.

“In March 2014, I came across a letter published in the AES Journal of the Audio Engineering Society written by the 97-year-old Mr. Pickering,” Krivit said. “In his letter, he recounted the very first days of the AES, taking us back to 1948 when a group of ten audio engineers sought a viable forum for the exchange of new discovery and best practices; on 17 February 1948, a group gathered at the RCA Victor studios in New York to discuss the need for a professional organisation to foster the growth of audio engineering. A motion was carried to form the Audio Engineering Society. Now, as we gather for our 141st AES Convention, it is important to recognize that the significant goals and objectives of our founders remain just as relevant, just as noble and just as clear as they were 68 years ago.”

The Opening Ceremonies keynote speaker was composer Ron Jones who, in his talk ‘Remember the Human Receptor on the Road to the Future,’ explored the implications of technical advances for listeners. The owner of SkyMuse Studios and a Grammy and Emmy-nominated composer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Family Guy, Superman and other feature films, said his vision of audio’s future was clear, but warned “everyone in this rapidly changing time to not lose sight of what all this technology is for: To engage peoples’ emotions using the art and craft of music.” Instrument designer Dave Smith gave the convention’s Richard C. Heyser Memorial Lecture with a talk called ‘Synthesizers: From Analog to Digital to Software to Analog,’ that explored the instrument’s 50-year history and its musical impact. Smith is an instrument designer and founder of Sequential Circuits where, in 1977, he designed the Prophet-5, the first world’s polyphonic and fully programmable synthesiser; he was the driving force behind the MIDI specification.

In a concerted move towards the adoption of non-proprietary networking and control protocols, two companies demonstrated an AES67 and AES70-compatible integrated platform for audio, control and connection management. Archwave released an AudioLAN 2.0 series of networking modules that are AES67 compliant and also support the Ravenna protocol; working together with Bosch, the two firms have integrated existing audio industry standards into what they describe as a fully-fledged solution for audio networking. The AES67 is the industry standard that allows different audio networking protocols to send and receive audio data. Also known as Open Control Architecture or OCA, AES70 is an industry-supported architecture for system discovery, control and connection management across media networks.