Sara Auster's Solstice Sound Bath, New York
Maybe you’ve already noticed it at the beach, in the car with the windows rolled down, or at a particularly loud fireworks display. Things sound better in the summer. The warm weather is part of the reason, and one of my favorite sound gurus, Dave Rat of Rat Sound, certainly has his theories about warmer concert venues producing more memorable shows. But also, there’s something else happening with sound in the summer of 2018.
It occurred to me as the sun was setting on the summer solstice last month. I was soaking up the mystical sonic waves of Sara Auster’s rooftop sound bath, enjoying the scent of carefully curated aromatherapy for the occasion, when the answer startled me.
This is the summer of immersive sound.
It’s not just the sound baths that seem to be happening everywhere now, but there is also a wave of events and location-based spatialized audio to enjoy this season. Here are just a few that I’ve heard about, with more inevitably to come as immersive audio arrives at concerts and augmented reality experiences everywhere.
L-ISA from L-Acoustics
English indie-rock band Alt-J was touted by NME as making history with their June 15 concert at New York’s Forest Hills Stadium. That was one of the first shows to use the “immersive hyperreal sound” of L-ISA Labs from L-Acoustics. And there will be more to come this summer. Based on the upcoming shows listed on the L-ISA site, it looks like you can be immersed in sound at the Bon Iver show on August 8 at the Santa Barbara Bowl, so get your tickets now.
Yes, it sounds ridiculously new-agey, but sound baths can do good things for the soul as well as for emerging immersive audio trends. In addition to the traditional sound baths which use crystal singing bowls, gongs, tuning forks and a variety of gorgeous, shimmering chimes, there’s a super-hip new wave of concerts happening around this concept. Earlier this summer, the Marciano Art Foundation hosted a live sound bath with Jónsi from Sigur Ros and his collaborators on the liminal project. The experience took place in a 13,000-square-foot theater gallery that also housed an immersive light and sound installation by Olafur Eliasson.
Many of you will of course be aware of the multi-channel spatialized audio demo rooms produced by various technical experts and academics in our field. Listeners there will gain a whole new understanding of audio and acoustics as the room is transformed by ambisonic arrays and other dimensional sound technologies. But have you attended a spatialized audio concert yet? I went to Dave and Gabe’s Spatialized, the latest iteration of works composed for their 39.4-channel system, and the room was packed.
Immersive Audio Walking Tours
This summer in New York, visitors to City Hall Park walked through a sound installation by Sari Carel. The immersive soundscape was composed from recorded sounds of breathing, gathered during a series of breathing and sound-recording workshops the artist has held with New Yorkers living with asthma and various breathing conditions. Recording engineer Kerry Pompeo of Concord Music hosted some of the workshops, and was quoted in the event press release as saying, "In audio recordings, sound engineers always try to edit out the sound of breathing. For this audio work, I'm taking everything else out.”
It’s all happening. Immersive audio is appearing in live music, art installations and soul-healing meditations (try it, you might like it). Meanwhile, we’re about to hear a lot more about spatialized audio, with the widespread use of augmented reality and virtual reality. So, immerse yourself on your summer vacation and get ready for the new audio work to come.