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The Red Room’s “130% Surround Sound” Series Debuts Tonight, 8:30 p.m.

August 5, 2010

The Red Room Collective kicks off a new series tonight dedicated to four-channel sound works. Titled “130% Surround Sound” and curated by musical chameleon Tom Boram, the series capitalizes on the Red Room’s recent upgrades and refurbishment.

“The Red Room bought a new PA last year and we decided to keep the old one,” Boram said by phone last week. And quad stereo–very basically, four separate speakers being fed four separate sound sources–has “been kind of at the forefront of some things that we’ve been into for the past year, and I’ve been kind of thinking about doing a quad series at the Red Room for a while, maybe once a month, but then August was open and we decided to do it there.”

Since it was introduced and eventually became possible to mass produce in the 1950s, two-channel stereo is how we typically hear recorded music. Corner a sound engineer to walk you through a more sophisticated breakdown of its sonic characteristics, but in simple terms it’s the use of multiple recording inputs that are eventually spread through two sound outputs–basically, left and right speakers–in order to recreate sound environments closer to how we actually hear. Movies–and, since the 1980s, home stereo systems–have used multi-channel sound for decades. It’s why you can go see some big dumb Bruce Willis movie and feel like his wisecracks are said right in front of you while bullets whiz by your head and strike objects seemingly behind you.

That’s one of the disorienting and fun aspects of quad-stereo works. Two-channel stereo, itself, isn’t exactly natural, and pod-people reared on listening to music compressed into low bitrate digital sound files through earbuds aren’t just hearing music artificially reproduced, but often with its dynamic range constricted. (As Jarvis Cocker told The Nation, “People don’t know what bass is anymore.”) Creative musicians/producers, however, have had a great time exploiting two-channel stereo: panning a voice between right and left channels, lending directionality to beats by bouncing back and forth, creating a whooshing sensation by cross-fading, etc., etc. With quad stereo, two more channels–or directions, or dimensions, or planes of existence, or states of being–are added to that aural playground. Multi-channel sound possess a tremendous ability to create a rippling sense of space. And just thinking about how already mischievous Baltimore musicians/composers might toy with that makes the inner sound nerd giggle with excitement.

“Martin Schmidt is really into it,” Boram says of quad sound. “Karl Ekdahl is designing and ready to market a four-way voltage-controlled amp. Leprechaun Catering and Matmos did a quad show earlier this year. Twig [Harper] did a sound installation that used quad at Load of Fun. Some people haven’t done things in quad before but they’re going to devise systems for doing it in quad for the series.”

And the experimental minded Red Room is the ideal laboratory for this sort of work. “We’re supposed to be the space for serious listening,” Boram says. “And we haven’t really done anything exactly like this before.”

Tonight Black Vatican’s Owen Gardner and Teeth Mountain’s/Dan Deacon Ensemble’s Andrew Bernstein collaborate for the series’ inaugural installment. Next week, Aug. 12, the series teams up with local music organization After Now and features Samuel Burt, Jeff Carey, Andrew Cole, C.R. Kasprzyk, and Mark Lackey. The series continues through August. Visit the Red Room’s calendar for full details.

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