Virtual DSO

A new recording technology is music to Andrew Litton's ears

"What VR2 has allowed is a real sense of space," Litton says. "I'm thrilled that this new technology exists. It allows the music room to breathe."

Explode is more like it: During the finale of The 1812 Overture, the music swells to a furious crescendo, urged on by bass-drum blasts and cymbal crashes, replicating the mood and atmosphere of a battlefield. The music encompasses the sound of small skirmishes, full-on attacks, and final victory.

After two years of research, the VR2 process has been in use for about eight months. True to its name, it was created to give listeners a more realistic concert experience when listening to CDs, which have long been criticized by detractors for sterilizing music's natural, warm sound. Eargle recorded the DSO using the maximum number of microphones allowed in a symphony arrangement (14) and fed them into an eight-track digital recorder, which resulted in a layered and grandiose sound.

Delos designed the process to be compatible with a new sound system that ultimately will offer much better sound quality than the typical stereo. But until then, discs recorded using the VR2 process are best listened to using a system that offers some form of surround sound, such as Dolby Pro Logic. However, the richness and clarity of the recording still can be heard on a normal two-channel stereo arrangement; the difference is simply a bit more subtle. Haygood hopes the new discs will speed development of systems that take advantage of the VR2 technology.

"It's a little like when we manufactured compact discs before many people had a CD player," Haygood says. "I hope that they [stereo manufacturers] will get inspired by what we are putting out there."

But the DSO and Delos can wait a while longer. Litton says he is committed to the company for the long haul, insisting that Delos is a perfect match for the DSO because they share the same goals philosophically and artistically. He doesn't mind being the guinea pig as long as he gets to play in his own cage.

"They were willing to record whatever we wanted to play," he says. "They let us do what we wanted instead of what the record label wanted, which is usually how it is. They didn't force us into a pops album. This is a big reach for them, because they are an American company that specializes in American music, and here we come playing Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. We're both interested in making music.

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