This two-day course at Call & Response HQ in Deptford, south-east London, was a relaxed and thought-provoking introduction to current spatial audio techniques, as well the artist-run space. I wanted to do the course because I'm anticipating doing a lot more multi-speaker work, immersive work with headphones, sound art work, this year, and wanted to get a handle on the technologies and methods available to me. One thing I learned from visiting Scanner's Chamber of Secrets installation at Cliveden last year, is that creating affective work doesn't need to involve a hugely complex setup, but I did want to gain a bit of confidence with the various options in circulation.
The great thing about the course is that it has something for everyone; whether you are approaching the topic as a visual artist, musician/composer, or a sound professional. The other great thing - and this was something that a number of us commented on - was that it demystified the whole process of creating and presenting multi-speaker audio. Some weekend courses bombard you with info that is either irrelevant or beyond your current skill-level. Matt Lewis - who ran the course - was keen to get everyone creating, and made sure that we all knew that this could be done fairly easily, that it wasn't hard. Yet another plus for the course was the amount of listening we did on 13.1 set-up. It was a great way to re-focus, remember why we were there, and listen meditatively. It was also interesting to hear the work of other artists in a critical listening environment, something which doesn't happen very often.
In terms of technicalities, multi-speaker sound presentation was broken down into main formats; binaural and ambisonics. The first time I heard about binaural was quite possibly a feature on Tchad Blake in Sound on Sound magazine aeons ago. It had never really stuck with me, though. However, on the second day I went out and made a few recordings with the Free Space 3Dio binaural microphone. Listening back to the results was very revealing. When played back on Call & Response's multi-speaker arrangement there was very little depth; everything sound plane and flat. However, when I listened back to the recordings on headphones a few days later, I was really struck by the realism. It was a new kind of aural realism to me, and I really liked it. I think that it would be an excellent way to capture my Sound Walking series. The 3Dio is so good, I'm considering picking one up when I go to the US in April. Worth a mention also is The TetraMic, an affordable route into making ambisonic recordings (£1000, rather than the £3000 you'll need to purchase a Soundfield microphone).
It wasn't lost on my that the current appetite for VR is being implemented using two pretty old and established audio techniques; Binaural, and also Ambisonics. Apparently, most implementation of audio for VR is by way of either dynamic binaural or third order ambisonics (something I had only a vague appreciation of before the course). Plus, no matter what platform you're using to create and/or present your sound work (Reaper, Pro Tools, Logic, Ableton, SuperCollider, Max/MSP) there are additional add-ons and plug-ins that will facilitate producing immersive results.
The Intro to 3D course wasn't all about the gear, though. What this course does so well is to promote the technicalities of creating multi-speaker work as secondary to the work itself - basically, it doesn't allow the technology to be a barrier. Rather, the course promotes ways to make the most of your work and your ideas by having a better understanding of what the technical possibilities are. By having this perspective, creative ideas are not hampered by technical incompetence, but neither are they constrained by technical omnipresence.
You can view forthcoming Call & Response workshops by visiting the website: http://www.callandresponse.org.uk.