Studio Voodoo
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Studio Voodoo


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"Audio Video Revolution Magazine"

explored experimentally for some years, particularly in the U.K., where clubs in the Midlands started installing Ambisonic surround sound systems in the ‘80s. It’s an incredible idea, and as soon as the venues are ready for it, here’s the music.

Studio Voodoo is the brainchild of Gary Mraz, professor of recording technology at California’s Citrus College, and Ted Price (about whom I know nothing). For the last decade or so, they’ve been working on combining ethnic chants and other material with some amazing grooves from the forefront of modern digital technology – and from the sound of this album, some healthy old analog machinery, too. The result is a collection of truly ferocious grooves and a surround extravaganza which, at the very least, will show off your system to great effect, and much more likely will get you on to the floor – especially if you can turn your system up loud.

The album leads off with "This Beat is Voodoo," and the surround recording of us leaving the building – by the sound of it, recorded with a Soundfield surround mic or similar – and getting into a car. The engine starts, and we tune around on the radio, some scratchy sounds emerging from center front, until suddenly we encounter what sounds like the Congo pygmies familiar to fans of Deep Forest, accompanied by some truly impressive drum loops and effects. A multitude of other world vocal samples follow over a powerful groove, even including a little Balinese "ketchak," or monkey-chant. The sound continues building. An incredible deep bass note glides down from low to l-o-o-o-w (you need full frequency range for this album), clear and clean. Lively guitars enter, a brass section, the 6:15 train from Paddington (no, I’m lying about this one) – you name it. At its climax, this has absolutely everything going. Sounds fly around the room. Loops enter and leave. And you can’t keep still. An impressive opener.

"Fire," the second cut, starts us off in an African jungle. We hear voices around us in Swahili. There’s that descending bass thing again – and we’re off into a frenetic complex organism founded around Stewart Copeland’s remarkable collection of ethnic vocal and drum samples. Dense, two-bar percussive loops characterize this track. Very cool, and one of the seminal tracks on this album. A lot of work went into the sound picture created in this track.

A complete change of vibe announces the third number, "Lamentatio." Ominous bells sound as gravelly footsteps cross the surrounds. Pseudo-Gregorian Latin chant and distant plainsong make your hair stand on end, but not half as much as it does when opera diva Michelle Latour comes in, improvising, one would guess, almost 100% of the time and evidently having a whale of a time. The bells and deep bass notes are way cool here, as is Ms. Latour, but perhaps the ultra-dense percussion loops are a bit too intense here to avoid detracting from the track as a whole.

"Straight from the Heart," Track Four, is the low point of the album for me, with African chants and languid percussion loops underlying Leroy Barnette’s voiceover. It’s good, but the rest is so much better. "Trancedance" is fun. Someone called Ava takes us on a physical relaxation program, while contradictory drum loops and the voice of Margit Jensen insure we can’t stay still.

"Integratron" is one of my favorites, apart from the opening number. It features a long segment sampled from one of the "Ruby" tongue-in-cheek sci-fi radio shows from ZBS media. The latter started out in the mid-‘70s with an incredible radio serial called "The Fourth Tower of Inverness," and have gone on over the intervening years to produce some of the most inventive audio drama on the American continent, including the "Ruby" series and a number of follow-ups to the "Fourth Tower." I don’t think they’ve done a bad show, ever. Check ‘em out at Meanwhile, the Voodoo guys take us through a collection of cool sci-fi movie samples, most of which I can’t identify. Eventually a snare and kick drum loop comes in with a bright, "pangy" snare sound, accompanied by some very cool analog (presumably) synth sequences. Nice.

"Imagenes de España" changes the mood dramatically once again, with Flamenco guitars from Scott Ray and vocals from Rafael Silva. Castanets, hand claps and more build the feeling until the entry of some great slap bass and ultimately some rather more digital loops and a strong bass part. "Rain" takes us back to Africa again and we participate in a rain dance of some kind, with loping drum loops and voice fragments.

