Spatial Audio Concert

Natasha Barrett, Okkyung Lee & Rama Gottfried, Olga Neuwirth & Tal Rosner, and Markus Noisternig

Tuesday, July 10, 2018
July 10, 2018

EMPAC’s Spatial Audio Seminar is a gathering of composers and programmers discussing technologies such as Wave Field Synthesis and High-Order Ambisonics. Taking place over five days, this intensive seminar covers the technical, theoretical, and practical issues surrounding spatial audio platforms. A collaboration with IRCAM and Stanford University’s CCRMA, the program gives participants experience hearing hundreds of channels of audio, including EMPAC’s new 500+ speaker wave field array.

During the performance tonight, the audience will hear a selection of works for multichannel audio ranging from “simple” playback pieces to live improvisation with an acoustic instrument. Noted cellist Okkyung Lee will be improvising with and existing within the Concert Hall’s Ambisonic dome, which will be manipulated by IRCAM’s Markus Noisternig.

Ambisonics—which uses the 64 speakers hanging throughout the room—is a technique for spatializing sound in 360 degrees, around and above you. What makes this different from cinema 5.1 or 7.1 is that, in an Ambisonic system, all the speakers are working simultaneously to create sound, regardless of its position. Consequently, the impact of a perfect listening position, or sweet spot, is greatly reduced.

These High-Density Loudspeaker Arrays, as they are known to the professional community, are increasingly becoming topics of interest and discussion for computer musicians. Institutes like IRCAM (the Paris-based Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique) and CCRMA (the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics), have been instrumental in creating a generation of composers and researchers who are using these tools to realize new methods of experiencing sound in previously unimaginable ways.

  • Natasha Barrett
    Momentary Invisible Beings
  • Okkyung Lee + Rama Gottfried
  • Olga Neuwirth, Tal Rosner
    Disenchanted Island
  • Okkyung Lee + Markus Noisternig


Momentary Invisible Beings is the concert composition offspring of the 3D audio and video creation Pockets of Space (3D video created by Open Ended Group, commissioned by IRCAM).

In Momentary Invisible Beings, 3D Soundfield recordings, which were originally recognizable, were decomposed into micro moments of space, time and frequency. This extensive abstraction allows greater focus on any specific aspect of a normally integrated and complex sound. In the composition, points and lines coalesce into tangled networks that continually reshape themselves across a series of rapidly shifting scenes. Musical organisms scamper into noise and then invert into purer tones, before coalescing to reconfigure a space where invisible objects display identity through their gait. Finally, at the end of the work, we hear a postcard of the original sound source.

Momentary Invisible Beings is composed in 7th order 3D ambisonics.


Fluoresce, meaning ‘the act of becoming fluorescent’, is an exploration into the composition of dynamic spatio-timbral objects, and their expressive use as motivic materials. Just as complex timbre, when understood spatially, can be described in terms of focal plane — fore, mid, and background layers — the gestalt of complex spatial organization can be understood as timbre. Tracing sound, physical gesture, and spatial process to their irreducible components, there forms a relational network which functions across medium. Through this tracing, the relationships between component sub-processes are empirically exposed, forming connections between the articulation of acoustic and electronic sound, instrumental gesture, and their combined spatial organization.

The title Fluoresce relates to this process of transferral between medium, and the exposure of hidden forms — acoustic sounds becoming synthetic and spatially dynamic, like the spatial shift that occurs as our eyes adjust to a black lit room. Originally composed for hybrid Wave Field Synthesis and Higher Order Ambisonics, the piece exposes different parts of itself in new spaces and configurations. Depending on speaker placement and nuance of the bow, the piece’s flocking particles, synthetic extensions and bending spherical harmonics disperse and compress into new forms and perspectives — continuously reconfiguring itself in space.


