Surround Music Awards 2004

In just three years, the Surround Music Awards has grown from an unproven concept to the anchor event for the Surround Conference. The assimilation of Surround 2004 into the broader Entertainment Media Expo did nothing to diminish the prominence and prestige of the Awards within the pro audio industry. This years Surround Awards, held on August 31 at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel’s Highlands Ballroom, was the most widely-attended yet, drawing a standing room only crowd of over 400. Produced by Lisa Roy and Bobby Owsinski, the ceremony got underway with a twilight patio reception – a perfect opportunity for collegial networking, schmoozing, and escalating anticipation.

Surround 2004 - Click for a Larger Image

No self-respecting music award ceremony would be complete without some high quality live music, and this year’s showcase event came accompanied the presentation of the Surround Pioneer Award to Herbie Hancock. Taking the recipient’s usual place at the keyboards, virtuoso George Duke led a red-hot band through a medley of Hancock’s compositions, honoring the stylistic range that has kept him at the forefront of sound innovation for decades. George Duke - Click for a Larger Image
Pioneer is a name you get when you’re the oldest guy in the room,” Hancock quipped with characteristic humility as he accepted his award, before delivering a brief pep talk about the importance of exploring the creative side. “You’re here for a reason. You bring something to the table that no one else can bring, so go for it – life is really limitless. Herbie Hancock - Click for a Larger Image
I’m not exactly sure what the difference is between a Pioneer and a Trailblazer, but there were separate awards for each and the latter went to Tomlinson Holman. Semantics aside, Holman’s lifetime of achievements on the theoretical and technical side complement Hancock’s contributions in the performance arena. From his early work at THX establishing much-needed standards for multichannel presentation in the theater and home, to his experimental10.2 surround system, Holman continues to push boundaries. Tom Holman - Click for a Larger Image
Multi-Grammy winning recordists Al Schmitt and Ed Cherney once again brought their breezy, engaging personalities to their roles as co-hosts, shown here with David Anthony, Executive Producer of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Four Flicks‘ from TGA DVD, which garnered three awards for Best Concert Video, Best Additional Features, and Best in Show. Al Schmitt, David Anthony and Ed Cherney - Click for a Larger Image
Schmitt and Cherney’s freewheeling, seat-of-the-pants banter, which had been so integral to the past two Surround Awards, was noticeably reigned in this time around, evidently in favor of a more streamlined, polished event. While the evening moved along at a brisker pace, I found myself missing some of the spontaneity of years past, especially Al and Ed’s wry commentary that helped keep the show from becoming too formal. Nevertheless, there were numerous eruptions of unscripted warmth this year – such as the obvious onstage affection following the presentation of Best Menu Design for the late Frank Zappa’s ‘Babysnakes‘ DVD release from Eagle Rock Entertainment. Shown left-to-right are Keith Lawler, graphic designer for all Zappa family projects, Frank’s wife Gail and son Dweezil, with Schmitt and Cherney. Keith Lawler, Gail Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, Al Schmitt and Ed Cherney - Click for a Larger Image
Legendary rocker Peter Frampton (right) captured this year’s Surround Visionary honors, an Editor’s Choice award celebrating artists who recognize and embrace future technology rather than relying on past formulas. Presenting the award was pro audio luminary Bob Ludwig, who did the mastering work for Frampton’s own multichannel re-mixes of his ‘Frampton Comes Alive‘ and ‘Live in Detroit‘ albums. Frampton’s approach on these discs was to use surround to enhance the live performance and audience ambience around an essentially conservative two-channel presentation of the music itself. Bob Ludwig and Peter Frampton - Click for a Larger Image
In contrast, the Surround Maverick Award is specifically oriented towards cutting edge artists who fearlessly explore the most creative possibilities of multichannel presentation. This year’s winner was Composer/musician BT (right) for his dense, atmospheric soundtrack for ‘Monster‘. BT’s award was presented, appropriately enough, by the film’s writer/director, Patty Jenkins, who said she looked forward to collaborations on many future projects. Patty Jenkins and BT
Recognition honors for the Most Adventurous Mix went to the multichannel version of Beck’s ‘Sea Change‘, released in both SACD and DVD-Audio formats by Universal/IGA/Geffen. Accepting the award for Beck was Courtney Holt (right), receiving enthusiastic congratulations from presenter Poet Name Life. Poet Name Life and Courtney Holt - Click for a Larger Image
The Best Multichannel Reissue Award addresses a category that will play a critical role in the mass market penetration of surround music – re-purposing familiar material in a way that transforms the listening experience and causes fans to discover their favorite albums all over again. This year honor went to Elton John’s classic ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road‘ from Universal/UME/Chronicles. Greg Penny (right) who engineered the 5.1 mix, accepted the award from Crystal Method’s Ken Jordan (center) and a frisky Leslie Lewis, Executive Director of the Producer and Engineer Wing of the Recording Academy. Leslie Lewis, Ken Jordan and Greg Penny - Click for a Larger Image
The classical works of Gustav Mahler are natural candidates for surround, and it was hardly a surprise to hear the format used so effectively in the Kaplan/Vienna Philharmonic recording of ‘Mahler’s Symphony No.2‘. Yet Howard Soraka (center) of Universal Music Group/eLabs still seemed stunned as he accepted the Best Orchestral Mix Award from multi-Grammy winning producer Don Was (left) and Playboy Magazine’s 50th Anniversary Playmate of the Year turned-DJ Colleen Shannon. Was and Shannon also presented the Best Non-Orchestral Mix for Porcupine Tree’s ‘In Absentia‘ (DTS Entertainment), and the Horizon Award, welcoming the best newcomer to surround sound, to Hiromi for ‘Brain‘ on Telarc. Don Was, Howard Soraka and Colleen Shannon - Click for a Larger Image
Although surround music is most commonly associated with disc-based media (DVD, SACD, and DVD-Audio), it is also taking on an increasingly important role in broadcast programming. Mixing ‘Concert for George‘ for Warner Brothers was new territory for Ryan Ulyate (center), whose background was entirely in two-channel – but he made up for lost time to capture two awards for Best Broadcast Live Performance and Best Standard resolution Title, the latter presented here by Peter Frampton (left) and Guitar Player magazine editor, Michael Molenda (right). In a nod to the other selling point of the SACD and DVD-Audio formats, Frampton and Molenda also awarded the Best Hi-Res Stereo-Only Program to Henry Kaiser and Wadada Leo Smith for ‘Yo Miles! Sky Garden‘ on Cuneiform. Peter Frampton, Ryan Ulyate and Michael Molenda - Click for a Larger Image
In the evening’s only tie, the Best Made for Surround Title was shared by ‘XXL‘ from Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band on Silverline and Larry Chernicoff’s ‘October‘ from Windy Planet Music. Bucking the trend away from acceptance speeches, Chernicoff [left] observed that “It isn’t a question of who you know, but how you use the surround mix – because I don’t know anybody!” Gordon Goodwin and engineer Gary Lux [right] opted for a more low-key stance, accepting their award with silent grace. Larry Chernicoff, Michael Molenda, Gordon Goodwin and Gary Lux - Click for a Larger Image
High Fidelity Review’s Listener’s Choice Award offers populist input amidst the honors conferred by recording industry professionals and journalists who decide the other Surround Music Award finalists. With literally tens of thousands of votes cast, our online reader’s poll selected Elton John’s ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road‘ as the title of choice among discriminating listeners. Engineer Greg Penny (shown) accepted the award presented by yours truly.
Greg Penny - Click for a Larger Image