Frank Foti demonstrates his surround sound system.
For several years now, Music Box Supper Club has hosted a storyteller series. At one program, Music Box owner Mike Miller heard about locally based tech guru Frank Foti’s new approach to immersive sound.
Miller immediately thought of a new program he could put together that would feature Foti's state-of-the-art sound system. The Immersive Sound Listening Party, a new monthly event the club will host, kicks off on Feb. 4. You can find the upcoming schedule of Immersive Sound Listening Party events on the venue's website
“I invited Frank to come and give us a demonstration, and it knocked my socks off,” said Miller yesterday as Music Box Supper Club held an invite-only event to preview its upcoming Immersive Sound Listening Party Series by blasting classic tracks from Steely Dan, Bad Company and Led Zeppelin for a roomful of reporters and rock 'n’ roll aficionados. “We originally just talked about doing a storyteller night, but one of the most important aspects of this is that it’s like an album listening party. You probably went to one in your teens. You probably went to someone’s house or to a bar to listen to the new album. It was a great experience to listen to it together. When I heard this technology, I got really excited and envisioned combining the ideas of music experts who would choose which albums we could listen to in an immersive sound environment and then explain why it’s worthy to a crowd. It’s an old idea but built around cutting edge technology.”
Miller described the Music Box, which features a natural “box” in front of the stage, as “one of perfect spaces in the city” in terms of its sound.
“It’s uniform and has built-in insulation,” he said, adding that the Music Box has installed additional speakers and amps for the special series.
Foti spent time at WMMS as a studio engineer but left the once-great radio station and went on to build Telos Alliance, a company that produces sound processing equipment.
“He has invented something so amazing to me in terms of surround sound,” said Miller as he introduced Foti.
Foti explained that he and his late business partner Steve Church were trying to improve HD radio for FM in the late ’90s when they started experimenting with surround sound technology. They thought their technology might work well for cars, which are well-suited to surround sound.
“The format just didn’t work so well,” Foti explained at yesterday’s event. “But we still wanted to take stereo and turn it into surround sound. People have attempted it, but they all suck. I pondered this idea for a good 10 or 15 years and then the proverbial light bulb went off — my brain works slowly, like it's on vacuum tubes and not microchips. I was working day and night and then realized how it could work. I was so excited that I sat in my office until 4 the next morning [listening to various songs in surround sound]. My coworkers all said it sounded great, but I wanted ot make sure there wasn’t a business bias going on.”
For the ultimate test, Foti and Gary Katz, who had produced several Steely Dan albums, went to London to a “baby recording studio” named Abbey Road. Katz had lined up the opportunity to meet producer extraordinaire Hugh Padgham. At dinner with Padgham the night before, the producer told Foti, “I have to be honest with you. I’ve heard a lot of these things and they all sound like shit.”
Undeterred, Foti and Padgham went to the studio the next day and listened to a few tracks.
Padgham was blown away.
“We sat there for four hours,” says Foti. “We played Steely Dan and the Who and classical music and all kinds of stuff. It’s the first [surround sound processor] that’s truly natural. We preserve the produced content in the way that the artist and producer intended it. If they could have done an immersive recording back then, this is how they would have done it.”
The first program in the series will feature a "listening party" for Steely Dan's Aja
, which hasn't yet been remastered for surround sound even though Foti's company has been working on a new mix for commercial release. Katz will talk about the album via a live feed, and the album will be played in its entirety in 5.1 surround sound.
“This is a little bit out of the box," Miller said at the press conference. "We try to do different things at the Music Box, and this is a really unbelievable way to hear some of your favorite albums. [For upcoming programs,] I’m going to go around town and ask people to choose the albums that are special to them and talk about why the album is special and worthy of this experience.”
Immersive Sound Listening Party – Steely Dan’s
Aja, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4, Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Ave., 216-242-1250. Tickets: $10 ADV, $14 DOS, musicboxcle.com.