Olga Neuwirth’s journey takes the audience to Venice, its laguna, and the church of San Lorenzo. Luigi Nono’s major work Prometeo was premiered in 1984 in this church, for which Renzo Piano designed an inner shell in form of a huge wooden arc.
With the help of IRCAM, Neuwirth captured the acoustics of this forever closed church. She preserves the outstanding acoustics and the musical features of this cultural heritage in the form of 3-D directional room impulse responses.

The audience is sitting in the middle of a dome of surrounding loudspeakers. Combining novel 3-D audio rendering technologies with the recorded directional room impulse responses of the church enable Neuwirth to create different soundscapes and to compose the sonic space. Unlike Nono and Piano, the composer creates a virtual sonic space in the real sonic space of the performance venue, adapting the acoustics in real-time as it would another instrument.

Neuwirth plays with the ambiguity of the real and the virtual sonic space. She also uses 3-D field recordings taken in Venice and its laguna to connect the inside of the church with the surroundings in a constant transformation of musical elements and spaces; the sounds of motor boats, sea gulls, waves, steps, voices or different bells permeate the porous and broken walls of the historic church to let in the unknown like a liquid architecture. Neuwirth combines the field recordings with complex electronic sounds and synthetic voices, and creates an unheard, outstanding and magical exploration of space and sound.

Over the duration of 15 minutes, the audience goes on a fictional journey through space and time and experiences a labyrinth of real and fictitious rooms outside and inside, as well as acoustical phenomena and their processing. The listener is continuously seduced by the sheer richness and beauty of the textures and grateful for the great clarity of the structure.

During a short interactive part, the composer invites the audience to speak into a microphone, and puts them into the virtual acoustics of the church.

Disenchanted Island has been commissioned by IRCAM and the Centre Georges Pompidou.

Programmed by Markus Noisternig

MARKUS NOISTERNIG is Researcher at IRCAM, CNRS, Sorbonne Universities–UPMC in Paris, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Electronic Music in Graz, and also lecturer at the Karlsruhe College of Arts and Design. As an undergraduate and postgraduate, he studied electrical engineering and audio engineering as well as computer music composition at the University of Technology and the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz. As an artist, Noisternig has participated in numerous collaborative projects with well-known composers and ensembles of New Music, which have performed in key European festivals.

OKKYUNG LEE is a cellist, composer, and improviser who moves freely between of artistic disciples and contingencies. Since moving to New York in 2000 she has worked in disparate contexts as a solo artist and collaborator with creators in a wide range of disciplines. A native of South Korea, Lee has taken a broad array of inspirations—including noise, improvisation, jazz, western classical, and the traditional and popular music of her homeland—and used them to forge a highly distinctive approach. Her curiosity and a determined sense of exploration guide the work she has made in disparate contexts.
She has appeared on more than 30 albums, including a diverse variety of recordings as a leader, whether the acclaimed solo improvisation effort Ghil, produced by Norwegian sound artist Lasse Marhaug for Ideologic Organ/Editions Mego, or composition-driven collections like Noisy Love Songs (for George Dyer), released by Tzadik in 2011. In 2018 she releases Cheol-Kkot-Sae (Steel Flower Bird), an ambitious piece drawing upon free improvisation and traditional Korean music that was commissioned for the 2016 Donaueschingen Festival by SWR2, where she collaborated with western improvisers Marhaug, John Butcher, Ches Smith, and John Edwards along with Pansori vocalist Song-Hee Kwon and traditional percussionist Jae-Hyo Chang. She also leads a intricately nuanced quartet featuring harpist Maeve Gilchrist, pianist Jacob Sacks, and bassist Eivind Opsvik that explores the lyrical side of her writing. 
Lee is perhaps known best for her improvisational work, where she draws upon visceral extended techniques, in both solo and collaborative contexts. Not content with static performance approaches, Lee routinely explores the spaces she performs in, responding to atmosphere, audience, or objects surrounding her, to produce an immersive experience. Recently her collaborative performance of Alexander Calder’s Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere—part of the Whitney Museum’s Calder: Hypermobility exhibition—featured interactions with repurposed objects activated by artist Christian Marclay.
Over the last two decades Lee has collaborated with Laurie Anderson, Arca, David Behrman, Chris Corsano, Mark Fell, Douglas Gordon, Jenny Hval, Vijay Iyer, Ikue Mori, Bill Orcutt, Jim O’Rourke, Marina Rosenfeld, and John Zorn among others. In recent years she’s performed in equally varied contexts, whether embarking on an extended tour with the legendary experimental rock band Swans or collaborating with visual artist Haroon Mizra.
As a curator Lee has programmed concert series at the Stone in New York, the Music Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria, and at the Jazz House (recently renamed Alice) in Copenhagen, Denmark. In 2015 she was selected as a Doris Duke Performing Artist in 2015, and she has been awarded residencies at Civitella Ranieri in Umbria, Italy in 2015 and Akademia Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany in 2017. She has been commissioned to compose music and assemble projects for Amsterdam’s Maze Ensemble, Borealis Festival in Bergen, Norway, Nam June Paik Art Center, Korea and Pub Crawl I & II for the London Sinfonietta as part of a Christian Marclay exhibition at White Cube Gallery.
She received a dual bachelor’s degree in Contemporary Writing & Production and Film Scoring from Berklee College of Music in 1998 and a master’s degree in Contemporary Improvisation from New England Conservatory of Music in 2000.

