BUCHAREST, ROMANIA—Cristian Ştefănescu, a multi-talented composer and producer from Bucharest, Romania, who releases music under the moniker Electric Brother, wanted to make a big splash when he released his latest album, Rocks. So he remixed the project in Dolby Atmos and presented it in a movie theater, with no visuals.
“This album is very different and much more important, more mature and innovative for me, so it needed a suitable way to be presented to the public,” says Ştefănescu. Looking around for a suitable launch venue, he realized that the best sound system in Bucharest was at Baneasa Developments’ Grand Cinema & More, which was upgraded to Dolby Atmos in March, 2015. Ştefănescu is an electronic music pioneer in Romania, a 17-year veteran with numerous releases to his name, but Rocks, his third full-length solo project, is his first rock music release.
Relatively few music projects have been mixed in the Dolby Atmos format, other than film scores. The Choir of King’s College Cambridge laid claim to the first classical music-only Atmos release in 2015. Roger Waters released his 2014 concert film of The Wall with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack and there have been a few other rock projects remixed for Blu-ray music-only release. But Ştefănescu believes his may be the first album released in an Atmos-equipped theater.
“I wanted to put my audience in a suitable environment to be able to listen and pay full attention for 50 minutes to the music. That is why I decided not to have any visuals, lights or anything—complete blackout; just music.” Rocks debuted at Grand Cinema & More in mid-November 2016.
The listening experience has been lost, he says, now that music has been pushed into the background. Even at live shows, audience members often talk or stare at their phones.
“The act of listening is forgotten,” says Ştefănescu. “I’m 41 years old and my generation had a thing for these listening parties or auditions, with the excitement of putting a record on and just listening carefully, like reading a book.”
Ştefănescu also composes for commercials and handles dialogue recording, sound design and mixing for the full range of short- and long-form visual projects. He operates out of a modest Logic Pro-based facility boasting “a few beautiful Neumann CMV 563s and UM 57s,” an RME Fireface 800, a MacBook Pro, numerous VST plug-ins and a lot of guitars.
“Usually I write and produce everything myself, alone. If I need a vocal part or a violin solo, I call somebody. If it’s going to be a release, I trust Dan Griober with the mixing and mastering. If it’s for TV, I do it myself.”
Griober had already mixed and mastered the album in stereo when Ştefănescu headed to the Dolby Atmos-equipped Cinema Suite at The Grand Post in Vienna, Austria, to remix it. “I have mixed music for films in surround before, but the experience with Atmos was very different, and stunning,” he says. “It took me a while to get my head around it and start to make decisions about what needed to go where. Alex Koller, who mixed it, was a very big help, technically and creatively.”
Ştefănescu wanted the mix to be a very strong but natural experience for the audience, he says. “We didn’t want ‘amazing’ panning and gimmicky stuff. We wanted to have the audience feel like they’re in the middle of the stage. There’s stuff moving around, but mostly effected guitars, Moog interventions, delays, percussion stuff and so on.”
Griober exported stems and specific individual tracks for the immersive mix. “It’s interesting how tracks don’t affect each other in Atmos as they are on separate channels. They don’t interact much. That’s why we needed, for example, the drum stems; they sounded much punchier and nicer,” says Ştefănescu.
But the immersive mix process also drove him to make changes on the stage. “We realized we needed something in the back of the room, for example. Or we realized one of the bass tracks was not helping enough in Atmos as it did in stereo. So I had to add layers and export them right there.”
Ştefănescu is pleased with the reaction to the album’s Atmos debut. “I invested so much effort and money and time in this project because I believe it is an amazing opportunity for the music industry. The sound is similar but better than big open-air festivals. It’s absolutely perfect in any hall that has the Dolby Atmos logo on it, so there are no surprises there. The feedback has been great and I got encouraging reactions from industry veterans and regular concertgoers alike.”
He continues, “Of course, it’s a niche thing, but I am sure there are plenty of smaller festivals out there from Finland to Argentina where a bunch of people would be interested in listening to Rocks. Even if I don’t manage to make the album travel around the world in various Atmos halls as I planned, I think that going through the experience of making it was enough.
“I think it’s just a matter of time until major bands and labels realize that they cannot perform so often in a certain country, but they can be present with an Atmos release. It is not the same thing, but it’s damn close.”
The Grand Post