Designing multichannel systems for spatial music
Multi-channel formats are attractive mediums to design and compose in, particularly in terms of the spatial sound experience it offers listeners. With the possibility for multiple sound layers to move independently of one another in space at any point in time, then, it is essential for the broadcasting system to have the capacity to match these spatial characteristics. From a design perspective, this introduces a number of important considerations which, in terms of the listening experience, need to be addressed. These relate to the location and direction of loudspeakers, audience seating arrangements and the acoustic qualities of the listening space.
With over 10 years experience in this field, and, having worked with the SIAL Sound Studios to deliver over 20 of the most technically challenging spatial concerts, here I provide some insight into my design process. Rather than show all projects, I have selected a number of concerts that I have been intimately involved in since 2004.
Computer aided design plays an important role in my design process for exploring spatial concepts and ideas, but also for engaging with a process for considering spatial orientation and organisation. It's a technique I adopted early in my practice, having witnessed lighting designers create lighting plots for theatre using similar techniuqes. Not only does it present a precise way for working, but also a way for communicating spatial ideas using visual techniques. Applying this to an approach to spatial sound design presents opportunities for exploring the visual and auditory dimensions of space that could be redefined, refined and rendered whilst remaining entirely within the virtual domain. Understanding the physicality of space presents ways for connecting spatial ideas to a spatialisation strategy and its execution.
Multichannel broadcasting systems represent the enabling components for spatial music. The challenge is how to best design a system that has the capacity to accomodate multiple musical works, each having their own unique technical requirements, yet is flexible enough to accomodate change. System design does not sit beyond the music. Its' form begins to emerge at the point musical concepts and ideas are unpacked to reveal the spatial interplay occuring within the music.
Preparation plays an important role for testing ideas, but also for incorporating redundancies within the overall design. When subjected to performance conditions, hardware devices can fail, so it pays to be methodical. Solving technical problems under pressure are moments of pure delight, but good outcomes rarely happen by chance. Having an awareness of the situation as it unfolds and a thorough knowledge of the performance environment provides a solid foundation for addressing the challenges for delivering systems for spatial music.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of working closely with a number of respected artists, designers and technicians. My role in these concerts has varied from production management and technical supervision, software development and programming, sound engineering and sound projectionist, artist and listener. This experience has been unique and has enabled me to translate real-world problems into a teaching context. This continues to shape my practice and research in the spatial sound discipline.