Spatial Audio: Perception and Experience

Spatial Audio Summer Seminar 2019

EMPAC’s Spatial Audio Summer Seminar offers unique insights into how sound can be shaped with technology to create spatial auditory experiences. Open to musicians, audio engineers, composers, programmers, and audiophiles of all kinds, the seminar consists of lectures, demonstrations, listening sessions, and performances providing the opportunity to be immersed in the excellent venues and outstanding audio systems at EMPAC.

This year’s seminar will feature extensive listening opportunities for participants to focus on the perceptual experience that these systems create. EMPAC’s studios and venues will be equipped with several large, high-end systems to directly compare different methods of spatializing audio, including high-order Ambisonic systems, high-density Wave Field Synthesis (WFS) configurations featuring hundreds of loudspeakers, as well as binaural audio streaming.

Focusing on the aesthetic function spatialized audio serves in a specific work, the seminar leaders will guide participants through the application of such systems to experimental, electroacoustic, and “contemporary classical” music, as well as virtual reality installations and soundscapes. This year’s seminar leaders include the composer and performer Natasha Barrett, who will perform a concert on the event’s opening night; Markus Noisternig, an expert in immersive 3D audio and researcher at the Paris-based Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM); Chris Chafe, director of the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) at Stanford University; Brendan Baker, radio and podcast producer and sound designer; Bobby McElver, a sound designer and former EMPAC artist-in-residence; and members of the EMPAC audio team.


  • Thursday, July 18, 2019
  • 5:30–6:30PM — Arrival at EMPAC, buffet dinner
  • 6:30PMWelcome and venue walkthrough — Johannes Goebel
  • 7:30PMConcert: Natasha Barrett Pockets of Space Video and Oculus VR version
  • 9:30PMWolverine Marvel podcast with drinks and cheese — Brendan Baker
  • Friday, July 19, 2019
  • 9AM — Comparison of different spatial audio methods
    Concepts, Implementation, Perception — Markus Noisternig
  • 11:30AM Close your eyes and imagine what you want to hear.
    Research, Craft, and Reality in Creating Spatial Audio Environments — Chris Chafe
  • 2PMArtistic Goals, Aesthetics and Realization
    Detailed discussion of a work integrating spatialization — Markus Noisternig
  • 3:45PMSpatial Audio in Podcasts — Brendan Baker
  • 5PMThe EMPAC high-resolution modular loudspeaker array for Wave Field Synthesis
  • 6PMPresentation with Wave Field Synthesis Arrays above the audience — Bobby McElver
  • 8:30PM — Public Concert: Natasha Barrett Electro Dream Space
  • Saturday, July 20, 2019
  • 9AM — Spatialization at IRCAM
    How technical development, artistic application and commercialization have influenced each other — Markus Noisternig
  • 10:30AMPanel and discussion
    Practical Issues of Spatialization in Performance, Production, and Installation
  • 12:30PMLUNCH


  • $120 Includes: all events, dinner on Thursday and Friday, lunch on Saturday.
  • $85 for students
  • Registration is FREE for RPI Faculty and Students with a valid RIN


Participants should bring headphones and a digital device that can connect to a local wireless network for streaming music.


Participants are responsible for finding their own lodging. Please contact John Cook at the EMPAC box office for special rates at local hotels.


Please enjoy the video documentation of last year's event.

miya masaoka

Mapping an Infinite Universe of Sound

Miya Masaoka

Composer and artist Miya Masaoka will present her new piece Mapping an Infinite Universe of Sound for the EMPAC Wave Field Synthesis array.

Alongside this new work composed for the virtuosic violinist Olivia de Prato of the Mivos String Quartet, Masaoka will discuss her creative practice, the role of the movement and energy of sound in a space, and the underlying assumptions of how we perceive sound, speed, and direction. The physicality of the body of the violin meets the endless possibilities of the spread of timbre, color, and harmonic inter-tonality of nuanced relationships in a physical space. 

Masaoka has been working with early systems of hardware and software of spatialization including ADAT, C Software, and acoustic strategies including choirs, ensembles, and the BBC Scottish Orchestra in a spatial context. An award-winning composer, she has received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the Luciano Berio Rome Prize in Musical Composition, the Fulbright and many others. She is a Professor at Columbia University and directs the MFA program in Sound, a hybrid program with the Computer Music Center and Visual Arts. In this photograph, Masaoka is shown with a Dan Bau, and she sometimes references the monochord as a clear and physical representation of the spectral harmonic relationships of intervals and natural tuning systems. 

