VIX Sound+Light+Motion

3. Surround Audio and Video

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Return to Theatre in the Round

Most contemporary recorded audio, with the exception of film soundtracks, is usually recorded in stereo. Sounds are heard  from two locations and spatial positioning is provided by each individual speaker arrangement and the listener’s interpretation of the information. Live performances are generally reinforced with stereo amplification that continues to position the audio as emerging from the sides of the stage. This is a cultural construct that has become accepted due to technological limitations.

Now, it is time to return to the theatre in the round with a major technological update. Our experience of reality in daily life is that light, shadow or darkness  fills our field of vision and sound surrounds us completely. The Immersive Environment Instrument duplicates the experience of “normal” sensory perception but the three-dimensional visual aspect is still limited by budgetary constraints.  The simulation of three dimensions will be accomplished by creating performance stations in the area most visible to the audience. These will contain screens and projection reception areas that are actually in three dimensions, so reinforce the suspension of skepticism and encourage belief in the dream state experience.

Unfortunately, although I can describe the experience of surround sound and audio, I cannot demonstrate it as I have no working prototype that can be documented. I do have surround sound, but it would have to be flattened to a stereo mix to be streamed on the internet.

The first composition that I have imagined for the IEI is Girl Can Dream, and I can provide a vivid description that your imagination will have to reproduce. I want to have a thunderstorm approach from one direction, provide some close thunder and lightning and then fade in the opposite direction. As we have all heard a storm approach and fade away, it should be fairly easy to imagine sitting in a darkened theatre/installation with video clouds all around and some lightning bolt video approaching, then fading to far off rumble. Now imagine that sonic landscape with electronic music and eerie vocal and string instrument accompaniment. Add a moving figure, playing with the natural and human created sounds in a dance-like conducting motion that expresses the emotion of cleansing joy and awesome power that a storm can bring. This is one Immersive Event sequence that I plan to be brought into a performance reality with the IEI.

Indonesian Cultural Influence

Credit: Victoria Gibson

Gamelan Madu Sari with Indonesian Guest Artists – directed by Sutrisno Hartana 2008

Light also casts shadows, and in simulating the dream world, the shadow can be just as important an image as the object casting the shadow. Indonesian shadow play, particularly modern forms based on ancient Javanese traditions, have influenced my vision of how light can be used in performance. My studies with Mas Sutrisno Hartana and visiting artists; coupled with the work of Computational Poetics have shown me new ways to perceive light and shadow. The multi-layered, multi-language episodes of Indonesian shadow play have been integrated with video projections, live masked performance, dance and always the gamelan playing music. My friends are performing here and Alexandra Dulic and Ken Newby of Computational Poetics have been an inspiration to me as performers, programmers and supportive advisors.

All of this experience will be reflected in the light of the Immersive Environment dreamscape.

Surround Technology


Surround audio requires enough speakers to surround the listener with 360 degrees of sound, five to eight speakers are positioned to achieve this. Each speaker requires an individual amplifier, so for 8 speakers four stereo power amplifiers are the minimum as each speaker needs a unique channel. Separation of the audio into discreet channels can be handled by either an analog or digital mixing board that can be an actual piece of hardware or a software program inside the computer. I am a recognized expert in music technology and already have a functioning surround audio system for experimentation. Further investment will be required to duplicate this ability in a portable system.


A variety of video mixing software and hardware interfaces are in common use by video jockey’s or VJ’s and in installations. Computational Poetics uses MAX/MSP and Jitter or Processing, both well developed programs for real-time visual control. I have studied MAX/MSP jitter at UBC and recently have taken a class with Brady Marks to learn Pure Data, an Open Source software that runs on the Ubuntu Linux platform that is capable of video mixing. Processing is a new program for me, but Ken Newby teaches it at SFU and he has offered to consult if I require assistance.

Software is well developed for video editing and clip storage and retrieval, but I have had difficulty synchronizing projectors and lights in the past. The IEI will be a demanding application and for control of multiple projectors and light systems the dance community has had the most challenging staging requirements. I joined and I have been freeing my inner dancer in preparation for this research. Some wonderful productions can be found on that site and I have written about this in more detail in this post.

In the post, I also describe my plan to use coloured lights to enhance the dream-like effect by blurring the edges of the video and by illuminating the live performer, thus casting controllable shadows. Light can be a show in itself, creating ambient mood and texture. Light control can be a part of the Immersive Event programming and planning for control of light and shadow is integral to the production.

There are several programs that are widely used in the dance community and I will research them to discover the best fit for the portability, budget and other technological requirements of the IEI. One of the most difficult challenges will be to operate several projectors simultaneously.

The goal is to create a sequenced Immersive Event (IE) that can be triggered by an emotionally charged gesture by the live performer. The sequenced IE  will contain paired surround sound and visual information that will then be started to create Cinematic Virtual Reality (CVR). The beauty of this system is that it blends the powerful illusion of cinema in a surround projection with the immediacy and improvisational ability of live performance.

Return to IEI Main Page

Proceed to 4. Gesture and Immersive Events

See posts about the Immersive Environment Instrument

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