PMC, also known as the Professional Monitor Company, is widely known and recognized for their speakers, but also their stance in driving innovation and quality in the hi-fi world. Right when the pandemic hit, I had a chance to talk with their President of U.S. Sales and 20-year PMC veteran, Maurice Patist. Here he dives into how he helped build the first Dolby Atmos room at Capitol Studios, his engineering background, and his love for all things immersive.
Thanks for hopping on, I know it’s a crazy time. The world has changed a lot, hasn’t it?
I know, it's a crazy time. I sent everybody to work from home. There's only so much you can do, but we're making it through and our goal is to come out of this whole scenario stronger than we have ever been before. I definitely made a point of taking care of all my people so we don't furlough or fire anybody or anything like that. Thankfully we're working on a lot of larger projects with big companies that still continue. And in the meantime, we can still make music in the studio. I think everybody's ready to get out of this mess. But we all realize that it's not going to be that easy and things will pretty much change a lot before anything is normal again or whatever is going to be the new normal.
There's definitely a big impact felt throughout the industry. So, to jump into things, I was actually curious about your feature in Mix Magazine, I love this. I was reading David Rideau's take on the Miles Davis album that you guys did in Dolby Atmos, Kind of Blue. Was it the full album, or a single?
It was actually two full albums we did together, Kind of Blue as well as Sketches of Spain. What happened there was, when I was working with the guys at Capitol to build their first Atmos studio, I spent a lot of time with Steve Genewick, who's the most senior engineer for Atmos. And building a studio opens up opportunities and possibilities and conversations, and I was always interested in jazz, so I was very interested in working on an album in Atmos.
These were the first ever that Dolby Atmos made for music in 24/96 because everything was still done in 24/48. And all the consumer electronics available can only do 24/48. But, as part of a partnership with Dolby and thanks to how we at PMC are pushing technology today, we were able to come up with a way.
Steve figured, why don't we use the recording space? We listened to the masters and balanced them really nicely in a stereo mixer that we played back into the big live room at Capitol Studio. Then we built a microphone array, with certain distances between them, into positions where the Atmos speakers actually will be and basically re-recorded it in the room and then, afterwards rebalanced all the levels of the speakers. So instead of using artificial reverbs or anything like that, we actually used the space.
How did everything turn out?
Incredible, for us... but what do other people think, right? So we had people like Chris Walden - a musical arranger, he does all the music for the Oscars - come in the studio and within 30 seconds, he was like, “Holy moly, what did you guys do? This is amazing.” And we also brought in Miles’ family. They heard the whole thing and were just completely emotional and said, “This is the way Miles should be heard.” So for us, that was a huge relief, that everybody that we cared about enjoyed it and thought this is indeed incredible.
This new immersive experience allows us to rediscover albums that we think we know so well… And we can enjoy them in a way where we are of course respectful to the music and the artist. We still have to get a licensing agreement, and I really hope that we can get that deal organized so it becomes available for everybody because everybody should get to hear it.
And with everything going on with Dolby and their streaming, more and more people are now physically able to get to hear it.
Exactly. The goal has always been to find a way to make it available to people, and we see Atmos music actually being the format for the future, despite the fact that we have worked very closely together with Auro-3D in the past. Obviously, they are great and a different type of technology, but you need the clout and the drive to get this out to larger audiences. And right now, I think Dolby is that vehicle, and people are ready for it.
I foresee that the second half of this year is leading to that moment when this will open up to so many people worldwide immediately. And whether it's on a soundbar or on their TV, it will be enjoyed because it's fully compatible with all these different devices. So it’s very exciting.
Are you working on any other projects in immersive audio, your own music maybe?
Well, Miles’ project was one of them. We followed up with some tracks from Marcus Miller (in the photo). I also did another project with a Brazilian EDM pop artist, who recorded his stuff and made it in stereo and then came over from Brazil to our PMC studio in L.A. We ended up mixing the first ever Brazilian Atmos music track, which was fun. And he loved it. It's an amazing format to mess around with that style of music. EDM in Atmos is super exciting and can be really creative, especially if you compare it to what you have in the clubs.
As someone who’s been in the industry for years, do you remember what your experience was like when you first heard immersive or surround music? Was there a “wow” moment that you’ll never forget?
I started with PMC 19 years ago now, we were working a lot with the producers and scoring engineers. At that time, 5.1 was already happening for all the theaters. So when I heard a 5.1 movie score on our systems, that was an amazing experience. I heard scores from Dennis Sands, and Tommy Vicari who does a lot of work for Thomas Newman. Bobby Fernandez also did a lot of that work at that time.
PMC being so involved in all those studios for surround sound, I got my hands on a lot of music that those composers kindly shared with me. I have a whole database of incredible movie scores and mixes that I can listen back at home even. Often in those times I ended up just turning off the screen, sitting on my couch with a glass of wine, and just appreciating the music.
You know, as PMC, we have been part of pushing the boundaries and developing new technologies. And now it's great to see Atmos becoming available for more consumers, so I’m happy it's not just me that enjoys it. It's everybody else.
Well, to close, I have a silly question which, who knows, could maybe lead to something insightful. What's one word you would use to describe immersive audio without using the word “immersive”?
Hmm, I have to think about that one because the word immersive does describe it so well for me personally. It’s not surround. For me, surround sound is 5.1 or 7.1. Immersive for me comes into play when it’s Dolby Atmos. Auro-3D also had a great start a few years ago but hasn’t been able to expand like Dolby, or even DTS:X although that’s not as popular for music. For me immersive has become synonymous with emotion. It’s a very emotional experience. I do feel that you really move people when you put them into that immersive dome. You never know the great emotional response to the music that can happen. Even to the point where we're actually working with, for instance, people that are involved with the Mayo Clinic. In treating people with Alzheimer’s, they have found that utilizing Dolby Atmos music, or any real immersive setup, actually has certain effects and benefits.
So, emotional is the word I would use!