This “sound puppeteer” helps people escape and relax in unexpected places


Charlie Morrow, whose pioneering work in 3D sound can be heard in major museums, corporate lobbies, hospital wards and retail stores, considers himself a “sound puppeteer”.

The 76-year-old composer and longtime audio innovator divides his time between a small rural town in Vermont and Helsinki, where his partner lives. MorrowSound sound demo rooms(Opens in a new window) Cube has been installed in Montreal, London, Berlin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington DC and New York, where a 3D sound cube is installed in an Airbnb above a historic cafe in Soho.

Typically, these cubes have eight speakers, one in each corner. There are four speakers near the ground and four more above the average person’s head. Cubes can be combined to cover a large area, as they did in a walkway at Mobile World Congress(Opens in a new window) in Barcelona a few years ago. Each system has software that controls the playback of a multi-track soundscape, which is programmed to have different elements change randomly or at scheduled times.

To explain this kind of aural soup, Morrow often uses an aquarium analogy. The sound field is the water of an aquarium, the point sounds are the equivalent of the fish. 3D sound systems that aren’t based on MorrowSound, he claims, “are just the fish without the water.” It is the sound field that Morrow considers his magic sauce.

Rarely seen without his bowler hat, Morrow’s career can be described as eclectic with a capital E. He arranged music for major pop groups in the 1960s and 1970s, including Simon & Garfunkel, the Rascals and Vanilla Fudge. And his sideline of pioneering performance creation includes a concert for fish in a bay off Queens in 1974; Citywave, a 1985 Copenhagen show with 2,000 attendees, including clowns on bicycles; and Toot ‘N Blinka 1982 performance by two boat fleets on Lake Michigan.

Charlie Morrow (Photo Jussi Aalto)

(Photo: Jussi Aalto)

His work as a jingle composer has produced advertising music as iconic as the Windsong perfume theme.(Opens in a new window) (He can’t forget you/Your Windsong stays in his mind). And Hefty, Hefty, Hefty / Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy for the garbage bag manufacturer(Opens in a new window).

While creating jingles, Morrow was ahead of the pack in embracing world music and an early adopter of digital sampling. But as “every 25-year-old with a ProTools studio” flooded jingle composition with wage-draining competition, Morrow moved into museum exhibit soundtrack work, and one of world’s leading museum designers hired him for his first 3D audio work.

Morrow has been working in 3D audio since 2002 and holds two patents. MorrowSound facilities include(Opens in a new window):tsounds of rain in a railroad museum in Pittsburgh; jungle sounds at the headquarters of a company that uses Brazilian palm oil to make car wax; cuckoo clocks at an Ohio children’s hospital; ducks poking around in the University of Oregon’s trophy room; and the sounds of a beach, meadow, or rainforest for a medical facility’s dialysis room in Washington, DC

Morrow obtained recordings from the Cornell Ornithological Archive to use in an exhibit of (Opens in a new window)Audubon Prints(Opens in a new window) at the New York Historical Society, located near Central Park in Manhattan. Audubon’s installation was made in a long hall with high ceilings. Beneath each Audubon print, bird sounds were triggered by a sensor activated by passers-by. Click below to listen.

“In our 3D sound installations, once the atmosphere fills the room, it creates the illusion that the walls, floor and ceiling are gone,” Morrow explains. “In Audubon’s installation, it was as if the birds and you were in the same space. You hear geese coming from the south through the wall as if they were coming towards you above your head, then they turn around and fly over Central Park. [to the east]. It’s quite phenomenal and unexpected.”

Morrow’s firm made a 3D sound installation for the public square-like waiting room at Kaiser Permanente Health Center(Opens in a new window) in Santa Monica, California. This soundscape was based on the sounds of nearby Palisades Park, a long, narrow public space that hugs a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Ashley Gilliam, who at the time worked as a senior interior designer for Minneapolis-based Cuningham Group Architecture, said 3D sounds were introduced to help clinic visitors decompress upon first entering.

“It was about creating a space that lowered their anxiety levels and made it feel familiar,” Gilliam said. “When you walk in and you hear the birds chirping and the ocean, it’s unexpected, I think.”

Morrow’s associates not only recorded the crashing of birds and ocean waves, but they captured people in the park running or laughing. They even incorporated the sounds of a weekly farmer’s market a few blocks away. The health center’s doctor and nurses helped fine-tune the soundscape mix.

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The installation of the 3D sound systems is carried out by Park Boulevard Productions(Opens in a new window), a bi-coastal live event producer. Its owner, Willie Fastenow, built a recording studio for the Julliard School and worked with Morrow on an audio tour for visitors to the Empire State Building. Fastenow is a fan of Morrow’s jingle work and was sufficiently impressed with MorrowSound’s technology to buy a minority stake in the company.

“There’s a way to move sounds in a space, but also a way to make the space different, whether it’s bigger or smaller or just transported,” Fastenow explains. “Half is the technology and the other half is the content and how that content is applied.”

Fastenow says the company plans to one day install a 3D sound system in a stadium and be active in the virtual reality content space. MorrowSound is about to install its first purpose-built 3D sound masking system at a bank in Southern California.

“Sound masking works by gently filling the room with the kind of frequencies that end up occurring when people talk,” says Jeff Aaron Bryant, who leads the company’s permanent software writing team.

A musician/composer who works out of his lab in Brooklyn, Bryant doubles as a field recorder, usually capturing sound with inexpensive portable digital recorders, mostly in mono or stereo, though occasionally special 3D microphones are used. used for on-site recording. . MorrowSound also builds hardware peripherals so you don’t have to rely on computers to play soundscapes.

It may seem like a far-fetched proposition, but Charlie Morrow sees the industrial and architectural market for 3D sound expanding the palette of composers.

“I see the future of music outside the concert hall,” he says. “I’m able to, in fact, do interiors of electric vehicles. I’m lucky enough to work on elevators and moving walkways. Suddenly the whole world is there for me and the fact that I can get my one training as a composer and self-taught engineer, it’s quite radical.”

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