Release Date: 20 April 199
When THX decided they needed a Dolby Digital-Surround EX version of their trailer to debut in theatres in time for the Lucasfilm release of Star Wars: Episode One--The Phantom Menace on May 19th, they immediately knew who to turn to: Marco d'Ambrosio. D'Ambrosio -- a composer, sound designer and THX veteran, now in his own company MarcoCo. -- had always been known as "the keeper of the chord" back when he worked at the THX division of Lucasfilm. Marco had been involved with the first version of THX "Broadway" trailer for 5.1 surround, as well as most of the other THX trailers, so he was the logical choice when it came time to update "Broadway". Not only that, but he had just recently completed another trailer project -- the new Dolby "Rain" trailer and sound mark -- for which he created the entire soundtrack.
The sounds for the original logo (that familiar swarm-coalescing-into-powerful-glissando-ending-in-a-somewhat-sharp-D-major-chord that precedes the film in every THX-certified theatre) were generated back in 1985 on the ASP Audio Signal Processor hardware. The ASP and original THX "Broadway" soundtrack were created by Andy Moorer, then head of a massive Lucasfilm-sponsored audio research project that later evolved into the DroidWorks company. Moorer went on to found Sonic Solutions, Inc., manufacturers of the well-known digital audio workstation and DVD authoring environment.
For the Surround EX version of the trailer, d'Ambrosio took elements of the original recording and augmented them with about 20 ProTools tracks of new elements generated using the Kyma Sound Design Workstation from Symbolic Sound Corporation.
The genesis of the sounds had a particular significance for Symbolic Sound president, Carla Scaletti, who had been an admirer of Andy Moorer's work for several years. "Back when we were in school building our own wire-wrapped signal processor as a research project, Moorer was something of a hero to us. It was the first time since the invention of the Movieola that someone was paying attention to the technology of film sound; Andy Moorer and George Lucas are responsible for bringing film sound into the digital age. When I found out that Marco wanted to use his Kyma system on the new version, it was like making a connection with that history and with someone whose work had inspired us back when we were students."
D'Ambrosio was assigned the technically and artistically demanding task of re-designing something that his clients already knew and loved--of bringing it into the new millennium without losing the identity and power of the original trailer. He started out by consulting with Andy Moorer on the origins of "The Chord". It turned out its original source was a bowed cello note on an open A string. All that Moorer had left of the original was an old Sun streaming tape cartridge with the patch programming for the Lucasfilm ASP, so d'Ambrosio had to go with resampling his own copies of original mag elements of the audio in 24-bits and at 96 kHz. He also got Scaletti from Symbolic Sound to listen to the original chord and the two of them did some brainstorming on approaches to getting similar-yet-new effects out of Kyma. All three of them agreed that the ending chord is sort of a D but also quite a bit sharp--which may contribute some of the feeling of energy in that final resolution.
In-between meeting all his other project deadlines at MarcoCo., d'Ambrosio went to work on the chord, creating wavetable files from cello samples and plugging them into various Kyma patches, tweaking the amount of randomness, swarming and voicing of the final chord. Then he brought all the elements into DigiDesign's ProTools-24 for layering, crossfading, and assignment to the many channels that make up the new Dolby Digital-Surround EX.
It was a challenge bringing all the elements together, but finally, on the day of the deadline, they mixed what is now known as "Broadway 2000" at Skywalker Ranch. Gary Rizzo of Lucas Digital engineered the final mix on a new AMS Neve DFC console, keeping the entire signal path, from source to print master in the digital domain at 24 bits. The consensus? "The general comment from everyone was 'It Rocks!'," said d'Ambrosio.
"The new chord is much fuller, and, although at 15 seconds it doesn't have the same time to swarm as the original, the same effect is achieved, with much greater bass." So when can we hear it? D'Ambrosio smiles. "Listen for it in front of The Phantom Menace at a THX theatre near you!"