People who saw the movie in 1952 reported being very impressed. Reportedly they mostly talked about "the roller coaster," the Rockaway Playland ride that seemed to take the viewer along in the front car it as it climbed and swooped on its tracks Following a somewhat scholarly black and white filmed prologue by journalist and commentator Lowell Thomas, the audience got its first taste of a new filming technique.
The movie was This Is Cinerama and it created a sensation. (In fact, it's been remastered and will be re-released this year.) Now, following generations of innovation that built on the first Cinerama concept, most of us are used to 3D movies that, like Cinerama, aim to give the audience the experience of being right there in the center of the action.
Music has tried to keep up with the innovations in film. As far back as the 1880s there were demonstrations of rudimentary two-channel, stereo sound. Since then, sound recording has progressed from monaural (remember "mono" records?), to high fidelity to stereo, to surround sound. Now we have the next generation and, based on the demonstration I heard, it absolutely lives up to its name, AstoundSurround.
As I listened to a bit of classical music rendered in AstoundSurround the music was overwhelming in that it filled my senses. And that all-enveloping feeling wasn't from the volume of the sound. It was from the quality of the sound. It was, I imagine, the same quality of sound one might hear standing in the middle of the pit during a concert by a major philharmonic orchestra.
Jerry Mahabub invented AstoundSurround and his company, Gen Audio is further developing it. He describes the technology as "3D audio, totally immersive." As the pioneer in this technology, Mahabub is following the path of being ahead of others that started when he was a child.
At 16 he was working in R&D for a magnetic resonance-imaging laboratory, He noticed brain-imaging patterns that would light up in response to spatial auditory stimuli.
Born in upstate New York, Jerry Mahabub played the trumpet when he was young and had to choose between going to Julliard to study music or studying physics. He chose the latter and entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, when he was 13.
That piqued his interest and he began collecting data from MRIs and electroencephalograms (EEGs). The knowledge gained enabled him to characterize how the brain actually processes audio information accurately and the core of the AstoundSurround technology was born. He began working on the patent in 2003 and started Gen Audio the following year.
The technology is attracting interest from filmmakers and recording engineers. "Much like 3D film does, AstoundSurround tricks the brain into thinking the sound is coming right off the screen to you, And studies show the mind is actually more pleasured by audio than video stimulation," Mahabub says.
AstoundSurround was used in the Haitian relief effort that came with the 25th anniversary re-release of We Are the World. Its first use in a film was the 2010 documentary Discover the Gift. The electronic gaming industry is employing AstoundSurround so the depth of the audio matches that of the video.
For the consumer market, Mahabub says, there is good reason to explore AstoundSurround and, to make that easier, there is consumer software.
"The biggest value added for the consumer is in AstoundSound, our software system for headphones, TV sets, video game consoles and computers." Mahabub says, "And, there is the fact that there is no need for additional hardware or speakers. All you need is two-channel audio or stereo. It works with all existing hardware and just needs a stereo output. And, because of this, the WAF is very high.
"WAF," he explains, "stands for "'wife acceptance factor,' a term commonly used nowadays that means, simply, you will not have to say, 'Oh, hi sweetheart I took all your mementos down from the shelf and replaced them with this big speaker.' That's not acceptable. Or necessary."
Just below is the AstoundSurround demo video. However, before you watch it, you may want to download the AstoundSound Expander software. There's a free 30-day demo period. It's priced at $39.95 with discounts up to $15.
"With the AstoundSound Expander software," Mahabub says, "any sound passing through the computer is captured and processed. You can hear the difference instantly.
"This is really," he adds, "the next dimension in audio."
Watch the AstoundSurround demo reel here:
And, just for fun, here's a look at This Is Cinerama, the movie that started it all:
Photo of Jerry Mahabub courtsey of Gen Audio.