Spatial Audio System Development
A technology, an artistic platform, and a medium for immersive listening
This project suggests a new approach towards developing a flexible spatial audio system and control interface based on concepts established during a prior multichannel system development originally realized for a new dome structure at the Greenhouses in Aarhus, Denmark (premiered Sept. 2014).
The grounding principles are based on an overall vision to move towards a new ecology of listening that enhances the mental and physical listening experience. The project involves developing both a multichannel speaker system and a control environment for spatial sound propagation.
Traditionally, state-of-the-art spatial audio systems and formats focus on the technologically and acoustically complex task it is to (potentially) create another space than the space the audio system and the listener(s) actually inhabit; a virtual acoustic model that enable the listener(s) to mentally transport themselves into this other space. This raises at least two issues:
1. The creation of virtual 3D spaces result in complex and inflexible audio systems that are dependent on a specially designed and acoustically treated space to eliminate every acoustic property of that given room.
2. The recreation of a virtual acoustic space produces an inevitable clash with the perception of the room in which the system and the listener exist, and thus blurs the relationship between sound, body and space.
With an emphasis on incorporating awareness about this relationship, the concept seeks to embrace the acoustic information that inhabit any type of room instead of depriving it, and thereby encourage listener reflection and awareness of his or her bodily presence in the surrounding environment. This approach towards facilitating immersive listening experiences opens up new ways of thinking about and engaging with music and sound in general.
The project aims to investigate matters of spatial cognition and perception in a range of listening contexts / environments as well as explore artistic potentials when incorporating three-dimensional space into compositional practices. The platform will serve as an environment for deep listening; a space that extends and augments the listener experience and awareness of his/her spatial and bodily existence.
This raises many questions in regards to different fields of practices and applications. The main research questions within the framework of this proposal consists of the following:
• How will spatial audio affect compositional practices, and what new kinds of tools does composers need in order to compose for three dimensions?
• How will this change the engagement and interaction with sound - as a composer and as a listener?
• How does the context of the spatial audio platform influence the receptive capabilities of the listener?
This leads to the main hypothesis that this project aims to prove:
Spatial audio will open up new ways of engaging and interacting with sound. As a new dimension in compositional, performative and listening practices this medium will improve our receptive capability and sensibility towards the surroundings as well as encourage contemplation in various settings.
The medium will be relevant as a platform for artistic performance and immersive listening in a wide range of contexts ranging from live performance situations in a concert or theater environment to temporary or permanent sound installations for museums and other cultural institutions.
The current system software developed by Kasper Fangel Skov is based on Max 7 and Jitter (Cycling '74). The system supports a variety of sensors and controllers as a means of exploring different ways of moving sound sources in three-dimensional space. These include gestural control with LEAP Motion and specially developed Lemur interfaces for iPad.
Early 2014 Aarhus University and CAVI (Centre for Advanced Visualization and Interaction) was asked to develop a multichannel speaker system for a new dome structure at the Greenhouses in Aarhus. As part of Kasper Fangel Skov’s Master’s thesis he developed the prototype for this project in collaboration with Rasmus Lunding and Morten Breinbjerg. The purpose of the system was to expand the sensory experience of moving through differentiating climate zones with surrounding sonic habitats that match the actual geographical zones represented inside the Greenhouses. The initial concept involved reflections and notions on how to facilitate and represent real-life sonic habitats - yet of a designed and interactive nature.
The initial 16-channel prototype of what would later become D3DA (see Realizations below) incorporated the core system elements as a means of controlling sound propagation in a small test setup at the Greenhouses. The prototype was presented to the Greenhouse staff in late Spring 2014. Based on this prototype the production team at CAVI developed a full-scale system handling 100~ custom built speakers totally. This version was premiered in September 2014 as part of the official opening of the dome at the Greenhouses.
The development process has resulted in a series of constructions so far; CAVI has made several sub-constructions based on the system at the Greenhouses - one at the premises of CAVI and one at the concert venue Radar at Godsbanen in Aarhus.
Aarhus University has together with Rasmus Lunding, Kasper Fangel Skov and various collaborators produced a system with a different approach building upon the initial concept and prototype, which was partly abandoned by CAVI. The system, D3DA (Dirty 3D Acousmonium), which currently handles 32 speakers, is installed at the Schön building at Aarhus University enabling audio design students and other collaborators to use it for educational activities as well as participate in the continuous development process.