I would have stopped the album here, but it goes on to conclude with "Song of gnos" (geddit?), a kind of "underture" where all the themes and primary samples of the foregoing tracks are paraded before our ears. Unfortunately, it ultimately descends into a morass of loops and repeats and stays that way until everything drops out to leave us with the analogical sound of a vinyl locked groove which plays on until the stylus is forcibly removed. A nice touch, but I would have passed on the number as a whole, or at least pared down its density a bit.

The occasional low points on this album do not, however, compromise the infectious grooves that characterize the vast majority of that Studio Voodoo that they do so well. I had a great time testing the level and frequency limits of my system with this stuff. Get it and have a great time at your next party. Or catch some of the performances they’ll be doing around during the coming months – for details. Dance and surround are made for each other. Enjoy.

On the technical front, this is another utterly professional DVD-A/V production from DTS Entertainment – see my Larisa Stow review for more technical info. The menus on this disc claim that the surround tracks (DTS and MLP) are both 5.1, but elsewhere in the sleeve notes the album pushes the fact that the DTS stream is in 6.1 rather than 5.1 – the extra full-bandwidth channel being designed for center rear replay. Well, I don’t have a DTS "ES" (Extended Surround) decoder, so I couldn’t check this, but it sounds like a good idea from a technical point of view, if not a budgetary one. If you use level only to localize a sound source in surround, you will do fine across the front stage, but rear localization is much less effective and side imaging is worse still – this is why sounds that are not in the front stage tend to be pulled into the speakers and inter-speaker imaging is so difficult to achieve. There are ways around this, but in the meantime a center-rear speaker is a logical extension of the existing set-up.

The album contains 24-bit/48 kHz MLP (DVD-Audio) and DTS (DVD-Video) streams, and, as I have found previously, I personally prefer the MLP (no loss of data) over the DTS (minimal loss of data). But whichever stream you can hear on your current player, if you enjoy material to get your feet moving and really test out your system, here it is. All the first four DTS DVD-A releases are worth buying and this is no exception.

Reviewed by Richard Elen - Send us your comments - Richard Elen

"Surround Professional Magazine"

Gary Mraz
(Multichannel Artistic Opportunites)

The hipster presence of Studio Voodoo's Gary Mraz was a refreshing plunge into the artist's perspective on emerging surround technologies. Where more conservative musicians might feel threatened by challenges to traditional recording and mixing approaches, Mraz embraces multichannel's new creative possibilities with the zeal of a kid in a candy store.

Along with partner Ted Price, Mraz composed, produced, and recorded virtually the entire contents of his first DVD-Audio disc, "Studio Voodoo." He enthused about the new medium's flexibility, saying that the ability to offer DTS ES 6.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 alternative tracks to the DVD-A mix posed no conflicts--he feels that each resulting version has its own artistic integrity. He even praised DVD-A's visual content (despite its requirement to use a display in a playback system), because it gave him the opportunity to include images from his favorite artists he felt complimented the songs.

Mraz's mixing philosophy had some interesting contrasts to that of producer John Kellogg, whose presentation he directly followed. Unlike Kellogg, Mraz shows no mercy when it comes to the playback systems required for his material. When it comes to dynamics and low frequency content in each channel, he said, "I mix to the highest denominator." It was a sobering reminder for consumers to exercise caution in venturing into this new high-resolution frontier--a system that can handle one disc without stress could sustain damage from the next.

Though, like Kellogg, Mraz claims his approach is driven by intuition and feel of the music, he is also a technophile, fascinated by the electronic transformation of sounds. As examples of his favorite techniques, he listed "granulating" (dissecting a voice into successive EQ packets) and "tubing" (simulating a sound source entering a tube and traveling through it to the other end). On the "Studio Voodoo" disc, there are many ways to describe the impact of these and many other striking effects, but "organic" isn't one of them.

In a demo selection, a densely layered techno-funk beat emerged from a wraparound nighttime ambient soundfield. Sounds careened from speaker to speaker. The aggressive use of steering effects and omnidirectional instrument placement was nothing like a naturalistic live performance soundstage, but then the content was nothing like live music either. Although the unrestrained multichannel implementation would have been a gimmicky desecration if applied to music originally conceived for two-channel presentation, here it proved dramatic and effective when applied to material composed with surround in mind.

