So What Exactly is 360 Audio and Video Anyway?

Well, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like! Using special types of microphones and cameras you can record audio and video from all directions, at once. Surround Sound recording has of course been around for a long time but the ability to record matching 360 video is quite new. Perhaps the most familiar example of this is the Streetview mode of Google Maps, however, now this type of technology is being used to create 360 video as well as still images, and many new 360 cameras and recorders are starting to emerge. This includes both highly expensive camera rigs intended for film production, but also much more affordable devices too (expect this to built into many smartphones in coming years, although the question of where to put the selfie stick in a 360 image is yet to be resolved!).

The development of most of this new hardware is being driven by the emergence or perhaps more accurately the re-emergence of virtual reality (VR) in the past few years. While lots of fancy new VR headsets are set for release over the coming year, Google’s cheap but surprisingly effective Cardboard headset has sparked a lot of interest, particularly for 360 video (as distinct from VR gaming).Although little more than folded cardboard and some plastic lenses (and requires a pretty high-spec smartphone), this cheap viewer can be surprisingly effective and certainly whets the appetite for the more sophisticated developments to come (the Paul McCartney live performance by JAUNT is well worth a look, as are the most recent Google Jump demos).

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Of course, as is often the case, the development of the audio side of things has lagged behind somewhat and many of the current demos do not actually contain matching 360 audio (the Paul McCartney track is a notable exception). While the basic technology to create 360 audio has been around for decades, the precise way in which this material is recorded, produced and delivered for VR applications is still very much in a state of flux. Such a state is good news for researchers of course, and later posts will look in detail at some of our work in this area here in Trinity.

All of these technological developments should be of particular interest to composers of spatial music, as this new form of media lends itself very well to this type of music. In fact, you could argue (and I will!) that traditional concert presentations with all of the musicians clustered in front is very unsuitable for VR (how many times do you really want to turn around and look at the audience?). In contrast, a work of spatial music in which the musicians are placed all around the audience is very well suited to this type of presentation in which the viewer can look around at will. In fact, many composers of spatial music have seated the audience in spiral or circular patterns to deliberately remove any emphasis on one direction over another (VR is perhaps even better in this regard as the viewer is not physically tied to a seat, or at least a ‘virtual’ seat anyway!).

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This deliberate encouragement of different perspectives and viewpoints is a fundamental and indeed unavoidable aspect of spatial music which is very well matched to a virtual reality presentation (telling a story in VR is in contrast much more challenging).

So, given all of that, if we had a 360 camera and microphone rig, and we also had some 35 odd musicians, eight loudspeakers, a very large bell tower and a big open space to put them all in, what kind of spatial music can we create?

Well, that is the question, and an ongoing one! In later posts we’ll look at the logistics (which are many, and complex!) and setup of the orchestra for this piece, and we’ll talk about some of the music too (a little Henry Brant, and perhaps some spectral music too!).

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