- Sound Anthology:Program Notes
Binaural Representations of HDLA Music: Eric Lyon, Curator
This edition of Computer Music Journal's Sound and Video Anthology complements two special issues devoted to computer music composed for high-density loudspeaker arrays (HDLAs), CMJ 40:4 and CMJ 41:1. The intent of this anthology is to share the experience of listening to music for HDLAs, to the extent that it can be reproduced, in binaural recordings. The recordings included on this anthology are all intended for headphone listening. All seven works were composed for HDLA performance. Five were recorded on-site at HDLA facilities, and the remaining two were produced with 3-D spatialization plug-ins.
This is the first CMJ anthology presented exclusively in binaural format for headphone listening. Binaural recordings and music performed on HDLAs both enable listeners to focus on spatial attributes of music. In other ways, listening to binaural music is nearly the polar opposite to the HDLA experience. Whereas experiencing spatial music at an HDLA performance space is inherently a social experience, headphones provide the most private listening space possible, short of internally imagined sound. And whereas HDLA facilities are still few and far between, headphones are nearly ubiquitous. And this ubiquity makes headphone listening an ideal medium for listeners who do not have access to an HDLA facility to get a sense of the spatial richness that is possible for HDLA-conceived music.
The HDLA spaces represented here are The Cube at Virginia Tech (Hagan and Nichols), The SARC Sonic Lab at Queen's University Belfast (Sazdov), and the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (ZKM) Klangdom (Brümmer). It is fascinating to listen to these on-site HDLA recordings, which convey an impressive amount of spatial information, especially regarding elevation cues. The differences in acoustic properties of the HDLA spaces are also very much in evidence on these recordings. At the same time, the limits of on-site binaural recordings must be acknowledged. Any ambient noise in the space will be captured on the recording. And, having experienced multichannel music in the Cube, Klangdom, and Sonic Lab, I can attest that a binaural recording represents a significant reduction from the full experience of inhabiting an HDLA space during a musical performance, where one is free to move one's head, and sometimes one's body as well, to interactively explore spatially articulated sound. A binaural recording, by contrast, reports only a fixed perspective of the space. And despite the considerable spatial information conveyed with these binaural recordings, the spaces also seem to be smaller in headphone listening, as if they were shrunken around one's head for the benefit of the listening process. The remaining binaural recordings on this anthology in which the 3-D spaces were artificially produced (Barrett and Lopez-Lezcano) provide an important contrast to the on-site HDLA recordings. The artificial recordings would seem to have an advantage, in that they are using spatialization plug-ins for their intended purpose: to create a binaural impression of 3-D projection of sound into space. These recordings sound both spatially rich and qualitatively different to my ears than the on-site recordings. I'm pleased that we can offer examples of both methods of producing spatial music for binaural listening, so that listeners can form their own opinions.
Although we have focused primarily on technical aspects in these notes, this collection is, above all, a set of elegant pieces of computer music, created by artists with a keen sense of the possibilities of spatial articulation as a central element in musical construction. There is much to be learned by careful listening to each of these works. After listening once for technical details, I hope you will then go back and enjoy the collection again as a curated concert for headphone listening. As with all headphone use, I recommend listening at a moderate volume level. It is not necessary to play this music loudly to appreciate its spatial subtleties.
About the Music
We begin with Spin, a large-scale work by Ludger Brümmer. The main material for the work is produced through interpreting data files as sound. This noisy material is articulated harmonically, formally, and...