As we prepare for the impending flood of radical rethinking and experimental alternatives to the traditional soundfield spearheaded by pioneers like Mraz, the long-running debate over whether surround channels should be used for ambience or discrete sound placement will inevitably lose some of its urgency. Rather than holding the artist accountable to an a priori standard regarding the "correct" kind of soundfield, the more important question is whether the multichannel form is appropriate to the content. Or, as Mraz succinctly put is, "We're making the rules up as we go. [PAB]

- Surround Pro

"Surround Music Awards"

The 2004 Surround Music Award nominees can be exclusively revealed by High Fidelity Review today. Held at a one-of-a-kind ceremony, the awards are designed to honour those titles that best exemplify their particular genre of multi-channel audio and delivery.

Previous winners include Queen, James Taylor, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Alison Krauss. The SMAs are also becoming known for the dramatic live performances that take place each year, including Graham Nash and David Crosby at the inaugural event, and Dweezil Zappa last year. This year, the SMAs will be held on Tuesday, August 31st in the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, where Herbie Hancock will be on hand to receive the Surround Pioneer Award, sponsored by the CEA

Most Adventurous Mix

'Fire and a Prayer' Studio Voodoo [DTS Entertainment]
'In Absentia' Porcupine Tree [DTS Entertainment]
'Guitar Heroes' Los Angeles Guitar Quartet-LARQ [Telarc]
'Sea Change' Beck [Universal/IGA/Geffen]
'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road' Elton John [Universal/UME/Chronicles] - SMA News

"Worlds First DTS-ES Release"

Koz Mraz is currently finishing final recordings and multichannel mixes for Studio Voodoo. This project will be the first music release to use the new DTS-ES 6.1 channel system, which provides for a center surround channel. Mraz related to me during an interview that the DTS-ES system will also provide a control, or effects track for triggering lighting and staging effects for any creative purpose. "When Studio Voodoo is finished and released, we will tour using special 6.1 mixes to play live while synchronized to the prerecorded material." Mraz continued, "the new DTS-ES system will be able to provide an extra channel for click track, so a drummer and DJ can play their live keyboard sounds as wwell with the prerecorded sounds. Mraz has been an instructor for more than 10 years, teaching at Pasadena City College before joining the staff at Citrus College. He is also an accomplished keyboard player. Studio Voodoo evidences his adeptness with very clever and creative use of analog and digital processors, including Moog and Oberheim. Mraz explained that in several passages he used an Auddity arpeggiator from an E-Mu system, which has some striking effects on its own. He then feeds the results into an Akai Headrush processor, which has one channel in, but five channels of succesive delay output. For Los Angeles area PAR readers, Mraz reveals that the first live performance of Studio Voodoo using 6.1 technology in a live show will be this autumn at Platinum Live in Hollywood
- Pro Audio Review Magazine


Studio Voodoo DVD 12 songs
Globalingua CD 17 songs
Club Voodoo CD 14 songs
Studio Voodoo Warhol Club Mix
Fire & a Prayer DVD 13 songs
Streaming and Internet radio



Studio Voodoo's Third Album fire & a Prayer features renown guest artists and each song its own story embedded with the unique Studio Voodoo sound. " People have thought our albums were compilations of different artists" Referring to the prior award winning releases. "I like that " Mraz states " why should artists feel confined to styles or musical genres, that's not how life is experienced". Fire & a Prayer is a departure from Studio Voodoo,s Last albums because it actually has lyrics sung in the English language! " Its a natural evolution States Mraz words are magic we use words and conjure spells into being everyday without even knowing it. The extraordinary audio palette of surround sound is perfect for the spoken spell to be cast". as usual all the songs were conceived and composed in surround. Already nominated in the surround 2005 awards and winner of the 2006 Aurora award Studio Voodoo again expands the limits of surround with aggressive mixes and beautiful vocal layers.

Video Jon9 featuring Firedancer Courtney Marit

The Cover art was done by John Langdon (The DaVinci Code, Angels & Demons)