Arts / Events / Universities / VR

With spatial audio, musicians play in 360 degrees of sound

The debut of Goucher College's Art and Technology Salon explores the tools and approaches to the audio used in virtual reality.

Envelop's spatial audio listening space in San Francisco. (Courtesy photo)

The goal of virtual reality is to immerse the user in the digital experience. But to get there, it has to not only look and sound and move right, but they also have to feel right to the brain. Syncing everything up is important in this equation, but the space in which it operates is also important.
Take the audio side of things.
“If the visual is seemingly 360-degrees, then the audio also has to be coming from different places,” said Andrew Bernstein, the director of Goucher College’s low-residency MFA in Art & Technology and MA in Digital Arts programs. “Our sense of hearing is very much attuned to our sense of place.”
The field of spatial audio is increasingly focused on this link, which is a focus for Master’s students studying virtual reality and interactive media. Many are familiar with the approach in surround sound, but taking that out of a seated movie setting creates another set of considerations, and requires a higher resolution to create that “real” feel.
On Friday, July 27, Bernstein and Baltimore pianist, composer and hip-hop musician Wendel Patrick, will perform written compositions with speakers set up “in the round,” as Bernstein put it, in a 6.2 array (six speakers and two subwoofers). Bernstein, who also plays in the Baltimore band Horse Lords and is a member of the foundation behind experimental music festival High Zero, will be using Envelop, a collection of software tools developed by a San Francisco–based nonprofit cofounded by Goucher faculty member Christopher Willits, for his piece that includes saxophone and electronic music. The software provides tools that can help make spatial audio more accessible for musicians.
“The software makes it easier to work with space and sound,” he said, adding that the hardware is getting less expensive, as well.
The event is the first edition of the Goucher Art and Technology Salon, which Bernstein hopes will help connect the Master’s programs with the community. Beyond music, future sessions could explore where tech fits into design, sustainability and other areas.
Friday’s free concert will be held at Mildred Dunnock Theatre. More info here.

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