How Denmark's Sonic College is educating the next generation in immersive sound

Headliner speaks to Lars Tirsbæk, audio expert and lecturer at Denmark’s Sonic College about its sound design programme, the ever increasing number of Atmos projects passing through its doors, and the Merging Technologies kit that is so essential to its offering…

Since opening in 2010, Denmark’s Sonic College has provided a state-of-the-art hub for students looking to embark on a career in sound design to hone their craft and discover the full range of opportunities that exists in art form. From music and film to TV, gaming, and more, the College enables students to explore an array of options and get to grips with the technologies shaping the business.

Here, Tirsbæk discusses trends in sound design, education, and the rise and rise of immersive audio…

Tell us about the origins of Sonic College.

Sonic College is a sound design programme based in Denmark. It is a three-and-a-half-year course where we educate youngsters to become sound designers. Some are looking to work within film and TV, some in game audio, podcasting, music, and public welfare technology. There are lots of different areas we operate in. The college started in 2010 and last September we moved into a brand-new purpose-built campus.

How did you first become involved in sound design?

When I was a teenager, I dreamt of being a keyboard player in a band, so my background is in music. I had taken some pre-conservatory courses, and when applying to join the music conservatory I started thinking about what I really wanted to do, as I love playing music, but I also enjoyed working with synthesizers and creating sounds and playing with things like vocal processing on stage.

Then in 2010 I found this programme had started and I applied. I started in 2011 and finished in 2015, so I’m educated at the college myself. After that, the head of the programme contacted me and asked if I wanted to teach on the programme, because I had done a lot of live sound and worked with sound and music production a lot in general, so I have a good track record in audio. I started as a guest lecturer in recording technologies and music production, and that turned into a full-time position. Then when we moved to the new campus I was put in charge of the build and the studio spec and design.

How has the popularity of the course grown over the years?

For the first two years nobody really knew the programme. But, it turned out there were a lot of young people like me who were musicians who wanted to know different ways of doing music and being creative with sound. In Danish education there was a gap for this. When I started we were 24 students per year, and in 2015 when I completed the course, we had 40 seats per year and there were 150 students applying. We’ve been stable around that figure ever since.

Do you see people joining with a particular sound design vocation in mind?

It starts with music for most of them. Of course, some want to do sound for film or gaming, but mostly it’s people coming from a music background. A lot of them join wanting to be the next big producer for Billie Eilish and people like that. But once they come in and we start to educate them, we tell them about all these different areas where they can work with sound. We ask them in the beginning what they want to do and 75% say they want to work in music, and by the end it’s about 10-20% as they get to see all the different areas in which they can still work in music but it’s for things like film, TV, gaming, interactive design and podcast. We see them explore several different fields.

We have all these different needs, and the Merging Anubis can handle all of them. Lars Tirsbæk, audio expert and lecturer, Sonic College

Tell us about the spec of the facility.

We have a Dolby Atmos dubbing stage and cinema playback room where we can do sound design and mixing, and we can playback theatrical content. We have 40 Meyer Sound speakers and a Pro Tools setup with a rendering and mastering unit, and an Avid console. All the things you need for doing Dolby Atmos. And it’s an 80-seat cinema. In addition, we have a Foley stage with a control room that has a Neumann system, two mastering studios, two stereo editing studios, a fully equipped recording studio, synthesizer lab, and an immersive atrium with 180 speakers.

We also have 7.1 classrooms where we can seat 40 students and do critical listening. We have a Merging Anubis as a monitor controller, and it is also used for streaming. It’s a hybrid setup, so the cue output of the Anubis has a mic feed going out and then it's whatever we are listening to in the room going out through the cue output to the computer running Zoom.

When did you first come across the Anubis?

We started in around 2020. We wanted a room where we could do this hybrid stuff because we already had some lecturing going on from abroad. So, we wanted a setup where it was easy to have international lecturers but the class together in a room. I was looking for a monitor controller that could do multi-inputs and immersive inputs and multichannel inputs, so you could put a Blu Ray player through an audio over IP converter, things like that. We did that via AES67 so a lot of the inputs are Dante devices just going into the Anubis, and then we can do all different types of stuff. As a sound college, it’s important we have different connectivity because one day a lecturer will come in with their own sound card and they need to use that. Then we have line inputs in the Anubis we can use. We have all these different needs, and the Anubis can handle all of them. That’s why we started using it. It’s very versatile. There aren’t that many network-based controllers out there.

We also have another Anubis in our Dolby Atmos mastering suite, where it is used as a monitor controller. In this room our students work in Atmos for film, music and gaming. There is a home entertainment receiver outputting 7.1.4 analog into a converter and that is going to the network. Through this receiver we have an Xbox, and we can connect a computer and the students can work in Unity and the middleware Wwise in Atmos for gaming. We have a Mac Pro running Pro Tools and that goes to a converter and to the network, so through the Anubis they can choose to be listening to the system audio running through the virtual sound device, and they can listen to the output from the home entertainment receiver, which can be all kinds of different multimedia stuff decoded to Atmos or stereo. And then they can choose to hear signals from the Dolby render unit. Also, the Anubis is the calibration point of the whole system, so the people that did calibrate the speaker system used the Anubis for EQing, delaying, bass management and all this stuff. That is unique for a monitor controller - that it can do all of this straight out of the box.

How heavily does Atmos mixing feature in the programme?

Back in 2018 we decided to make our first immersive mix room. We knew it was going to become a big thing and we wanted our students to be educated in the newest technologies. It’s not like we don’t like other immersive formats, but we need to educate our students for what the industry demands, and right now the format is Dolby. Maybe one day it will be Sony 360 or Ambisonics, but right now it is Dolby that’s everywhere and we need to teach our students that.

Is there anything about the Anubis that lends itself especially well to immersive projects?

The way the Anubis is set up, the interface makes it easy for students to work with immersive like it was a stereo signal. There is no change in how they see it and work with it. Our students are born into the immersive age, so they don’t know how it was when we only had stereo. The feature sets that we thought were good 10 years ago are so outdated now, so not being able to solo or mute a speaker in an immersive format on a monitor controller is like, ‘how did you work like that’? There are some really interesting things going on there and the Anubis was one of the first to be able to do that. And the students can learn how to use it pretty fast. It’s also a complex system and you can do so much with it. It has so many features, so we do try to make sure they understand its full range of capabilities.