Music History

RIP The Creator of Surround Sound

If you have a home theatre or have gone to a movie sometime over the last thirty years, what you heard was due in large part to the work of Henry Jacobs. NPR reports on one the pioneers of surround sound.

Jacobs’ work with audio tape culminated in the Vortex Experiments, a series of live events at a planetarium in San Francisco in the late ’50s. Jacobs placed loudspeakers on the walls surrounding the audience on all sides, which made a big impression on Walter Murch, the Academy Award-winning sound designer ofApocalypse Now, as Murch told me in 2005.

“He invented this idea of surround sound,” Murch said. “A sound that moves all the way around in the theaters is directly linked to the kind of experiments that Henry was doing at the Morrison Planetarium. It’s now the standard format for film sound.”

If Jacobs never got a lot of credit for his accomplishments, it didn’t seem to bother him very much, according to John Brien, head of Important Records, which reissued some of Jacobs’ work on CD: “Maybe if he was more caught up in his own ego, he would’ve pursued recognition, and maybe worked one thing for longer? Instead of being the catalyst for many different things.”

Read more and hear the NPR radio report here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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