Wave Field Synthesis is a special way of creating sounds in space. The EMPAC Wave Field Synthesis system (EMPACwave) is a unique loudspeaker set-up with hundreds of speakers that was developed and built at Rensselaer over the past several years. While Wave Field Synthesis technology is not new, the design of EMPAC’s array is acknowledged by international experts to finally allow musicians to create music to the refined degree that has been promised by this theory of sound generation for over four decades.

Main Image: Miya Masaoka. Courtesy the artist.


PROPHET: The Order of Lyricism


A four-year archival, research, and multi-genre storytelling project on the life journey of a Lyricist. PROPHET: The Order of Lyricism, illuminates the distinctive practices, systems, philosophies, and political ideologies that have shaped Hip Hop’s Emcee/Lyricists.

Tracing the evolution of artist Mental from Emcee to Lyricist, 7NMS invites audiences to enter a world of mind power, bravery, self-determination, and triumph- facets of the artist's quest for self-realization.

PROPHET makes its own imaginative evening-length performance contribution to the scholarly, civic, and ancient bodies of radical Black expression. Light and moving-image visuals as well as multi-channel audio installation will accompany the live dance and vocal performances. Such environments layering multiple media are the company's signature aesthetic; previous work like Memoirs of a Unicorn featured a built multi-sited environment of sculpture, light, sound, movement, costume, and projection. PROPHET is an extension of this practice that acknowledges the Emcee and Lyricist’s role and presence more explicitly.

While taking its primary shape as a live performance at EMPAC, PROPHET will also manifest as an Ethnographic Memoir, an Experimental Film, and Album.

Main Image: Michael Valiquette/EMPAC

two sculptures

Tim Bruniges

Australia Council for the Arts

Sound artist and musician Tim Bruniges will be in residence with support from the Australia Council for the Arts. Through the use of live, regenerating audio systems his performance and installation projects aim to foreground the volumetric, tactile experience of sound. During his residency Bruniges will work with live audio, tape, and EMPAC’s Wave Field Synthesis array to develop new work.

In 2019 Bruniges was awarded a PhD for his research on live sound installation practice and was the recipient of an Australian Postgraduate Award and Research Excellence award from UNSW Art & Design. He also holds a Master of Fine Arts from COFA, UNSW, and a Bachelor of Arts (Mus) with distinction from the University of Western Sydney. His works have been exhibited in Australia, USA, UK, Belgium, Germany, France, Iceland, Russia, and Dubai, and written about in Artsy, Hyperallergic, New York Magazine, and The New York Times. His work is held in private collections and at Artbank Australia. 

Main Image: MIRRORS (2014), Tim Bruniges, installation view, SIGNAL, New York. Courtesy the artist.

Marco Fusi

Marco Fusi and Patricia Alessandrini

Flanders Department of Culture, Youth and Media

Supported by the Flanders Department of Culture, Youth and Media, Marco Fusi is in residence in Studio 1 with Patricia Alessandrini to work on EMPAC’s Wave Field Synthesis array.

Fusi’s work with Wave Field Synthesis expands his research and performance practice through a collaboration with Alessandrini that explores acoustic feedback through technological and instrumental interaction. Fusi plays the viola d'amore (VdA), a baroque instrument that can generate and control acoustic feedback through performance techniques. Working with Wave Field technology enhances the possibilities for feedback within and outside the VdA, blurring the distinction between virtual and physical sonic sources.

Main Image: Marco Fusi, Courtesy the artist. Photo: Veera Vehkasalo.

Collisions: Platitude New York

Ricardo Tovar Mateus & Tanner Pletzke

Collisions: Platitude New York an immersive multi-media live performance with multichannel sound and video projection. 4/28 at EMPAC A collage of personal experiences, the pinnacle of of the end of illusions, hopes and dreams.

Collisions: Platitude New York is inspired by feelings of curiosity, uneasiness and longing. This live performance in three parts submerges the audience in abstract narratives of the detriment of impulsiveness, young love and a feeling of appreciation from resignation. Tanner Pletzke (Visuals) and Ricardo Tovar Mateus (Composer/Performer) present a performance and visual work set on the platitude of the astonishing visuals of New York City, the sounds of the piano and field recordings that adapt moments of everyday life into a dreamlike experience of emotions. 

collissions poster

An orchestra seated in a semi circle in dress rehearsal in an empty concert hall.

Taking Flight

Rensselaer Orchestra, Concert Choir, and Chamber Ensemble

The evening program’s theme is “Taking Flight” and features Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ iconic The Lark Ascending, featuring Concerto Competition winner Sarah Shiang (’22), Aaron Copland’s Quiet City, featuring soloists Gianna Scire (English horn, ’25) and Omar Williams (trumpet, Faculty Fellow).

