Spatial Audio Workshop: A New Music Venue Where the Space is the Instrument

Aug 13, 2015

First, there was live music, the sound of voices and instruments radiating toward our ears. Much later, stereo and multi- channel recording added new dimensions to the sounds.

Now comes a new ‘instrument’ that is the concert hall itself. It’s called the ‘Cube.’  It’s part of the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech and there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world.

With it’s nearly 150 speakers embedded in the 4 walls, the ceiling and floor, this concert hall sized instrument is so new, there’s barely any music created that can be played in it.

You’re hearing one of the very first pieces written for the Cube. It’s called Shakers and it’s by Eric Lyon, Associate Professor Music Practice and maestro of the Cube.

"This is actually my tribute to Giovanni Gabrielli, who was a renaissance composer who created what’s known as antiphonal music.  And the idea of antiphonal music is that it’s actually played by different groups of instruments in different places in the hall.   So you would hear some music coming from one side of the hall. Then, other music would come from some other side of the hall.  And I thought, well, that’s wonderful because what we’re doing with space in the Cube is absolutely new with respect to electronic and digital music, but there is a long history of sound in space as part of all kinds of musical practices."

But unlike a conventional concert, where the sound of the music radiates outward, the effect is more like sitting inside the instrument a deeper special experience of the sound.  And with new opportunities, come new challenges.

“If you’re writing a piece for the cube, you’re writing a piece that can only be played one place in the world.”

18 electronic composers from around the world submitted work. Five were chosen to spend a week in the Cube working on them.  Friday, August 14, they’ll be part of the first ever “Spatial Audio Workshop” playing their pieces and discussing them with the audience.

“We want to be advocates for a future in which spaces like this are much more common. If you were in the 1950s and you were working in an electronic music studio, you were in one of a handful of places where you like, how is this ever going to catch on?  We’re doing this really weird stuff and nobody, except for maybe a handful of people can do this.  How is there ever going to be a future for this? But we know enough about history to feel that yes, there might actually be a huge future for this kind of installation."

But at this point, they’re still quite rare. We can’t even play the music for you over the radio or the web because you wouldn’t get the full effect of the 124.4 JBL speakers coming at you like a surround sound on steroids.

“And really, that’s what we’re about, we're about discovering new experiences and creating something really special so that when go into the cube and hear some music, ideally you walk out and understand, yeah, that was a really special and unique experience  that enabled me to hear an understand music in a different way than I ever have before.”

The recordings are now available, to hear them click here.

Click here for a Virginia Tech video about the Cube.