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.

a black man with a grey beard reaching out toward the camera.

Work-in-Progress: PROPHET


This work-in-progress performance is a culmination of two development residencies of 7NMS's multi-year live performance project, PROPHET. The project's residencies at EMPAC explores spatial audio, mobile set elements, and moving-image content. 

Main Image: PROPHET, 2021. Photo: Marc Winston / @m62photography. 



7NMS is at EMPAC for the first of two ten-day development residencies that will culminate in a performance of the company's multi-year live performance project, PROPHET, in fall 2022. For this first residency, the company will explore spatial audio, mobile set elements, and moving-image content for their project. This residency is made possible with support from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Connect Grant, in collaboration with Abrons Art Center and Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

A work-in-progress performance of PROPHET for Rensselaer students, faculty, and staff will be presented in Studio 1—Goodman on Tuesday 1 February at 6PM.

Main Image:

Rounded triangular geometric shapes in muted primary colors mounted on to a white ceiling with rounding lights in between.

Tuning Calder’s Clouds

Acoustics, Architecture, Art, and Music of Venezuela's iconic Aula Magna

Tuning Calder’s Clouds is a series of interdisciplinary conversations with experts from acoustics, art, architecture, and music that explores the historic and contemporary resonances of the Aula Magna—the iconic hall at the heart of the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas—in which Alexander Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling (1953) is suspended. 

The bilingual publication, Tuning Calder’s Clouds, edited by Vic Brooks and Dr. Jennifer Burris, will be published in fall 2022 in a collaboration between EMPAC at Rensselaer, the Calder Foundation, and Athénée Press. It is the first book to explore the artistic, technological, and political intersections of Alexander Calder’s sculptural Acoustic Ceiling and includes contributions by Inés Arango Guingue, Dr. Lisa Blackmore,  Jonas Braasch, Mirtru Escalona-Mijares, María Fernanda Jaua, Johannes Goebel, Carlos Gómez de Llarena, Sylvia Hernández de Lasala, Dr. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti,  Aimon Mata, Ana Navas, Rafael Pereira Escalona, Dr. Juan Pérez Hernández,  Alexander S.C. Rower, Gryphon Rue, and Rafael Santana.
Cuando los nubes eran las olas / When the clouds were waves by Ana Navas and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares engages these complex legacies in the production of a new work currently in development in EMPAC’s Concert Hall and created for the Acoustic Ceiling at Aula Magna.

Main Image: Alexander Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling (1953) in the Aula Magna, Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas. Photo: Vic Brooks/EMPAC.

anais duplan

Blackspace Radio

Anaïs Duplan

Artist and poet Anaïs Duplan presents a series of five radio shows broadcast weekly on Rensselaer’s WRPI Troy 91.5FM and produced at EMPAC. Based on his recent book of essays, Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture  (Black Ocean, 2020), the broadcasts entwine histories of liberation movements, labor struggles, criticism, and poetry with music, soundtracks, field recordings, and Foley sound. 

Duplan takes us on a journey that follows his lyrical exploration of the political potential of aesthetic experiences, spanning from the quotidian encounter of a bakery’s smell to the transformative reckoning with an artwork. These experiences are viewed through the prism of how other artists of color are working with media technologies on their own terms to seek “liberatory possibility” through specifically aesthetic means. 

Guided by Duplan’s voice, each broadcast employs “ekphrastic” methods—vivid verbal descriptions of the actions of artworks—as well as the sensory potential of Foley sound to produce a richly evocative auditory experience. The dialogue is interwoven with audio samples from films and videos by artists such as Ephraim Asili, Deanna Bowen, Tony Cokes, Leah Franklin Gilliam, Ulysses Jenkins, and Sondra Perry, TV and movie soundtracks, and an extensive range of music from Liz Mputu, Juliana Huxtable, Perfume Genius, Actress, Mal Devisa, and Hieroglyphic Being and more. 

Blackspace will be broadcast on New York's Montez Press Radio in 2022. 

Main Image: Anaïs Duplan. Courtesy the artist. Photo Ben Krusling.

a view of the concert hall looking from the choir loft across to the balcony. a shiny black steinway grand on the stage. a fabric ceiling extends above like the sails of a ship.

Concert Hall Acoustics: From Flying Saucers to Fabric Sails

Jonas Braasch and Johannes Goebel

A conversation on the inventive acoustic ceiling designs of the Aula Magna at Central University of Venezuela, Caracas and EMPAC’s Concert Hall at Rensselaer.

