Olympic sound design: 3,600 microphones and counting

Professor Joshua Reiss of the Faculty of Electronics and Computer Science, Queen Mary, wrote for a conversation on the history of Olympic audio and its impact on the Olympic sound design of Covid-19.

The modern Olympics are one of the biggest sporting events in the world, but relatively few people see the action. Therefore, the game progresses once every four years.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were first held by international broadcast. Over 14 hours of black and white footage was sent to the first geostationary satellite, from which it was sent to 23 countries around the world.

The Syncom3 satellite was just launched 2 months ago, it has made broadcasting a remarkable achievement. But that was not the only challenge.

At the end of 1963, the acoustic experts in Tokyo became the new acoustic system for the Yoyogi National Stadium. Key questions. The main stand was covered with a tent-shaped roof by the architect Kenzo Tange. It’s a momentary architectural classic, but it’s a headache for sound designers. The canopy reflected the sound below, creating a bass boom. The delay of the speakers meant the amplified voices of people behind the stadium were almost incomprehensible. Additionally, the frequency response of the speaker itself is very limited, eliminating almost anything outside the reach of the adult human voice.

Olympic sound design

Over 900 musicians and singers participated in the opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Twenty microphones were placed around the band and performers to amplify the music. Delays have been introduced into the loudspeakers so that the stadium audience can hear the sound as they see it playing further down the pitch. Recorded sound effects, such as the ringing of Japanese temple bells, were mixed with live radio and television broadcasts.

There was a limit to the configuration. We needed a microphone in a convenient location, such as a ceremonial platform, royal box, orchestra, or control room, to receive interviews and announcements. However, these microphones were fixed in place.


The opening ceremony of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

This meant, among other things, that there were also restrictions on speaker placement and levels to avoid howling sound loops. Howling This happens when a microphone placed too close to the speaker picks up too much of its own amplified and played sound.

As the number of spectators at the following Olympics grew, we went from wanting to hear the action to feeling like we were in the front row to feeling like we are now. In the middle of the action. And every innovation at an Olympics is the expectation of the baseline for the next Olympics.

Sound engineers pioneered the acoustic simulation of the 1984 Summer Olympics. To model the sound of the main site of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, it was used to predict sound characteristics throughout the stadium. This allows advanced modeling of the acoustic characteristics of all sites. Olympic Games.

I saw the introduction of the Sydney 2000, NS digital audio network Sending high quality uncompressed audio over the Internet without significant loss or delay – a new technology at the time. It is now found in studios, concert halls, schools and conference centers around the world.

Sound of the COVID era

COVID has completely changed the sound design of the Olympics. NS Lack of spectators This means that there is no roaring crowd. It changes the sound of space. Sound reverberates around the stadium Very different When there is no body or clothing to absorb sound. And when they’re relatively quiet compared to the constant volume of tens of thousands of people, we hear cicadas calls, a faint hum, and camera shutter clicks.

This is partially resolved by the false noise of the crowd. Personalized recordings of cheers at an event similar to the last Olympics are played through loudspeakers around the stadium.

Many sports broadcasters also overlay what they call the audio mat, the ambient sound of the full stadium when no action is taking place. However, the noise of the canned crowd is a challenge in itself, as it completely clashes with the sight of vacant seats.

But from a sound design perspective, having an empty stadium isn’t that bad. Sometimes it’s just different. The microphone is located very close to the sound source to capture only that sound. And with even less background noise, these spot mics can better capture the cracks, pops, and rattling impacts associated with racket, wheel, body, and dirt collisions. You can more clearly hear the coaching of passers-by and the screams of the players on the team.

Studies show Expect such sound to be in an amazing soundstage. How such a lack of nuance can affect Realistic We recognize that there is a record.

Experts were looking for new ways to capture, render and even enhance the sound of Tokyo 2020 Excited long before COVID hit. More than ever, these Olympic Games Immersive Audio ..

Microphone – 3,600 of them – Placed everywhere, suspended from the ceiling in closed areas, recessed into climbing walls and placed on water polo goal posts. The different sounds they pick up are mixed and played so that viewers can hear what the athlete might hear.

The Olympic Games are once again at the forefront of innovation in sound design. There are challenges and opportunities. “

This article first appeared in a conversation.

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