October 2004

Back to the Future:
Ancient Tomb Reveals Low-Cost Audio of Tomorrow!

By Paul D. Lehrman

TombThere's an interesting conundrum in audio these days: As our tools get better and the quality of what we produce achieves new heights, the delivery system for those products in many ways gets worse. Data-compressed audio files; tiny, tinny, under-powered “multimedia” sound systems; and — God help us — cell phones have all somehow become significant elements in the chain that brings music from our 24-bit, 192kHz production systems to our audience.

As “low-end” audio delivery becomes more prevalent, it's finding its way into unexpected new areas. One of these is illustrated in a terrific high-tech “haunted house” — type attraction called Tomb, which should be open by the time you read this. The design and the technology behind it are the very latest, but the audio is surprisingly low-tech. Perhaps even more surprising, it sounds just fine.

The philosophy behind Tomb can be described something like this: Start with a computer game that has several layers of puzzle-solving. Get the player out of his seat and make him walk through different spaces. Use a whole lot of scary content based on ancient myths and classic horror movies. Make the lights flash, the walls groan, creatures crawl over the player's feet and fly around the room, long-dead folks talk from behind waterfalls, the floors shake and the ceilings drop precipitously. Throw in a complex interactive soundtrack of dialog, sound effects and music. Make it multiplayer so that every player can hear every other player scream. Call it the future of entertainment and put it in a high-traffic area full of students and young professionals. Charge admission.

The rest of this column, along with 56 more, is now available in The Insider Audio Bathroom Reader, published by Thomson Course Technology PTR.

Copyright ©2006 by Paul D. Lehrman