In the early 1950s, the American sculptor Alexander Calder collaborated with acoustic engineering team Bolt Beranek & Newman and Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva on the design of an extraordinary new sculptural approach to the acoustic treatment of an auditorium. Villanueva’s iconic Aula Magna in Caracas was thus the first instance of acoustic panels suspended across the ceiling of a hall of this scale to reflect optimal acoustics. Another first shapes the exceptional sound of EMPAC’s Concert Hall: the innovative design of a fabric ceiling that spans the full-length of the hall.

The installation of Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling (1953), locally known as “nubes” (clouds) or “platillos voladores” (flying saucers), produced an acoustic environment that prompted the Aula Magna to be ranked in the top five concert halls in the world by renowned architectural acoustician Leo Beranek (1914–2016), whose professional library was presented to Rensselaer by the engineer himself in 2010.

Jonas Braasch, professor of acoustics in Rensselaer’s School of Architecture and EMPAC’s founding Director Johannes Goebel, who was deeply involved with EMPAC’s acoustic design, will have a conversation about the most important and often least discussed element of a concert hall: the ceiling.

This talk is the second in a series of interdisciplinary conversations with experts from acoustics, art, architecture, and music that will explore the historic and contemporary resonances of the iconic Venezuelan hall. EMPAC’s Senior Curator for time-based visual art, Vic Brooks, is working on a major research, commissioning, and publication project on Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling at the Aula Magna, which creates interdisciplinary connections between the visual and the auditory, between art, science, and engineering.

Tuning Calder’s Clouds, edited by Vic Brooks and Jennifer Burris, will be published in fall 2022 in a collaboration between EMPAC at Rensselaer, the Calder Foundation, and Athénée Press. It is the first book to explore the artistic, technological, and political intersections of Alexander Calder’s sculptural Acoustic Ceiling and includes contributions by Dr. Lisa Blackmore, Sylvia Hernández de Lasala, María Fernanda Jaua, Dr. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, Rafael Pereira Escalona, Dr. Juan Pérez Hernández, Jonas Braasch, Johannes Goebel, Aimon Mata, Alexander S.C. Rower, Rafael Santana, Gryphon Rue, Ana Navas, and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares.

Cuando los nubes eran las olas (When the clouds were waves) by Ana Navas and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares engages these complex legacies in the production of a new work currently in development in EMPAC’s Concert Hall and created for the Acoustic Ceiling at Aula Magna.


This talk is being presented simultaneously in person for Rensselaer faculty, staff, and students and streamed online for the general public. In-person attendance is limited so please register early. Registration is required for both physical and virtual attendance.

Main Image: EMPAC's Concert Hall as viewed from the choir loft. Photo: Paúl Rivera.


When the Clouds Were Waves: Ana Navas in conversation with Vic Brooks. December 2020

Lisa Blackmore & Jennifer Burris' talk, Ideological Entanglements and Political Fictions: Art and Architecture in Venezuela. December 8, 2021.

A sketch of a grand piano with a person curled up underneath it.

Paper Pianos

Mary Kouyoumdjian and Nigel Maister with Alarm Will Sound and Kevork Mourad

Paper Pianos​ is an evening-length theatrical work co-directed by Armenian-American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian, and South African-American director Nigel Maister. Performed by contemporary ensemble Alarm Will Sound, the work explores the dislocation, longing, and optimism of refugees. Combining the spoken narratives of four refugees and resettlement workers with the intricate hand-drawn animations of Syrian visual artist Kevork Mourad, Paper Pianos vividly depicts the dramatic emotional landscape of displacement and resettlement experienced by refugees throughout the world.

During a time when the media is saturated with sensationalist news images surrounding the refugee crisis, this piece instead highlights four human voices: the Afghan pianist Milad Yousufi, Getachew Bashir (Ethiopia), Hani Ali (Somalia), and Akil Aljaysh (Iraq); creating a space for the audience to experience empathy. Milad Yousufi fled to New York from Kabul, where he lived under the Taliban’s threat for pursuing music. His story of painting piano keys on paper to teach himself to play in silence, thus avoiding life-threatening censure from the authorities, gives the piece its name. Getachew Bashir, a high-ranking judge in Ethiopia, left his country when the judiciary and his independence threatened to become co-opted by the regime. Hani Ali was a child of the refugee experience, born on the run and coming of age as a young girl negotiating the terrors of being stateless in a displacement camp. Akil Aljaysh—from a prominent family—fled Iraq after being tortured, and worked his way through Syria and Lebanon to the US.

