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8 March 2018

Garth Paine's 'Future Perfect', in development at IRCAM/ZKM

Garth Paine Image: Garth Paine  

In 2018, composer, performer and acoustic ecologist Garth Paine is undertaking an artist/researcher residency at IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music) in Paris, and ZKM Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany. At IRCAM, Paine is currently developing the interactive and sound spatialisation aspects of a new concert work Future Perfect - an immersive 3D audiovisual performance and installation utilising higher-order ambisonic loudspeaker playback, wave field synthesis and virtual reality on smartphones. The composition grows out of an increasing concern for the environment and his work in acoustic ecology within the USA and recent composition works utilising his field recordings from the US deserts for ensemble and live electronics.

An initial showing of Garth Paine's Future Perfect will take place at the InSonic Festival in ZKM's Klangdome in December 2018, with a presentation at IRCAM, Centre Pompidou in March 2019. This week, Paine gave a talk about the project at the IRCAM Forum Workshop (8 March). We asked him to tell us a bit more about the work-in-progress.

'It is of course a great honour to be working at IRCAM, not only because of their heritage as world leaders in sound spatialisation, interactivity and electronic music, but also because the research culture here is so dynamic, inspiring and deeply engaged in both current and future trends. As Future Perfect will be a work that utilises virtual reality headsets, we are examining ways in which some of the tools from IRCAM can be implemented within Unity3D gaming engine and, in parallel, if we can make the work run in a web browser as WebVR/WebAudio. In addition to some tracking technology we have been working on, this will allow the mobile phone to be used as a viewing platform in a virtual-reality headset as well as a tracking device, facilitating interaction between concert attendees in the virtual space, as well as allowing me to attach sounds to individuals which will follow them through the space and may jump from person to person based on analysis of movement patterns.'

'One of the challenges of making a work that is a public concert but uses VR headsets is to develop communal and collaborative engagement in the virtual reality space so that the use of the VR does not become isolating. Tracking the phone positions, speed of movement, vector of movement and analysing crowd movement patterns will produce behaviour changes in both the audio and visual aspects of the concert performance', Paine explains.

Virtual-reality footage for Future Perfect, shot at the famous Place des Vosges,
Paris, in February 2018 (see also test shoot walking with camera).

'The visuals of Future Perfect will include some virtual-reality footage I'm currently shooting in Paris and, later this year, in Karlsruhe. The visual space will also incorporate animation weaving through the "real" world (see a Youtube example of an early experiment, animated from a single flower). Then, in addition, vector lines will be drawn in the VR space, connecting people moving in similar directions at similar speeds, or when sounds jump from one person to another. Outlines of other people in the space will also be presented so that the audience can walk around in the concert without running into each other.'

The composition part of the work involves using higher-order ambisonics to realise the 3D sound image.

'I will compose a musical work for higher-order ambisonics which will act as the framework for the entire experience. The sound synthesis that will be occurring on the phone will produce point sources within the sound field that move with people and jump between people, and this will be augmented by the use of wavefield synthesis speaker arrays when available. The sound world will be composed of transformed field recordings collected in Paris and Karlsruhe across this year and composed into an acoustic composition for 5th to 7th order ambisonic playback. Each phone will also be part of a dynamic speaker map so that sounds from the ambisonic array can sweep through the audience, making the sound space completely immersive.'

More widely, Future Perfect explores the seam between virtual reality as a documentation format for environmental research and archiving nature, with the idea that 'nature' as we know it may, in the near future, only exist in virtual-reality archives, for individuals to experience privately. Paine's other recent VR project, EcoRift, developed at Arizona State University (where he is Professor of Digital Sound and Interactive Media) is a close relative in that it focuses on bringing the natural world, in this instance the national parks of South Western America, into hospitals, schools and homes of people across the world, democratising access to these special environments.

> Garth Paine - AMC profile

> Garth Paine - homepage (www.activatedspace.com)

> Garth Paine's recent albums on Bandcamp (www.garthpaine.com)

> More information about Garth Paine's work and Future Perfect on the IRCAM website

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