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Musician's high-tech microphone makes waves

MIKE SLAUGHTER/TORONTO STAR

`THE FUTURE OF SOUND:' Toronto musician and sound designer Mike Godfrey,
in his Richmond St. W. studio, holds Global Sound Microphone System Holophone
that will be used in Sunday's NHL All-Star Game at the Air Canada Centre.


Mike Godfrey's Holophone a hit in Hollywood, Super Bowl.
By Chris Zelkovich, Toronto Star Staff Reporter

An idea hatched while walking on a beach in Greece seven years ago could put Mike Godfrey into living rooms around the world one day.

It has already put him in the movies, at last Sunday's Super Bowl and at this Sunday's National Hockey League All-Star Game.

The 32-year-old Toronto musician, composer and sound designer's invention - a surround-sound microphone called a Global Sound Microphone System Holophone - has been called ``the future of sound'' by one audio publication.

``It's all kind of amazing,'' Godfrey said from his studio, a converted three-storey house on Richmond St. W. ``Sometimes I can't believe how fast things are moving.''

The Holophone, a football-shaped glass fibre unit holding seven microphones, produces such realistic sound that director Oliver Stone used it for crowd scenes in his recent football movie Any Given Sunday. It's also been used to supply surround-sound for ABC's high-definition television broadcast of the Super Bowl.

``It gives you the quality of a surround-sound mix without having to place seven separate microphones in the stadium,'' ABC's Robin Thomas said.

The Holophone advantage is that it produces live surround sound in five channels. Normally, surround sound is produced in a studio, mixing in sound from a variety of microphones.

That precludes its use for live events. But not with the Holophone.

For the Super Bowl, one Holophone was placed at the 50-yard line just behind the players' bench.

Mixed in with other microphones, it produced what Thomas called a sound ``that was like being there.''

Thomas said conventional microphones produce crowd sounds that are basically noise.

``This (holophone) gives you an intimate feel,'' he said. ``You could hear individual people clapping, cheering and whistling. It was as if you were in a seat at the stadium.''

The Holophone idea was hatched on a beach when Godfrey was amazed to hear life-like footsteps on a music track on his Walkman. He wondered if such realistic sound could be accomplished without headphones.

While doing sound work to supplement his income as a musician, he came up with the idea of a multiple-microphone receiver. He fitted a binaural microphone (one shaped like a human head) with 10 microphones and recorded the sounds of traffic in front of his studio.

``The sound blew me away,'' he said.

After much planning and pitching, Godfrey won a grant from the National Research Council to develop a prototype. Of course, he first made sure that he patented the idea.

Godfrey won't reveal how much money went into the project, other than to say the grant was ``a sizeable amount that allowed us to do the job properly.'' Total costs have run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At this point, Godfrey said the Holophone could carry an estimated price tag of about $10,000.

Godfrey and his family business, Rising Sun Productions - employees include his parents, brothers and sisters-in-law - are working on a miniaturized version that could be attached to camcorders.

``You'll be able to record birthday parties in surround sound,'' Godfrey said.

A self-confessed ``hockey maniac,'' Godfrey is looking forward to Sunday's hockey game and possibly a bit of a break.

``The last few months have been insane,'' he said.