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In 1982 the pop music press reported that "Super star Paul McCartney and giant Japanese hi fi firms have been beating a path to the door of an inventor".
The inventor was Hugo Zuccarelli, an Italian born in the Argentine. The invention was Holophonics. It was an update on fifty year old dummy head recording.
When two microphones are put into the ears of an imitation human head, or live head, they capture the phase and amplitude clues that let our brain pinpoint the source of sound. If the feed from the microphones is recorded in stereo, and played back through headphones, the effect is suprisingly realistic surround sound.
Zuccarelli used an early digital PCM sound recorder, based on a Betamax VCR. This more accurately captured the phase clues. He built a dummy human body, which looked like a yak, christened it Ringo and rented it out to pop groups.
Pink Floyd used Ringo for The Final Cut. Avant garde group Psychic Tv added to the mystery by explaining: "As well as the use of conventional electronics Zuccarelli also uses silicon and organic fluids, not employing conventional audio signals".
CBS released a recording of sound effects, made by the inventor. The sleeve note said that if people did not hear the effect, their equipment or ears were to blame, and promised products with "a holophonic guarantee certificate".
Some puzzled shops racked the record with comedy or humour. In 1983 Zuccarelli published his new theory on hearing; the ear emits a reference tone which holophonics mimics to "create an acoustic hologram". The Institute of Laryngology and Otology branded this "devoid of scientific understanding, logic and rational thought".
Dummy head binaural is regulary re-discovered and re-invented - much like 3D movies and video. But all dummy systems suffer from the same fatal flaw. The effect disappears if playback is through loudspeakers because sound from both speakers reaches both ears.
Holophonics seems to have disappeared, too.