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.

pauline oliveros seated playing her red accordion

Expanded Instrument System Workshop

Jonas Braasch, Michael Century, and Stephanie Loveless

Bring your own musical instrument! Join the EMPAC Research program for a hands-on workshop exploring Pauline Oliveros’ Expanded Instrument System (EIS) with introductions by Michael Century, Stephanie Loveless, and Jonas Braasch. Under continual development since 1965, the system is a series of computer-generated delays that process acoustic and vocal sounds, offering musicians, composers, and the curious ways to explore improvisations and compositions using sonic manipulation. We invite you to try it out with us in EMPAC Studio 1–Goodman.

Main Image: Pauline Oliveros performs with her accordion at the celebration of her 80th birthday in 2012. Photo: Kevin (Yiming) Chen/EMPAC.

DeForrest Brown Jr.

Speakers That Speak To You

DeForrest Brown, Jr.

DeForrest Brown, Jr. will be in residence in Studio 1–Goodman with CCS Bard curators Katherine Adams, Liv Cuniberti, Mary Fellios, Abel González Fernández, and Sidney Pettice. Brown will work with Higher Order Ambisonics for a performance that explores how techno’s machine-like aspects connect to embodied dance and live music histories.

Main Image: Courtesy the artist.

DeForrest Brown Jr

Speakers That Speak To You

DeForrest Brown Jr.

Speakers that Speak To You is a newly-commissioned work by DeForrest Brown Jr., which traces the trajectory of techno’s machine-like aspects and its connection to embodied dance and live music histories. Considering the genre’s origins by activating the spatial qualities of sound, Brown extends his musical and theoretical practice through the advanced sonic infrastructure of EMPAC’s Studio 1—Goodman.

The project opens up to the implicit origins of techno that Brown traced in his book, Assembling a Black Counter-Culture (2021), wherein he has historicized techno as a genre rooted in a powerful political and cultural force that emerged within underground architectures and industrial spaces in Detroit. Brown's exposure to early Afrofuturist and jazz musicians, Black southern marching band compositions, and second-wave techno producers of the 1990s led to the development of his Black radical politics within the techno genre. The project will engage with recordings from the artist’s new album Techxodus, which operates as a musical successor to the ideas in his recent publication. Additionally, Brown plans to spend the next year developing tracks and performances around his notion of a “free-jazz”-inspired take on techno. With this new piece, Brown continues his research by reactivating cultural soundscapes and critically mapping the sounds of techno through the mode of a listening session.

DeForrest Brown Jr. is producing Speakers That Speak To You in residence at EMPAC with curators Katherine Adams, Liv Cuniberti, Mary Fellios, Abel González Fernández, Sidney Pettice from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.

Main Image: Frantz Photography, Courtesy the Artist.

DeForrest Brown Jr.

Frantz Photography, Courtesy the Artist.

a student choir wearing black gathered in a semi circle on the concert hall stage.

Many Voices, One Song

President's Holiday Concert

The 2022 President’s Holiday Concert at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will take place on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m. in the Concert Hall of the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) on campus.

The event is free, open to the public, and will be followed by a reception. RSVPs are required.

The concert, titled “Many Voices, One Song,” features a selection of music that will celebrate the diversity and shared purpose of the Rensselaer community. In addition to the Rensselaer Orchestra and Concert Choir, the program will feature the inaugural public performance of the Rensselaer Jazz Ensemble and a featured performance of Indian classical music by first-year RPI student and tabla virtuoso Vivek Pandya.

“As Rensselaer enters a new era of growth and renewal, moving forward as one community, it is wonderful to watch how our annual holiday concert is evolving,” said Rensselaer President Martin Schmidt. “This is a great opportunity to reflect on the diversity of our experiences and make new memories together in anticipation of a bright future.”

Under the direction of Lecturer Robert Whalen, the orchestra will perform Valerie Coleman’s “Seven O’Clock Shout,” a musical tribute to the service and sacrifice of health care workers in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The jazz ensemble, directed by Lecturer Jillian Willis, will offer a cross-section of jazz history, including the standards “Lullaby of Birdland” and “Nature Boy” alongside the contemporary composition “Running Out of Time.”

"During our first semester, the Jazz Ensemble students strived to understand the nuances of improvising a story through sound, revere the importance of melody, and value the art of active listening,” said Willis. “In this performance, we graciously present our lessons of the blues, the American songbook, and contemporary jazz in celebration of the President's Holiday Concert."

Other highlights of the program include works by Mxolisi Matyila, Lili Boulanger, Arvo Pärt, Edward Elgar, and an arrangement by student composer Rose Bollerman. The program will close with Antonin Dvorak’s thrilling and celebratory “Carnival Overture.”

Using the medium of music, this program foregrounds remembrance and joy; it celebrates the dedication and creativity of our Rensselaer students; and it affirms the fact that — whatever our differences — we can join together in solidarity to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

Main Image: 2015 Holiday Concert

Bora Yoon


Bora Yoon

Sound artist, composer, and performer Bora Yoon premieres her newest work PHONO KINETIC (formerly SPKR SPRKL) for spatial audio, interactive projections, and gestural, digital, and acoustic instruments. PHONO KINETIC is a one-woman performance and z-space poem tracing the journey of a carbon atom, articulating the many cycles, scales and recombinant alchemical forms life takes; a contemplation of time, within sonic and spatial environments and dreams visualized in an enveloping theatrical landscape.

