Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio

  • Applying in-house technical research to help a rock legend achieve a longstanding artistic goal.
  • Providing a full spectrum of auralization services, from recording to museum installation.

3D audio recording and playback techniques have existed since the 1970s, but are not yet widely understood in the music world. Through decades of conducting acoustical research and using immersive sound to help clients meet architectural goals, Arup has developed unmatched capabilities in the field.

Because most of Arup’s acoustic consultants are also active musicians, we were eager to apply these skills to music as well as building projects. We therefore approached Lou Reed, with whom we had worked in the past, about collaborating on a 3D audio recording.

With a longstanding interest in pushing both the artistic and technical boundaries of popular music, Reed, like many other rock musicians, began experimenting with quadraphonic recordings in the 1970s. In the decades since he made a number of attempts to work with 3D audio, but was consistently disappointed by lackluster results.

Despite skepticism that we could succeed where others had failed, Reed agreed to have Arup record two performances of his Metal Machine Trio composition at New York’s Blender Theater in 2009. After hearing the 14-channel mix replayed in our SoundLab, he was extremely pleased, pronouncing the recording “the best [unprintable] thing I’ve ever heard!”

We subsequently worked together to prepare an audio installation of the Metal Machine Trio performance at the University Art Museum at California State University at Long Beach. The exhibit provides visitors with an exact replica of the performance’s sound as experienced from Reed’s position on stage. We programmed the four 16-minute segments of the piece to run in a continuous loop throughout the duration of the exhibition.

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Design book 2013 front cover
  • Lou Reed during the performance. Credit Dave Rife. Copyright Arup.Open gallery

    Composed in the mid-1970s, Metal Machine Trio is now recognized as a groundbreaking musical achievement.

  • Microphone with audience in background. Credit Dave Rife. Copyright Arup.Open gallery

    Arup's acoustic consultants applied techniques developed through decades of in-house research.