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Holophonic Sounds are immersive audio recordings that are digitally processed to create the auditory illusion as if the listener is in close proximity to the source of audio.
The theory that humans hear sounds differently through each ear was pioneered by Argentinian researcher Hugo Zuccarelli in the 1980s. He concluded that the brain processes sounds through reference patterns heard by each ear in order to determine which direction they are coming from. He released a 15 track LP of these recordings in 1983. Titled Zuccarelli Holophonic, the tracks included sounds of a shaking matchbox, a hair dryer, bees, a plastic bag, and fireworks.
Holophonic sounds are made using a technique called Binaural recording. This is done with microphones placed over the ears on either side of a mannequin head, often referred to as a Kunstkopf head. Three scientists at the Heinrich-Hertz Institut in Berlin, Germany began developing the head in 1968 and was put into use in 1971 by three German radio stations, RIAS Berlin, Radio Free Berlin (SFB), and the West German Broadcasting Corporation (WDR).
The head has two internal microphones meant to mimic how humans hear differently through each ear. It is built to account for both the solid brain space and the unoccupied sinus cavities that exist in the human head. Since the audio is recorded with two separate audio channels, in order to get the three dimensional effect, headphones must be worn to hear the multi-dimensional sound.
It was also featured in a number of notable progressive rock / psychedelic rock albums released in the early 1980s, including Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, Roger Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, and Psychic TV’s Dreams Less Sweet.
On the web, video and audio clips of holophonic sounds began circulating in 2004 with the blog Interesting Thing of the Day. In 2006, discussion of the recordings took place on Digg, the 404 forums, culture site Wohba, and music blog Music for Maniacs. The next year, a clip appeared on Think Artificial and the first torrent compilation of holophonic sounds was posted to the Pirate Bay.
Web420, a psychedelic culture blog, hosted a series of clips in 2009. That year, it was also featured in the Get High Now book. On April 19th, 2010, an album of 130 different sound clips was released on iTunes. In 2011, A thread about holophonic sounds was posted to the Technology subreddit. and a French advertising agency created an interactive film on YouTube in order to raise awareness about the risks of hearing loss.
In January 2012, Tumblr announced that their top audio post of the year was an upload of a QSound Labs demo Virtual Barber Shop. It was shared by awesomaticeric on January 1st, 2011. Over the course of the year, it aggregated over 158,000 notes. Other audio clips were collected on Tumblr with the hashtag #binaural.
Though it shares a similar name to binaural recording, this method is not used to create binaural beats, types of sounds created by mixing sounds of different frequencies to create a physical response. Binaural tones, which don’t require headphones to hear, were discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, a physicist from Prussia.
Several academic studies of binaural beats completed in the 1990s have looked into why the sounds create physical effects, with a 1997 study published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration stating that the beats can potentially alter a person’s level of attention and awareness to the world around them. I-Doser Labs created their site on October 27th, 2003, selling binaural brainwave cds and mp3s. They also host an active forum where users share experience stories and tips about listening to the “doses” of audio they sell.
Journal of Scientific Exploration – Accessing Anomalous States of Consciousness with a Binaural Beat Technology