As a multi-instrumentalist and established electronic musician, Yoon performs signature soundscapes, made up of spoken stories, hauntingly beautiful soprano vocals, synthesized music, found sounds, and unusual acoustic instruments. In PHONO KINETIC, Yoon gestures using superDraw, a custom software instrument created by visualist Joshue Ott, paired with the hardware of Imogen Heap’s Mi.Mu gloves. A powerful tool, superDraw responds to Yoon’s on-stage movements, establishing graphic digital and architectural set design and dramatic visuals in real time, animating Yoon’s temporal, sonic, and spatial compositions.

With various configurations of holographic, multi-channel audio utilizing EMPAC’s Wave Field Synthesis Array, PHONO KINETIC conjures worlds of sound through auditory dream language, shadows, and kinetic manipulation. Multimedia theatrical director Ashley Tata directs this part-electronic concert, part-sound-object theater event. Yoon premiered an excerpt of this new work, titled SPKR SPRKL at TIME:SPANS contemporary music festival in NYC, August 2021, where EMPAC presented newly commissioned musical works for the Wave Field Synthesis Array in a series of concerts.

Main Image: Bora Yoon. Photo: Michael Valiquette/EMPAC

bora yoon playing their violin in the foreground with a abstract projection of ribbon-like white light in the background.

A superDraw-generated projection for PHONO KINETIC. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Joshue Ott.

Phono Kinetic Trailer. Courtesy the artist.

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

Paper Pianos

Alarm Will Sound

Paper Pianos​ is a full-length theatrical work co-directed by Armenian-American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian and South African-American director Nigel Maister. The work combines the testimonies of four refugees and resettlement workers with intricate hand-drawn animations of Syrian visual artist Kevork Mourad to vividly depict the dramatic emotional landscape of displacement and resettlement experienced by refugees throughout the world.

Performed live by the 18-piece contemporary ensemble Alarm Will Sound, Paper Pianos invites EMPAC audiences to contemplate the dislocation, longing, and optimism of refugees.

Main Image: Paper Pianos. Image: Kevork Mourad.


Paper Pianos

a white person in a black tshirt stands on stage with a mallet gesturing to play one hanging down from above

A Kind of Ache

Sarah Hennies, Terry Berlier, & The Living Earth Show

Tonight's performance of A Kind of Ache begins at 7PM.

“What would it feel like to be the majority?”

A Kind of Ache is a multimedia installation and concert from composer Sarah Hennies, sculptor and conceptual artist Terry Berlier, and electroacoustic duo The Living Earth Show that reimagines a world designed from and for a queer identity.

The drums-and-guitar duo will play on Berlier’s sculptures alongside Hennies, using objects, music, and their imaginations to wonder “What would it feel like to be the majority?”

The Living Earth Show–guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson–is a megaphone and canvas for the world’s most progressive artists, seeking to push the boundaries of technical and artistic possibility while amplifying voices, perspectives, and bodies that the classical music tradition has often excluded. This performance marks the beginning of a multi-season residency for The Living Earth Show at EMPAC, offering engaging and exciting large-scale work from artists with whom they work closely.

Main Image: A Kind of Ache (2022). Courtesy the artist. Photo: David Andrews.

nails on a hardwood floor

Cuando las nubes eran las olas (When the clouds were the waves)

Ana Navas and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares

Cuando las nubes eran las olas (When the clouds were the waves) is an electro-acoustic performance and installation for EMPAC’s Concert Hall by Venezuelan-Ecuadorian artist Ana Navas and Venezuelan composer Mirtru Escalona-Mijares. It is performed by American percussionists Taylor Long, Robert Cosgrove, and Clara Warnaar on an array of playful instrument-sculptures by Navas, which fuse iconic motifs of 20th century modernism with traditional boat-building tools and techniques.

Cuando las nubes eran las olas is an expansive work of visual art and music inspired by the Aula Magna, the Central University of Venezuela’s auditorium, and the artworks commissioned for the campus by Venezulan, European, and American modernists by its architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva in the early 1950s. The Aula Magna houses Alexander Calder’s sculptural Acoustic Ceiling (1953), known locally as “nubes” (clouds). It is the first instance of acoustic panels suspended across the ceiling of a hall to reflect optimal acoustics. This feature resonates with EMPAC’s Concert Hall, which houses the first fabric ceiling to span the full-length of the hall to shape the sound.

Deeply embedded in the afterlives of iconic modernist artworks, Navas’ sculptures, installations, and performances trace the use and misuse of such works over time as they are circulated as reproductions and appropriated away from the site and context of their original making. For Cuando las nubes eran las olas, Navas’ sculptural instruments, costumes, and scenography and Escalona-Mijares’ multi-layered approach to electro-acoustic composition interweaves the architectural properties of the Aula Magna with its thick social and sonic history in an exploration of the relationship between sculpture, acoustics, and space.

Main Image: Cuando las nubes eran las olas (When clouds were waves), 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Alvis Mosley/EMPAC.


In Conversation: Ana Navas and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares: Cuando las nubes eran las olas (When the clouds were waves)

miya masaoka

Multi-Dimensional Spatiality in the 15th Century and Now

Miya Masaoka

Composer and artist Miya Masaoka will premiere a new piece written specifically for EMPAC’s Wave Field Synthesis array and present a talk on recent research and work in spatial audio composition.

Inspired by the three-dimensional and perspectival painting techniques developed by artists during the 15th-century Italian Renaissance, in her new project, Masaoka seeks to draw parallels between those revolutionary conceptions of space with the current possibilities for sonic spatiality in the 21st-century.

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 among 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 the photograph above, 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.