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  • Current Technologies and Compositional Practices for Spatialization: A Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis
  • Nils Peters, Georgios Marentakis, and Stephen McAdams

Spatialization, the synthesis of spaces and spatial properties of sounds for a listener, is a growing field of interest for researchers, sound engineers, composers, and audiophiles. Due to broad and diverse viewpoints and requirements, the understanding and application of spatial sound is developing in many ways. To benefit from varying viewpoints, individuals involved in artistic practice and those involved in theoretical or applied research need to engage in regular dialogue. Blesser and Salter (2006, p. 184) reported on the long-term relationship between artists and audio researchers regarding virtual spaces, which is “the story of an evolving relationship between sophisticated audio engineers, creating tools, and impatient artists, incorporating such tools long before they are fully defined.” Otondo (2008) showed that over the last ten years the technical equipment of composers has improved both in quality and quantity, with sound spatialization based on five or more loudspeaker channels being increasingly preferred over traditional two-channel stereo systems. Novel spatialization tools, however, have hardly found their way out of the research lab: Artists continue to use conventional and familiar spatialization techniques. As composer Natasha Barrett said, “the spatialization equipment and technology have become readily available, but the users haven’t caught up” (Otondo 2007, p. 17). To effectively guide future research efforts, we need to understand this lack of coherence between development and creative musical application.


In our study, a Web-based questionnaire was designed and presented to composers and sonic artists to help understand how they use spatialization, what spatial aspects are essential, and what functionalities spatial audio systems should strive to include or improve. Additionally, we surveyed the degree to which artists know, and have already applied, recent developments in spatial audio technologies.

The survey, consisting of multiple-choice and comment-form (open-ended) questions in English, was divided into two parts: 13 compositional and 11 technical questions. Unlike the multiple-choice questions, answering the open-ended questions was not obligatory. Each multiple-choice question included a comment text field to account for individual responses, and the arrangement of multiple-choice responses was randomized across respondents to reduce order effects. To ease the response-entry process for the respondents, this survey was deployed over the Internet and could be stopped and continued at any time. Open-ended questions were independently analyzed by two researchers to control for biases in interpretation.


The survey was announced in March 2008 on several appropriate Web domains, such as SpACE-Net, and mailing lists by the Canadian Electroacoustic Community (CEC), the British Sonic Arts Network (SAN), the Australasian Computer Music [End Page 10] Association (ACMA), and Norwegian young composers. Further, several invitations were directed to specific contemporary composers, including the panelists of the 2008 CIRMMT/UCSD Music + Technology Incubator III workshop. Responses were collected for 14 days and 52 surveys were completed (approximately 55 percent of all the surveys that were started). This response rate can be considered as very high for a non-reward, Web-based survey, and suggests demand and interest.

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Figure 1.

Geographic distribution of the 52 respondents.

Respondents were primarily male (85 percent) and predominantly from Europe and North America (see Figure 1). For musical education, more than 80 different universities/conservatories were named, of which the most frequent were Université de Montréal (17 percent), University of Birmingham (10 percent), and Stanford University (8 percent); several respondents were self-taught (11 percent). Respondents reported an overall composition experience of 20 years on average, 14 years of which was computer-aided, and 10 years of which involved spatialization. Remarkably, several experienced composers reported a longer history of using spatialization than applying computer techniques to their work. Because we expected that work experience might affect responses, composers were separated into analytic groups according to their reported experience in using spatialization techniques: “beginners” (under 5 years), “intermediate” (5–10 years), and “advanced” (more than 10 years), resulting in equal-sized groups.


This section presents and interprets the participants’ responses to questions regarding compositional aspects, the working environment, and the usage of spatialization tools.



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pp. 10-27
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