In collaboration with Rudras, Rensselaer’s award-winning Indian Classical Dance Team, the Concert Choir will present a special story-through-dance performance with music by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail.  

Other highlights include music by Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw, Bela Bartok, and film composer Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings).

Live attendance is restricted to RPI students, faculty, staff, and up to two family members of student performers. Members of the RPI community must be up to date on their DIAL check-in. For guests, a negative covid test and proof of vaccination will be required to be shown upon entry to EMPAC. We are asking the guests to arrive 30 minutes early so we can get through the inspection of the requested proof. Masks are required by all at all times. An effort to social distance should also be used.

Student performers must REGISTER their guests for this performance in advance.

Main Image: Rensselaer Orchestra

fusion ensemble

Spring 2022 Concert

Chamber Music Ensemble

The program presents 11 ensembles, comprising 30 students, including the newly formed Eclectic Ensemble, which will be performing arrangements and a new composition by music major Garrett Smelcer (’22), and the little-heard Piano Quintet in D minor by Frank Bridge, featuring Sarah Shiang (‘22) and Dr. Mary Simoni, Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Other unusual ensemble groupings in this program include piano and saxophone duo, woodwind quintet, cello duo, and trombone quartet.

Live attendance is restricted to RPI students, faculty, staff, and up to two family members of student performers. Members of the RPI community must be up to date on their DIAL check-in. For guests, a negative covid test and proof of vaccination will be required to be shown upon entry to EMPAC. We are asking the guests to arrive 30 minutes early so we can get through the inspection of the requested proof. Masks are required by all at all times. An effort to social distance should also be used.

Student performers must REGISTER their guests for this performance in advance.

 The Jack Quartet in rehearsal on the concert hall stage.

A Complete History of Music (Volume 1)

Patricia Alessandrini & Jack Quartet

In 2019 Patricia Alessandrini was commissioned by Die Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik in Germany to compose a long-scale work with electronics for JACK quartet, which initiated the collaboration between composer and quartet.

In a further development of her practice of compositionally "interpreting" works from the past (reflected by the tongue-in-cheek reference to canonicity evoked in her title) Alessandrini incorporates a variety of works from the Western classical music canon into this piece. Using live electronics, materials from the recordings appear through the playing of the quartet.

Spatial distribution of the multi-channel electronic sounds in the performance space plays a key role in the melding and separation of the various works "interpreted" and interwoven with the playing of the live quartet. These spatial elements will be developed at EMPAC in addition to the real-time processing, concatenation and filtering techniques of the recordings.

After several postponements due to the pandemic, the work is now scheduled to be premièred at Die Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik 2023. In the meantime, it will receive its first public pre-première by JACK quartet at Merkin Hall in New York City on 21 April, 2022 alongside works by Khyam Allami and George Lewis.

Main Image: Jack Quartet in residence in the concert hall in 2019. Photo: Mick Bello/EMPAC. 

Nina Young looking up dramatically at a blue beam of light o a dark stage.

Nothing is not borrowed, in song and shattered light 

Nina C. Young

Nothing is not borrowed, in song and shattered light is a ritualistic installation-performance of fragmented Renaissance polyphony, spatial audio, projections, and hanging brass instrument sculptures that creates ephemeral architectural spaces using overhead wave field synthesis and recordings of performance and improvisations by American Brass Quintet. The work is rooted in the legacy of the relationship between architecture and antiphonal music practices. 

“Wave Field Synthesis offers a unique opportunity to create aural architectures using audio holograms that you can explore, physically, without relying on the ‘sweet’ spot of many spatial audio systems. You can immerse yourself in an ephemeral, morphing, virtual architecture with the agency to sculpt your own experience and personal ritual.” 
—Nina C. Young

Nina C. Young began working with EMPAC’s Wave Field Synthesis system in early 2020. Her first sonic composition for EMPACwave, Phosphorescent Devotion (2021)—loosely inspired by the light and color combinations of James Turrell— premiered at TIME:SPANS festival and was recently presented at EMPAC for the Rensselaer campus community. Young’s works range from concert pieces to interactive installations that explore aural architectures, resonance, and ephemera. She dialogues with natural acoustic environments, instrumental performance techniques, and digital signal processing. Nina is a professor at USC’s Thornton School of Music. She was on the faculty of Rensselaer’s Department of the Arts from 2016–18. 


This performance is being presented for campus audiences (faculty, staff, students of Rensselaer) only at this time.

Main Image: Nina C. Young, The Glow That Illuminates, The Glare That Obscures. Courtesy the artist.