Press Release

Release Date: 7 May 1999

CONTACT: Carla Scaletti / Symbolic Sound Corp / 217-355-6273 /

Symbolic Sound's Kyma Sound Design Workstation Used in Phantom Menace and New THX Trailer

Champaign Illinois- When the long awaited Star Wars: Episode One--The Phantom Menace opens in theatres on May 19, it promises to be as much a feast for your ears as for your eyes. Providing intensity and realism for all those highly touted visual effects is an entire aural universe designed Ben Burtt--the person who invented the term "sound design" when he created the sounds for the very first Star Wars picture. There is a lot more to sound design than just footsteps and sound effects. A sound designer literally designs a complete, imaginary, self-consistent world of sound which is arguably more memorable and emotionally affective than even the visual world of the film. All you have to do is consider how the sound of a light saber and R2D2's voice have entered into the common memory for proof that sounds have a unique way of sticking in our memories and rekindling the emotions associated with those memories.

Many of the special effects you hear in Phantom Menace (especially during the pod race and sub scenes) were generated using technology developed by Symbolic Sound Corporation in Champaign Illinois. The Kyma Sound Design Workstation became part of Ben Burtt's arsenal of sound production tools when he first started work on the project over a year ago. According to a recent interview in Mix magazine (June 99), Burtt's sound design tools for this project consisted of a Synclavier, a Kyma Sound Design workstation, and an old favorite: 1/4 inch analog tape.

Burtt sent his colleague, computer-whiz Matt Wood, out to Champaign for intensive training on the system in January 1998. Then, back at the Skywalker Ranch, the two of them set to work creating a "sound library", a virtual world of sonic elements that would make up the universe of Phantom Menace. Kyma is a graphical language for manipulating sounds; it's not just a synthesizer or effects box that does just one set of sounds. So it allowed for Burtt and Wood to create their own unique algorithms for manipulating live voices and synthesizing the sounds made by imaginary devices, ambiences, and creatures that have--quite literally--never been heard before.

As riveting as the special visual effects may be, it is the sound for Phantom Menace that comes closest to creating an truly immersive environment. Unlike the visuals, which are projected on a screen at the front of the theatre only, the sound will be sent on multiple channels to speakers positioned throughout the theatre. Phantom Menace will be the first film to be shown in the new Dolby Digital-Surround EX format--providing even more channels of sound and more chair-shaking bass than the 5.1 Surround Sound technology which was premiered in the original Star Wars film.

THX, a division of LucasFilm that works to standardize and improve the delivery of sound in movie theatres, will be premiering a new, Dolby Digital-Surround EX version of their audio logo that will be shown just prior to Phantom Menace (and from then on, prior to every film shown in THX-certified theatres). Marco d'Ambrosio-- a composer, sound designer and THX veteran, now in his own company MarcoCo. -- took elements of the original logo and augmented them with about 20 ProTools tracks of new elements generated using the Kyma Sound Design Workstation.

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!"