Ozark Henry on Immersive Sound Experiences

What if you could immerse your guests in a 360° sound experience? Something they never experienced before. That's what Ozark Henry's 'Immersive Sound' is all about. Kevin invited the artist to the studio to ask him how it works.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Ozark, welcome to our eventplanner.tv studio.


You're here in Turnhout, nearby. At the FRESH conference. Giving, and I need to read it, the 3D immersive sound experiences.


You have to explain that to me.

I am here to explain what immersive sound is. And why it is such a great tool to create an experience. A unique experience.

Yes, that is what events are about: creating unique experiences for your guests.


And you have a solution with sound.

Well, it's a solution. It's one of the solutions. But I think it's a great tool and it's a tool which is way more powerful, I think, than anything we can do with visuals.

So, I think that says a lot. I think it's a daring statement, to do so.

But it has to do with what immersive sound is. And how we experience immersive sound, as a human being.

Let's start with: what is immersive sound?

Immersive sound is 3D audio, meaning: to be immersed by sound. I always use as an example: put yourself in a place that has a sound.

For instance: for some people that could be like walking in the woods. You're in the middle of the woods. You close your eyes and you take in all the sounds of the wood.

Meaning: whatever sound is happening, in front of you, above you, around you. Sitting still, moving. All of that sound, to be immersed by it, that is immersive sound.

So, actually, it's sound, the way we experience it in our daily lives. What is so special about it? If you're able...

Like: what I do is create content, you know, with that quality. It is that we can tap into how we physically feel music. Because hearing is the best defense mechanism we have. Meaning: we're scanning our environment all of the time. When we're in a place that has a lot of impulses, it is very tiring. That's the reason why noise canceling devices are quite popular. Because when you're in a place where you get a lot of impulses, you know, you have a lot to handle. So, that means you get really tired. It works on you.

Yes, walking in New York City, for example, is a real challenge.

Yes, and that's one of the examples I also use when explaining what immersive sound is.

New York is a great example. New York is loud, very present. And you've got impulses screaming at you from everywhere. If you walk on the streets...

I always use a place which is familiar to me. If you walk on Broadway, close to Washington Square Park, and you're heading up to Houston. There's the traffic. There's firetrucks in the distance. There's people grabbing a cab. There's food trucks. There's the pavements that are full of students commuting, people commuting. People being loud on their phone. Allover there are impulses, you know, getting at you. If you would close your eyes, you could definitely say: this is New York. You know? It is full on.

Yes, it is.

So, imagine that you could just grab that moment. Of experiencing New York, on the pavement of Broadway. You could take that moment with you and you could revisit it at any time. At any place. That is immersive sound.

Because in normal sound and music we use, that sound is down-sampled to stereo. We have two speakers, left and right and in some cases even Dolby surround or whatever. But that's not quite yet what you are doing.

No, not at all. Because stereo, it just came from, I think, the idea that we have two ears. But we never listen left and right. We listen to what's in front of us. What's above us. What's behind us. So, in a certain way, it makes no sense, compared to what sound is telling us.

Other devices, like surround: it's just telling you what's in front of you. Or behind you. On one level. But, if you walk through New York, that's not what you're getting from New York.

It's 360°.

Yes, for sure, for sure.

And the thing is that our brain, that is used to understand a 3D format from early on...

Because of the scanning system. It is scanning sound in 3D as a defense mechanism. To understand: where am I? What is it that I'm hearing? What's happening? And then if you look: is that okay, does that make sense? So, your brain is trained to understand these 3D formats way better than, for instance, stereo music, which is abstract. Because there's something only happening at a certain place. Has nothing to do with a spatial experience. And is a lot of information, crammed in a very small place. So, there you need guidance, saying like: this is the lead. This is the melody. This is what you should look for. You should focus on just the rhythm. Depending on what kind of music is performed to you.

As with natural sound, your brain just figures it out by itself. And the interesting thing is that, if you use it as a tool for an event, also taking in and acknowledging that the strongest memory that we have is sound.

It's also the longest memory. If we'd lose our memory, the last thing that remains is sound.

Oh, I didn't know.

The sound that we remember.

But also, the sound that we remember, the sound we got from our daily life. Meaning: that immersive sound is the last thing we remember. So, the cool thing is: if you would create...

If you want to create like a very special moment. Which I think is an event.

It should be, yes.

That using immersive sound is a very strong tool, to underline that moment. To emphasize not only the moment itself, but what is special about the moment.


And how do you do that, then? You say immersive sound comes from everywhere. That means you have a lot of speakers? Or how do I have to see...

Well, you need to have, at least, you need to have at least eight speakers. Meaning you need to create a cube, in which you will invite the people who are part of the experience.

But as an artist, then you need to not only take into account what am I going to play. But also, where in the spatial environment is the sound coming from?

Well, the thing is that, the way I look at what an event is, is not only saying: what is it I want to play? What does the event want to communicate? Because the thing with immersive sound, it goes beyond just music. You know? It can have, like, an impact.

