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Creating ‘Divine Tides,’ 2023’s Grammy-Winning Best Immersive Audio Album

The immersive version of 'Divine Tides' was the work of immersive mixer Eric Schilling and immersive producer Herbert Waltl.

Herbert Waltl’s Sony RA360 and Dolby Atmos mix room at mediaHyperium is based around a Neumann KH Series monitoring system. PHOTO: Courtesy of Eric Schilling
Herbert Waltl’s Sony 360RA and Dolby Atmos mix room at mediaHyperium is based around a Neumann KH Series monitoring system. PHOTO: Courtesy of Eric Schilling

Ricky Kej and Stewart Copeland scored a double at the 65th annual Grammy Awards earlier this year, winning for Best Immersive Audio album with their collaborative project, Divine Tides. This is the second Grammy the pair has won for the nine-song collection, which picked up the award for Best New Age album in 2022 in its original stereo release.

Divine tides The new version of the album, available in Sony 360 Reality Audio on various spatial audio streaming platforms, was the work of immersive mixer Eric Schilling and immersive producer Herbert Waltl, who shared the production credit with Kej and Copeland. This year’s Grammy win for Divine Tides marks the second consecutive year that a Sony 360RA release has taken home the immersive album prize. Last year, Schilling also won—with fellow immersive mixer George Massenburg—for Alicia Keys’ Alicia.

The new version was no afterthought, reports Waltl, who connected with Kej while the album was being recorded, socially separated, during the early stages of the pandemic. As a result, he and Schilling, working in the immersive mix room at mediaHyperium, the Los Angeles-area company Waltl founded in 1996, were able to guide some of the production choices during the recording sessions, which took place in India, Africa, the U.S. and at London’s Abbey Road Studios.

“It was helpful for us to tell them what would work for us and what kind of flexibility we needed,” Waltl comments. “It was a total collaboration.”


The multi-format mix room at mediaHyperium—where Schilling mixed half the Alicia songs—is outfitted with a lot of Neumann speakers. In addition to seven KH 420 models and a pair of KH870 subs in a 7.1 configuration, five KH 310s handle Sony’s height channels, while four KH 120s hang from the ceiling slightly closer to the mix position to support the Dolby Atmos overhead zones. Per the Sony immersive format’s requirements, there are also three speakers on the floor across the front. The studio has since added two rear floor speakers, as allowed by the Sony format; the mixing program only needs to know the coordinates of the speaker locations.

Certain consumer AVRs support Sony 360RA playback, but it was intended primarily for headphones, and those front floor speakers made the format ideal for this project, Schilling says. “It’s very expansive; you get the depth of the front wall going from floor to ceiling, especially with orchestral arrangements and, in this project, certain tablas or lower-frequency drums.” Listen on headphones, he adds, “and the floor [toms] feel like they’re almost down your throat.”

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Herbert Waltl
Herbert Waltl

Waltl believes that the expanded vertical axis is what can really sell immersive audio to people who have had an uninspiring listening experience with other 3D formats. “You very quickly get the idea of what ‘spatial’ means,” he says.

The Sony format’s 13-speaker (five main, five height, three floor) setup was the perfect platform for Divine Tides, Schilling continues. “It’s got flutes and drums, and you’ve got a traditional drum kit. Stewart was really great with the hand percussion; there are little things you might not be aware of, but you start to discover them as you listen to the songs.”

U.S.-born Copeland, best known as the drummer with The Police and a long-established and prolific film score composer, has been collecting exotic instruments since his childhood in the Middle East. Waltl chimes in: “Stewart played, I believe, 34 instruments on Divine Tides, which he’s collected over his life.”

Kej, also born in the U.S. and living in India since the age of eight, has released more than 15 studio albums and performed worldwide since initially training as a dentist. A staunch environmentalist, he holds ambassadorial positions with UNESCO and UNICEF. “We have to live in peace with all entities on this planet,” he said in his Grammy acceptance speech last year. “Divine Tides is all about coexistence.”


The producers provided roughly 16 stereo stems per song, from which Schilling and Waltl created the immersive mix. “Stewart provided Ricky with a stereo mix of his drums the way he heard them,” Schilling says. “Strings were stereo, the percussion was split out a little bit more, the flutes were split out and the vocals were split out.”

That said, Waltl reports that he and Schilling could also access individual sources: “We asked the producers to send us the original multitracks. If there was something we wanted to try to separate and spread out, we would import the multitrack for that segment.”

As Schilling explains, on any immersive mix project, he will typically request a vocal stem with rides, plus the dry vocal sources, from which he can generate his own reverbs and other effects. He and Waltl have developed templates for their plug-in collection—they have 2,000 between them, Schilling says—to speed up the process, enabling him, for instance, to add at the click of a preset a reverb that moves from front to back.

Eric Schilling
Eric Schilling

The pair have also developed ways to expand the spatial soundfield. “We use Waves Unwrap and Nugen; we have a palette,” Schilling explains. “What I like about Unwrap is that it has a mix control. You don’t have to unwrap something completely, which is extremely useful.”

Schilling has done a lot of Atmos work, he says. In the case of catalog tracks, he will stay very close to the feel of the original mix. “In the case of Divine Tides, we would move stuff around, so you have this 3D environment, but we would always reference the stereo to make sure that, from a balance point of view, we were meeting the original intent. We’ll find a place where it feels correct, in terms of how it’s arranged, but it’s a much wider field.”

He often works alone, he adds, so he welcomed Waltl’s input on this project. “He would push me to do things I might not have thought of. I think a collaborative environment always produces the best results.”

“We try to make a soundfield where there’s a balance between front and back. We don’t want to make a mix that’s just front-loaded content,” adds Waltl, a gifted pianist who started playing at the age of five. “We are guided by the music. Everybody talks about technique and formats and what compression you use. That is all extremely important, but the content is hardly discussed. I think it’s the more important subject, because in a spatial mix you can destroy a song completely if you pull parts apart.”

Instead, he says, “You have to look into voice leading,” the music theory describing the interaction of melodic parts and how individual voices move from chord to chord. “Every genre has its own compositional rules and how the voices interact, the polyphony. So, listen and see how it emotionally impacts you.”

A flute or guitar line may have an answering melody, for example. Those could be placed together or, with a dramatic interaction, placed opposite each other in the 360-degree soundfield.

“The music dictates where you put it,” Waltl stresses. “Technology serves the music; it’s not music serving the technology.”