RAMA GOTTFRIED is a lecturer of computer music and instrument design at UC Berkeley’s Center for New Music and Audio Technologies (CNMAT), where he completed his PhD in music composition in 2015. In 2012, he was a composer in residence at IRCAM working on aesthetic applications of Wave Field Synthesis (WFS) and Higher Order Ambisonics (HOA). This year he is continuing his spatial composition research as a composer in residence at IRCAM and Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM).

NATASHA BARRETT (Norway/UK) composes acousmatic and electroacoustic concert composition, sound installations and interactive art. She has also created theatre music, large-scale outdoor media productions, worked with dance and film, and sound environments for exhibitions. She regularly collaborates with musicians and visual artists, as well as architects and scientists. She is highly active as a freelance composer, and also in the mediation of cutting edge compositional technologies with a strong focus on spatial audio and its contemporary musical context. Her work is commissioned, performed and broadcast throughout the world by festivals, organisations and individuals, and includes a regular schedule of portrait concerts and programs featuring her work. Beside commissions for specific works, throughout her career she has received grants and artist’s residence invitations, and a solid list of awards and prizes, including the Nordic Council Music Prize, (Nordic Countries), Giga-Hertz Award (Germany), Edvard Prize (Norway), Jury and public first prizes in Noroit-Leonce Petitot (France), Five prizes and the Euphonie D'Or in the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Awards (France), prizes at Musica Nova (Prague), CIMESP (Brazil), Concours Scrime, (France), International Electroacoustic Competition Ciberart (Italy), two prizes in Concours Luigi Russolo (Italy), two prizes in the International Rostrum for electroacoustic music, and prizes in two Ars Electronica competitions (1998 and 2017).

OLGA NEUWIRTH (b. 1968) gained international recognition at the age of 22 for two mini-operas based on works of Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek. Since then, she’s written several music theatre pieces including her first [full-length?] dramatic work, Bählamms Fest (also based on one of Jelinek’s works), The Outcast, American Lulu, and Hommage á Klaus Nomi. In 2015, Vienna Philharmonic premiered her orchestral work Masaot / Clocks without Hands, which then went on to be performed at Carnegie Hall in 2016 under the baton of Valerij Gergiev. Also in 2016, she was composer-in-residence at the Lucerne Festival. She is currently working on a new opera for the Vienna Staatsoper which will be premiered in 2019.

Spatial Audio Concert
July 10, 2018, 7PM