There's not only the taste in what you bring. There's also the medicine. Because I compare immersive sound with a cough syrup. Part of it is of course a medicine, because that's what it's made for. But because we would like to take it, we've added something that is flavour. A nice taste. There's like sugar added to it. But I am interested in the medicine part. And what I build...

The experience that I build, I build in also a medicine part. Knowing that there's certain vibrations. There's certain frequencies. There's certain ways of handling rhythms, which are very natural. And to which we are very sensitive. Meaning that we can create an atmosphere. People get into a room. And they feel like: ah, this is a nice room. Before they get taste. Before you start communicating what they're there for.

Because the sound is the strongest of all senses then?

And it's a great tool to combine it with the other senses.

So, one of the things that I do, which I love to do, is: I work on a music pairing project. With Krug champagne. I translate their champagnes in the fullest expression of sound. Which is immersive sound. And they have, for sure, the fullest expression in champagne. I'm a big fan of Krug, so...

But the cool thing is then, that one can see, whenever we do these special events, which are called Krug encounters and where we do Krug echoes, meaning that we link the fullest expression of champagne, with the fullest expression of sound. Which makes that the whole experience is just lifted in a very special way. It becomes physical, you know.

That's indeed unique.

And what we do, and that's why I love working with them, it's beyond just music and champagne. We translate, you know. We translate the DNA that is that champagne. With the language which is music. But in the fullest expression. Immersive sound. So, it becomes like a physical thing.

Is there a limit in the size of the venue where you can do this? Should it be an intimate setting? Or can it be a very large setting as well?

There is no limit to the size. I think that the only thing that limits the place, is what you want to communicate. What is the event about? I think it's important sometimes, to think like: what is it you want to...

What's your message? What's your story?


Yes, and how can it add to that.

I think if your is something personal, then I think it makes more sense to downsize it. To make it an event for a group of people that have at least the chance to get to know each one who is present.

No, I was thinking maybe there is a limit on technology perspective or...

Well, that's the great thing about technology these days.

It can solve everything.

It can really solve everything.

I'm just back from a trip to Shenzhen, China. And I have the luxury to have already been, a few times, to Silicon Valley. To see what's out there. To see the day after tomorrow, so to speak. I've seen things now, which...

It's completely beyond my imagination. I think there's no science-fiction film or any science-fiction novel, that grasps what they already can do.

It is?

It is beyond, it is absolutely beyond.

Sometimes it is eye-opening. It's very wowing. Sometimes very scaring too. Because the way that they're smart with things. And the way they are able to develop them at a speed. That they can bring things to the market, at a size which is...

All of that is just...

It's a bit beyond what we can sort of understand with our brains.

It is, it is. I can imagine some of our viewers will be watching your story and think: oh, that's something I need at my event.

Where can they find more information on your projects?

Well, I have a website, which is www.studioozarkhenry.com. And there they have the information. Where they can find a contact page. Have an idea of what we do. And if people reach out...

I built an experience studio next to my production facilities. It's in a very small town, near by the sea: Oostduinkerke. But it's an interesting place for people who come from far. Because I already had customers coming, for instance, from Switzerland. But even from China, or from the States. It's quite well connected to, like, Charles de Gaulle. Or the centre of London. Because I'm really close to Callais-Fréthun. So, I'm connected and disconnected at the same time.

And I think people who really want to understand it, it makes sense to come to my studio. See what I can do. How I work. And to see the full potential of immersive sound.

Yes, I wanted to mention there's also a TED talk. In San Francisco I thought it was.

Of course, you can only see the video in stereo, so that's not the same.

Yes, well, I was performing in immersive sound, but they broadcasted in stereo. So, it makes no sense. I can imagine that people look at it. And think: so, he played like some music. In San Francisco. San Francisco at a TEDx event. And there's also like a talk at Google, I did. But that's...

I think it's something I did four or five years ago, now.

So, that means - things are moving so fast and I've advanced in what I'm doing - that if I look at what I've done at that time, for me it's complete vintage. It's almost like I would look back and say: that's what I know from my childhood.


It's going that fast.

It's going very fast. It's going...

It is fantastic.

Because next year I'll be turning fifty. And thanks to the big experience that immersive sound is, and also seeing when doing these events, that is such a special thing. It's new. It's like inventing visuals.

Imagine that we had these events. We're having no visuals. No lightning at all. And then, having all the tools we've got today, I made that transition, just like that.

And that's so cool, you know. It makes me feel eighteen. And I think it also makes people, who can be part of an experience like that, feel very special. And that's what I like about it. It's about sharing. It's about connecting. And it's about having a moment that you grasp. That you couldn't have experienced if you weren't there, at that time.

So, it helps people to, I think, be more motivated. Like: next time I'm invited somewhere, I'll better go. Because they could be doing something really special.

Okay Ozark, thank you very much for coming over.


And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.