Teldex engineer René Möller: 'Consumers need convincing on power of immersive audio'

For nearly 25 years, producer and engineer René Möller has been plying his trade as one of the most revered exponents of his craft at Berlin’s Teldex Studio. One of the biggest private studios in the world, its legendary recording hall, as well as its combination of vintage gear and cutting edge products has made it a popular location for classical orchestras across the globe. Here, Möller discusses his role with the studio to date, as well as the need to convince the masses of the power of immersive audio, and how Merging Technologies has played a pivotal part in his working process.

How did you get into the world of production and engineering?

I don't know exactly! It started when I finished school, but I was never really ‘the keyboard guy’ or ‘the soldering guy’. I was brought up in a boys choir boarding school. And somehow I got this idea of combining music and technology. And this stayed with me from there.

I started studying in Berlin, and I think I was quite lucky at some moments in life. I did an internship at Teldex Studio – formerly Warner – where one of my university teachers was working. And I got stuck there!

Due to some probably lucky coincidences, it was at the time when Warner started DVD audio. So, there was a lot of extra work requiring double control rooms, double editing, and double approval. So I had a very smooth transition from university to ‘real life’. And it could have gone badly because Warner disappeared more or less and shut down the facilities at Teldex. Luckily, my colleagues started the Teldex Studio on the same premises and they kept me on and got me working there while they founded a new company.

I had a lot of freedom to experiment in all areas, be it musical, be it technological. And, of course, this was the time when the transition to digital audio workstations had already begun, although not to the extent that we imagine today.

That's basically where I still am. In 2010 I had the chance to join the company as a partner and I still have the opportunity to work on great music in great surroundings with great artists. And I have the privilege of doing both the musical work and the technological or sound creation work.

Also, about 10 years ago, I was asked if I would like to apply for the professorship at the University of Arts where I studied myself. And I was lucky enough to somehow get selected. So, I have the privilege of passing this knowledge on to the next generation.

Were there any ‘big break’ moments that helped push your career to new levels?

To name a single project would be unfair. I see it more as an evolution, and having the opportunity to work with world-class musicians enables you to do the same thing again and again. And on the musical side you can establish a trustworthiness with the artist, which leads to word of mouth and that can bring breakthrough points.

Having the opportunity to work with the world's most famous orchestras, be it Vienna Philharmonic or Berlin Philharmonic, is a privilege that can't be overstated. And then on the other hand, having the chance to work with chamber musicians and singers in a very intimate studio setting is another amazing aspect.

To help produce a media interpretation of what they're doing is a real privilege, it’s like you become an invisible part of that. And that's where technology comes in and gives us the tools to be able to do this.

Has the evolution of technology during your career changed any of the core principles of your craft as an engineer or a producer? Or are the fundamentals of your work still largely the same?

It's workflow, basically. And that workflow has become more and more streamlined. As gear has become smaller yet still as reliable as before, it has made it possible to do a lot more work at short notice.

On the other hand, for example, editing and mixing has merged into a single process; the worlds of engineering and producing have become closer and closer and more or less unified. What you can do with a workstation today might not differ so much from a workstation from 10 years ago, but from 20 years ago, it's a huge difference.

What are your thoughts on the rise of immersive audio? Have you done a lot of work in this area?

Well, I think we started out on immersive work rather late. I think it was in early 2020 that I constructed our first immersive control room. And actually, it's the biggest joy to work in immersive audio, whether classical music or acoustic music. I think immersive audio is brilliant.

However, I'm a little worried that we [as an industry] might not be being bold enough to really convince the customer of the power of immersive audio. The customer must somehow be blown away by the sonic experience, and the problem is that we need the right musical setting to demonstrate to the customer something that is really different from stereo. There are some amazing enhancements that can be achieved with immersive audio, but it's nothing that will convince most non-professionals of the need for immersive audio. 

Teldex recorded an orchestral version of the winning entry for Eurovision this year - Nemo’s The Code. What was the process like?

First of all, it wasn‘t the winning song but an orchestral version of the winning song, performed (and recorded from scratch) by the winner Nemo along with the orchestra of Nemo‘s home town Biel in Switzerland. This orchestral version was recorded by the end of April and released just two days in advance of the ESC final.

The idea for this somehow emerged between Capitano music (Nemo‘s agency) Universal Switzerland and the orchestra, and Teldex was brought into the picture by Deutsche Grammophon‘s Christian Badzura. Knowing our expertise in classical and overdub productions it took no more than one conference call between all of us to agree that we were all crazy enough to do this with only one week of pre-roll and another week for post production!

Recording in the small but most charming theater of Biel together with Nemo and the TOBS (Theater Orchester Biel Solothurn) was a fantastic experience not only for their musicianship, but also for the spirit of competing and ‘winning’ in sight of the upcoming ESC.

In the immersive audio world the Anubis is an amazing monitoring control surface. René Möller

What role did Merging and Neuman products play in the process?

It is not only the tradition of Telefunken, Neumann, Teldec and now Teldex that we can‘t think of a recording not using any Neumann microphone, but also part of Teldex’s signature sound to do (especially our orchestra) productions with a Tree of M50 (in the studio) or TLM 50 (on the road).

The short notice of this production, and the road between Berlin and Biel, called for a scalable, reliable and versatile solution to establish a first class studio environment in a place where there is no studio infrastructure. Here‘s why we’ve relied on Merging gear and software for over a decade now. Being able to get 32 pristine mic-preamps with conversion to Ravenna in a 2RU box is the key to get the complete recording rig in an estate car together with playback-capability for a complete symphony orchestra and conductor.

Two things have proven especially helpful for this production: the compact size Neumann KH 150 for a decent control room sound in a theater‘s dressing room and the versatility of Merging‘s Anubis (we actually had two on hand here).

Tell us about your relationship with Merging Technologies. How did that come about and what role does its products play in your working process?

Our traditional workstation back in the early 2000s was from Sonic Solutions. And I think we more or less pushed it to its limits. We did a 24-track editing of the St. Matthew Passion in 2000 or 2001. This was probably the technological limit of the day. Subsequently, by word of mouth amongst colleagues, we decided to try out the Pyramix and we’ve been using it ever since. This was due to very, very good and direct support by the German distributor back then. But Merging proved to be a very direct, approachable company. They have always been open to comments, to remarks, to requests, and have been very reactive. And that’s probably because they are as passionate about their product as we are about music production.

The flexibility and scalability of their virtual mixer has been so useful as we use no mixer at all when we are on the road. We started going on the road around 2007 with just a converter and a Pyramix. And about the same time, their Horus came on the market.

I think we were one of the first to get one, and I still remember when Claude Cellier [Merging founder and CEO] was calling me and telling me about the product and how I could make use of it. And we still have that same machine.

You also make use of the Merging Technologies Anubis. How does that figure into your work?

The Anubis has become very interesting. In the immersive audio world, it’s an amazing monitoring control surface. It fits in here perfectly. We started its Monitor Mission feature where you can just design as many sources as you want. You can even include other hardware outputs, for example, and control it via the Anubis. And this in connection with the talkback facilities is filling in a missing link in the way you can establish a DAW workflow - not only in post-production, but also with location recording.

I'm always fascinated by how people use the Anubis because everyone you speak to seems to have a different function for it. There's so much you seem to be able to do with it. You can even fry an egg on the backside!