Together with Werner Bleisteiner (Bavarian Broadcasting, and at the moment creative technologist in the ORPHEUS project) and my supervisor Andreas Fickers (director of the C2DH), I have developed the idea of recording a binaural radio drama about the history of Kunstkopf-stereophony. During the past months we discussed different approaches and finally I wrote a script for a two-hander (in German!). The plot is simple: a journalist interviews a media archaeologist about the history of Kunstkopf recording.The two main characters discuss the ups and downs of Kunstkopf-stereophony in the 1970s and 80s. The scenes are recorded with a dummy head microphone. To demonstrate the effect of in-head and out-of-head localization we added three little scenes in which the Kunstkopf himself talks to the listeners. His voise is recorded in mono to achieve in-head-localization. A principle already used in the very first binaural radio drama “Demolition” (1973).

The cooperation with Bavarian Broadcasting (BR) opened the fantastic opportunity to record the radio drama in BR Studio 9, a well-known studio for radio drama productions. The actual recording took place on November 29, 2016, and I will describe the recording process in more detail in another post. Today, I will (as appetizer) talk a bit about the rehearsals that took place the day before.

On November 28, Werner Bleisteiner, Andreas Fickers, Christian Schimmöller (the sound engineer) and I tested some technologies, set-ups and dramatic compositions. We decided to use a Neumann KU81 dummy head as main microphone. We also had a Neumann KU100 at our disposal but the KU81 dates from the last years the radio drama thematizes. And, more for fun, we also had an AKG Harry dummy head, a cheap amateur dummy head from the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, the Harry recordings sounded very bad: like you would hold your nose while speaking.

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Neumann KU81 (left) and Neumann KU100 (right, mounted on stand)

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Christian Schimmöller doing some test recordings with the AKG Kunstkopf.

Furthermore, we planned to record our radio drama with some recent spatial audio technologies, like the IRT Marvin (an experimental eight channel microphone array of the Institut für Rundfunktechnik), a Sennheiser Ambeo VR, and a Schoeps ORTF-3D (recently used by the BBC to produce some binaural recordings of the Proms).

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Werner Bleisteiner (left) and Andreas Fickers (right) discussing the available spatial audio technologies. In the box you can see the IRT Marvin microphone array.

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In the main room of Studio 9, the KU81 is mounted on stand, ready to listen to our historical radio drama. In the front you can see the Sennheiser Ambeo VR microphone and above the dummy head the Schoeps 3D ORTF.

We used the rehearsals to test some room acoustics. For example, we recorded in the main room of Studio 9 (that has a rather “dry” sound) and in the little equipment room (very reverberant, usually not used for recordings). We also tested our idea of the in-head voice of the Kunstkopf and the out-of-head localization of the other scenes.

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The Kunstkopf is “waiting” in the equipment room.

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Werner Bleisteiner speaks the dummy head voice. The recording was made in the semi-anechoic room of Studio 9.

The cast for the actual radio drama would be: Stephan Wurfbaum (an actor from Aachen) as the journalist, Andreas Fickers as the media archaeologist, and Hans Peter Hallwachs (main character in the first binaural radio drama “Demolition”!) as the Kunstkopf, myself as the director. However, during the rehearsals I spoke the role of the journalist and Werner Bleisteiner volunteered as dummy head. Below, you can listen to a two minutes recording from the rehearsals. You will hear the opening scene, in which the dummy head is first talking to himself in the equipment room. Soon, the two main characters enter the scene, take the dummy head out of the shelf and bring him into the main room where they mount the dummy head on a stand. First, you will hear the dummy head voice inside your head and a little bit of spatial atmosphere outside your head. As soon as the two main characters enter the equipment room, you will here voices and sounds outside your head and you should be able to locate voices and sounds. In the (forthcoming) main post about the production of the binaural radio drama I will show some videos so that you will be able to compare your subjective sound localizations with the actual movement of the actors. Enjoy our little appetizer and please use headphones!

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