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Joe Stratton – aka Bothelbows, is a musician and sound engineer based in the USA. In 2021 Joe had the good fortune of being granted an artist residency at The Mill at Vicksburg, an enormous old paper mill in southwest Michigan, US recently saved from demolition, ready to be rebuilt as a world-class event space, brewery, and live music destination. The proposal presented was centered on Joe's desire to construct an ambisonic listening chamber, where spatial audio could be heard in all its three-dimensional glory. He thought that The Mill, still in the early stages of its rebirth, would be the perfect setting to cultivate some audio wonder. On his first visit he was astounded by the vast, yawning hallways and gaping subterranean spaces. Each new room presented its long brick reverberation as a tappable source of creative inspiration and potential.
The chosen venue was an approximately 500m² room in which to build the system. After an arduous process of auditioning different sets of high-quality speakers Joe decided to fill the room with an array of EVE Audio SC307s. While many speakers he tried could produce full and powerful responses, the EVE's stood out as astonishingly detailed and uncrowded. Precise and expansive without harshness in the highs or any hint of mud in the lows. He designed the set-up based on the maximum listening distance of the EVEs as midfields: eight carefully placed SC307s in an octagon, each 2.5m from the center. One pair of Eves sounded great, but four pairs were unbelievable.
All three switches on the rear side of each SC307 were especially valuable in this project. To ensure perfect sound reproduction at any time, both filter-lock and volume-lock switches were used to protect all monitor settings against unwanted changes, which was crucial since the project received a lot of visitors.
The "Woofer Sel." switch was also very useful to decide which of the two 6.5" woofers acts as the bass and which performs bass-midrange duties. In a conventional studio this would help to choose your left and right speakers, or if the monitors should be oriented vertically. In this case, all eight speakers were kept identical in their positioning to keep all phase correlation exact for ambisonic reproduction.
All music for this project was made in Ableton Live, making extensive use of the software by Envelop, a non-profit out of San Francisco with an open-source ambisonic toolkit. With Max/MSP, Joe adapted the software to his needs. A lot of his music was produced electronically and then encoded into ambisonics, but the best results came from recording live performances directly to B-format (AmbiX) with a handheld Zoom H3-VR. These recordings, decoded for this octagon using Envelop's tools, sounded incredibly lush and realistic. The sense of space imparted by this system through the eight EVE's exceeded Joe's expectations daily. He'd say it's a shame to listen to music any other way, except for the feats of absolute magic that so many talented artists have been able to conjure in stereo. Joe only hopes that more of these wizards will dive deep into the spatial soundscape and that systems like this will become more prevalent in the future.
Unfortunately, now Joe's residency at The Mill has come to an end, and it's time to take the octagon apart. He'll be on the lookout for interesting new places to set up all these beautiful EVEs again, so he can try to lock listeners back into this hyper-real sonic euphoria.