Envelop Wants to Make an Ambisonic 3D Venue and Tools




3D, spatialized sound is some part of the future of listening – both privately and in public performances. But the question is, how? Right now, there are various competing formats, most of them proprietary. There are cinema formats (hello, Dolby), meant mainly for theaters. There are research installations, particularly in Germany. And then there are one-off environments like the 4DSOUND installation I performed on and on which CDM hosted an intensive weekend hacklab – beautiful, but only in one place in the world, and served up with a proprietary secret sauce.

Artist Christopher Willits has teamed up with two sound engineers / DSP scientists and someone researching the impact on the body to produce ENVELOP – basically, a venue/club for performances and research.

The speaker diffusion system is relatively straightforward for this kind of advanced spatial sound. You get a sphere of speakers to produce the immersive effect – 28 in total, plus 4 positioned subwoofers. (A common misconception is that bass sound isn’t spatialized; in fact, I’ve heard researchers demonstrate that you can hear low frequencies as well as high frequencies.) Like the 4DSOUND project (and, incidentally, less like some competing systems), the speaker install is built into a set of columns.

And while the crowd-funding project is largely to finish building the physical venue, the goal is wider. They want to not only create the system, but they say they want to host workshops, hackathons, and courses in immersive audio, as well.

You can watch the intro video:

Another key difference between ENVELOP and the 4DSOUND system is that ENVELOP is built around Ambisonics. The key with this approach, in theory, at least, is that sound designers and composers choose coordinates once and then can adapt a work to different speaker installations. An article on Ambisonics is probably a worthy topic for CDM (some time after I’ve recovered from Musikmesse, please), but here’s what the ENVELOP folks have to say:

With Ambisonics, artists determine a virtual location in space where they want to place a sound source, and the source is then rendered within a spherical array of speakers. Ambisonics is a coordinate based mapping system; rather than positioning sounds to different locations around the room based on speaker locations (as with conventional surround sound techniques), sounds are digitally mapped to different locations using x,y,z coordinates. All the speakers then work simultaneously to position and move sound around the listener from any direction – above, below, and even between speakers.



One of our hackers at the 4DSOUND day did try “porting” a multichannel ambisonic recording to 4DSOUND with some success, I might add. But 4DSOUND’s own spatialization system is separate.

The ENVELOP project is “open source” – but it’s based on proprietary tools. That includes some powerful-looking panners built in Max for Live which I would have loved to have whilst working on 4DSOUND. But it also means that the system isn’t really “open source” – I’d be interested to know how you’d interact, say, with genuinely open tools like Pure Data and SuperCollider. That’s not just a philosophical question; the workflow is different if you build tools that interface directly with a spatial system.

It seems open to other possibilities, at least – with CCRMA and Stanford nearby, as well as the headquarters of Cycling ’74 (no word from Dolby, who are also in the area), the brainpower is certainly in the neighborhood.

Of course, the scene around spatial audio is hardly centered exclusively on the Bay Area. So I’d be really interested to put together a virtual panel discussion with some competing players here – 4DSOUND being one obvious choice, alongside Fraunhofer Institute and some of the German research institutions, and… well, the list goes on. I imagine some of those folks are raising their hands and shouting objections, as there are strong opinions here about what works and what doesn’t.



If you’re interested, let us know. Believe me, I’m not a partisan of any one system – I’m keen to see different ideas play out.

ENVELOP – 3D Sound [Kickstarter]

For background, here’s a look at some of the “hacking” we did of spatial audio in Amsterdam at ADE in the fall. Part of our idea was really that hands-on experimentation with artists could lead to new ideas – and I was overwhelmed with the results.

4DSOUND Spatial Sound Hack Lab at ADE 2014 from FIBER on Vimeo.

The post Envelop Wants to Make an Ambisonic 3D Venue and Tools appeared first on Create Digital Music.

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