Kouyoumdjian’s score uses these recorded testimonies as integral compositional elements, and draws on folk-music and contemporary-music practices. She says: “I come from refugee parents forced to immigrate to the U.S. as a consequence of the Lebanese Civil War. And my parents come from refugee parents forced to escape to Lebanon from Turkey during the Armenian genocide of 1915. Experiences like Milad Yousufi’s resonate with me, and topics of wartime, genocide, and one’s relationship to ‘home’ have played a large role in my music.” Kevork Mourad’s extraordinary hand drawings animate the narrative, evoke the journeys of the participants, and serve as a physical element with which Alarm Will Sound’s musicians interact.

EMPAC has commissioned Alarm Will Sound’s staged performance of Paper Pianos and will provide the artists with multiple production residencies to develop the visual and theatrical elements. The work will premiere here at EMPAC in our 400-seat proscenium theater—a venue that incorporates theatrical technology and capabilities previously found only in the most advanced stage spectacles. As quiet as a recording studio with the infrastructure of an HD video studio, the low stage and superb acoustics allows for tangible proximity between audience and performers.

Paper Pianos​ is a vivid, compelling and evocative contemplation of global issues expressed through individual stories of loss and transcendence. The live performance of narrative, music, theatricality and visual gesture engages audiences viscerally in one of the pressing problems of today’s world, distilled down to the heartfelt immediacy of real-life experience.

Main Image: Paper Pianos. Image: Kevork Mourad.


Spotlight on Paper Pianos

for people looking at the camera through a huge cave opening, sita benga.

A Slightly Curving Place

Nida Ghouse

Curator Nida Ghouse is in residence in Studio 1—Goodman to adapt and expand the multi-authored ambisonic audio play central to the exhibition A Slightly Curving Place. Previously commissioned and presented by Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, the project responds to Umashankar Manthravadi’s practice as a self-taught acoustic archaeologist that proposes possibilities for listening to the past and its absence which remains. The audio play brings together writers, choreographers, composers, actors, dancers, musicians, field recordists and sound, light, and graphic designers who engage and transform not just each other’s work, but also that of many others.

This next iteration of the exhibition will be presented at Concrete in Dubai in March 2022 and is co-produced by EMPAC at Rensselaer and Alserkal Arts Foundation.

Main Image: Sita Benga, 26–29 February 2020. Members of the project team (right to left): Tyler Friedman, Sukanta Majumdar, Umashankar Manthravadi, and Nida Ghouse. Photo: Alexander Keefe.

anais duplan


Anaïs Duplan

Poet, curator, and artist Anaïs Duplan is in residence to produce Blackspace, a new series of radio broadcasts commissioned by EMPAC to be presented in collaboration with WRPI and Montez Press Radio in November 2021. 

Each episode narrated by Duplan is inspired by music and artworks that seek to “pursue liberatory possibility” and entwine lyric poetry, criticism, music, and field recordings. Based on his recent book of essays, Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture, the broadcasts similarly employ vivid description of the action of artworksor ekphrastic techniqueto explore the aesthetic strategies employed by artists of color working with digital technologies since the 1960s.

Main Image: Anaïs Duplan. Courtesy the artist. Photo Ben Krusling.

wave field synthesis array

TIME:SPANS Festival 2021

Wave Field Synthesis

From August 12–16, three EMPAC commissions made for Wave Field Synthesis (WFS) premiered at the TIME:SPANS Festival in NYC where EMPAC audio staff were on hand for engineering and technical support. The Wave Field Synthesis system allows the artists to place sounds in space in a unique way for both composers and listeners.

The following compositions premiered at the TIME:SPANS Festival:

Miya Masaoka
Seeking a Sense of Somethingness (Out of Nothingness), 2021
Commissioned by EMPAC

Bora Yoon
Commissioned by EMPAC

Nina C. Young
New Work, 2021
Commissioned by The Earle Brown Music Foundation Charitable Trust

Pamela Z
Commissioned by EMPAC

Concert duration: 70 min

Main Image: Wave Field Synthesis Array at Time:Spans Festival, NYC August 2021.


TIME:SPANS Festival 2021 featuring Bora Yoon, Nina C. Young, Miya Masaoka, and Pamela Z