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Upmixing for Natalie Merchant
SOLVING THE UPMIXING CHALLENGE FOR NATALIE MERCHANT’S LATEST FILM PROJECT WITH NUGEN AUDIO’S HALO UPMIX
by Jacques Boulanger
As CEO, sound designer, and re-recording mixer for Creative Audio Post + Video, I have a love for sound that goes back to my days as a professional musician. After years performing on the road, I discovered audio post-production through the back door – working for a production company specializing in music composition for a variety of network IDs, show themes, and music jingles for TV commercials. While working closely with composers and musicians to create that content, I developed a respect for the music side of postproduction that still inspires my work still today.
That experience marked a shift in my career to focus on the emerging arts of digital media and audio post-production. In 2002 I founded Creative Audio Post (now Creative Audio + Video Post) to provide full-service audio and video post-production capabilities, primarily for television and film. Today we’re a team of seven outstanding professionals who have helped make Creative Audio + Video Post one of the most respected audio and video post-production facilities in New York City. Whether the project is a 30-second commercial or an IMAX 3D surround film, our Emmy award-winning team is dedicated to delivering an inspired and unique production with a sound track that delivers maximum emotional impact.
Among our high-profile clients is recording artist Natalie Merchant, who has enjoyed a successful solo career for more than 12 years. Over that time, we’ve had the opportunity to work with her on numerous film projects in collaboration with acclaimed filmmaker / Director Jon Bowermaster - who is currently finishing an upcoming film called “Dear President Obama” along with Mark Ruffalo as Executive Producer, a feature documentary bringing awareness to “fracking” to a national level. Bowermaster’s latest is a film entitled “Paradise is There,” a memoir of Natalie’s career coinciding with the 20th anniversary of her groundbreaking album, "Tigerlily," and her new release, “Paradise is There: The New Tigerlilly Recordings.”
Mixing the sound track for the “Paradise is There” film presented an interesting challenge because the source audio was a mixture of 5.1 surround and stereo. For the footage of Natalie’s live performance at the Tarrytown Music Hall last September, we recorded the show with a combination of traditional live recording microphone technique as well as two surround mics. Other content, such as interviews and the studio tracks for the CD release, had been recorded and mixed in stereo. For the final sound track, we wanted to bring as many surround elements into the mix as possible – a job that required advanced upmixing capabilities.
We’d worked with other upmixing plug-ins in the past, but, typically, these tools don’t do a good job of diverging the center track and their 5.1 output rarely approaches the sound of the original source. But for “Paradise is There,” we found a powerful new solution: NUGEN Audio’s Halo Upmix. Designed to work equally well to produce a high-quality 5.1 upmix as well as a stereo mix, Halo Upmix offers capabilities that simply aren’t found in other plugins -- such as the ability to produce full stable surrounds with precise downmix matching.
One particularly valuable feature of Halo Upmix is its elegant center channel management, which uses proprietary neural network-based dialogue extraction to fine-tune the center in a surround mix. While the center track for film and television is typically reserved for dialogue and narration, Halo Upmix enabled us to divert that content to the left and right speakers when needed and create, in effect, a “virtual center.” Another feature that came in handy for “Paradise is There” was the ability to divert some audio to the back speakers to create a very organic and natural sound that approaches live early reflections and reverb without being distracting.
With the success of “Paradise is There,” we’re now using Halo Upmix for any film or television project in which we want to create a highly natural-sounding 5.1 upmix for home and theatrical surround audiences. The tool is particularly compelling for music-themed programs since most music, both studio and live-performance, is originally mastered in stereo. At Creative Audio Post, we’re dedicated to ensuring that every sound element contributes to a production’s overall emotional soundscape, and Halo Upmix has become an essential part of our toolkit.
As chief engineer and owner of Creative Audio + Video post, Jacques Boulanger is an Emmy Award-winning sound engineer based in New York City.
Mix & Mastering