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Bringing the Theater Home

My first taste of the emotional impact of film music in a surround-sound environment still reverberates in my memory. The movie was the Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, the location was Hattiesburg, Miss., and the sensation was overwhelming. At least 200 four-inch speakers surrounded our 1961 eggshell-colored nine-passenger Country Squire Sedan parked in the middle of the Skyline Drive-In and flooded us with jolting Rickenbacker riffs and throbbing Ludwig backbeats. I was in the middle seat, the movie was brand new and the sound converged on our Ford wagon and then carried me away. From that very minute, I knew I would have a career in music. The fact that our garage was burning down when we returned home should have been an obvious sign to me, a warning. But that night’s multimedia experience overpowered any connection I might have had to rationality and sensible thinking.

Thirty-eight years later, the pleasures of 360-degree sound for movies and music have transformed the way many of us have equipped our living rooms. As a result, the market is flooded with surround equipment, much of it aimed at the lowest common denominator, designed to woo with bells, whistles and flash instead of real, honest sound. Just remember, it still boils down to what makes music sound “right” and what makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you hear a poignant phrase, say, from Chet Baker.

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