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Back with a bang: Meyer Sound’s Miles Rogers talks the Apocalypse Now re-release with Sensual Sound

Apocalypse Now has been re-released forty years after it first hit the screens back in 1979 with the help of Meyer Sound’s Sensual Sound, a new technology that brings cinematic sound to the next level

40 years after its original 1979 release, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s celebrated masterpiece of the Vietnam War era has been restored, remastered and re-released as Apocalypse Now Final Cut. The Final Cut version comes with an introduction of Sensual Sound, developed by Coppola’s production company American Zoetrope in partnership with Meyer Sound Laboratories, Inc. of Berkeley, California. Under Coppola’s personal supervision, a team from American Zoetrope remastered the film’s visuals in 4K Ultra HD with Dolby Vision from the original negatives, and transferred the soundtrack to high-resolution 96 kHz digital for remixing and remastering in Dolby Atmos. Here, we talk to Meyer Sound’s business development manager, cinema and content creation markets, Mile Rogers, about the exciting new project… 

Tell us about Sensual Sound technology and its impact on Apocalypse Now?

Francis wanted Apocalypse Now’s audiences to “feel” what war was really like by creating a visceral, deep, low frequency impact you could feel before you could hear. When the movie first came out, this could not be fully realised as the technology wasn’t there yet. This is where Sensual Sound comes in. 

Low frequency sound is not just about explosions. Yes, you can feel explosions in cinema like never before, but Sensual Sound goes way beyond that. It is known that low frequency sounds cause the body to release adrenaline. There are many intense scenes in Apocalypse Now, and the emotional content of those scenes has always been supported by amazing sound design. With this new sonic colour, this film can now dig into those emotions like never before. 

How does it work?

Sensual Sound was made possible with the introduction of the Very Low Frequency Control subwoofer from Meyer Sound. Originally developed to test satellites to make sure they could withstand the stress of launch forces as they were put into orbit, John Meyer suggested that we experiment using these new VLFC subwoofers in cinema. By optimising the response of the VLFC and time aligning them with the standard LFE subwoofers, we found a new sonic territory.

Sensual Sound is built on a simple loudspeaker design principal of linearity that is the core of every Meyer Sound loudspeaker. With the introduction of the VLFC subwoofers, we can now consistently recreate those most challenging power hungry frequencies on the dub stage and in the theatre. There are many films that have a lot of Low Frequency Effect in their soundtrack, but now sound designers and mixers have the ability to hear and feel frequencies that dip into the infra-sonic range. If you can hear those frequencies you can control them, and if you can control them you can be creative. 

What was Meyer Sound’s involvement? 

The team from American Zoetrope came to the Meyer Sound Berkeley campus for a demo of this new technology, and Francis immediately saw John Meyer’s vision and the storytelling potential. With the approval of Francis we installed this system on the Rutherford Stage at American Zoetrope in Napa, CA. 

What is the relationship between Coppola’s production company and Meyer Sound?

American Zoetrope was one of the very first locations where Meyer Sound cinema systems were installed. This relationship has continued to build with a few major milestones. In 1979, John first introduced the 650 for Apocalypse Now. In 2009 Meyer Sound’s Acheron screen channels, X800c subwoofers for LFE, and UPJunior for the surround channels were installed. In 2018, for the ATMOS pre-mix we expanded the system to include UP-4Slim for the overhead surrounds, and the VLFC subwoofers that would evolve into Sensual Sound. American Zoetrope has put a lot of trust in Meyer Sound. We greatly value this relationship as it has allowed a platform to explore the creative potential of cinema sound that new technologies can offer. 

How will this impact the future of film sound? 

Sensual Sound allows sound designers and mixers to hear the entire sound track that is printed and released to the public. There have been many threads on home theatre forums about soundtracks that have low frequencies that go beyond the SMPTE specification for LFE. The challenge was that these frequencies were being printed, but never heard by the filmmakers. With Sensual Sound, filmmakers can now hear those frequencies and use them creatively. The new mix of Apocalypse Now: Final Cut will be released in August on Blu-Ray.