3D Music Video: Not Ready for Prime Time

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3D Music Video: Not Ready for Prime Time

Mark Waldrep, the founder and leader of AIX Records and iTrax, does like being first. In his interview with me, presented in TAS issue 218 ("Mark Waldrep Knows What He's Doing"), the guy bragged on a number of "firsts" in his career: the first "enhanced" CD, and (believe it or not) the first DVD, in 1997. So he leaped at the chance to try out a set of 3D cameras borrowed from a contact in LA, where Waldrep is based, and he shot various AIX artists as much as he could, keeping the recording venues up and running for some very long hours. Waldrep's released the first commercially available 3D video music programs.

AIX has available for purchase now seven 3D Blu-ray releases. There's a  Demo/Calibration disc and "Mars in 3D," which is footage from the NASA Viking Landers missions. (Want to clear a room quickly? Put the second one on and count backwards from 50.) The other five titles include a program from pianist Bryan Pezzone, who is fluent with a faceless compositional and performance style in multiple genres and one from James Walker, once a member of the LA Philharmonic but now a purveyor of doesn't-stick-to-your ribs jazz. There is also a jazz version of Bach's Goldberg Variations that believe me, would have solved Count Kaiserling's insomnia issues.

Two of the AIX 3D BDs are much more successful musically, and I've reviewed both in TAS. The first is an all-Mozart recital played by the youthful but accomplished Old City String Quartet (Issue 215), which includes a string quartet as well as the composer's late masterwork, his Clarinet Quintet plus the Horn Quintet, K. 407. The second is a set of 15 songs performed by country music star Mark Chesnutt and his band (Issue 228), brimming with good spirits and casual virtuosity.

I spent time on two evenings watching and listening to these discs in 3D with an audiophile friend who believes in the potential of the technology. Indeed watching a film that utilizes 3D artfully—say, Martin Scorcese's Hugo—was hugely entertaining, sitting about 10 feet from his Sharp 70" Elite monitor. But the AIX music Blu-rays, even the programs I liked—not so much.

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that Waldrep makes extremely truthful and involving multichannel recordings. Played back on my pal's excellent and carefully calibrated audio system (Piega main front and center channel speakers, modified Bolero surrounds, Integra DHC 80.1 pre/pro, Aloia amplifiers, and an Oppo-93 feeding the Integra via HDMI) the sound had the dimensionality I was used to hearing at home, whether we went for Waldrep's "Stage" or "Audience" mix. That was with my eyes shut. But watching the program with the sanctioned active 3D glasses added a degree of artificiality that, frankly, undid most of the illusion of reality that the top-notch audio had engendered. The presentation reminded me of one of those "pop-up" books you used to get as a kid. Chesnutt's piano player was practically in your lap to one side of the screen and then there was a void until ones eyes reached the headliner standing at mid-stage. If we were describing this as a recording, we’d call it "discontinuous" or "over-etched." Another audio parallel related to "speed." With the best modern audio equipment and the recordings we play on them, we're used to a transient velocity that allows for high degrees of sonic detail and clarity, technology that will keep up with, say, the fastest runs that virtuoso pianists like Mark-André Hamelin or the late Art Tatum can throw at us. Watching Bryan Pezzone's hands—he assists on keyboard for James Walker's BD, in addition to his disc as leader—is vertigo-inducing. For some reason, his hands look speeded up as he performs more rapid passages, they appear blurred and almost ahead of the piano sound that we hear. Same thing with the drummer; there's a disconnect between what we hear and what we see as he moves around the drum set for a solo. It's disconcerting and, ultimately, disqualifying when it comes to the AV experience being anything close to a surrogate for live.

High-end audio has labored mightily, collectively, to capture the subtle spatial cues and timbral details that can begin to fool us into believing we are dealing with the real McCoy. 3D video, in its infancy, is not a step forward toward reality; right now, at least, it's a flight to the rear.