At a time when our sense of physical space is being radically challenged and modified by new global communication technologies, it seems not unusual that composers are taking a renewed interest in it. We have begun to experiment with using the new technologies available to us to move sound in space and create surround-sound environments.
For electroacoustic music and other soundscapes we have pan pots on our mixing desks and in our synthesizers to radially position sounds between loudspeakers, and reverberators to simulate the distance of sound sources from the listener. Dolby Digital 5.1 (AC-3) and DTS were introduced as competing standards for theatre sound recordings around 1992 and consumer products are available in both formats. In addition, Digital Versatile Discs (DVDs) are making sophisticated soundfield techniques such as Ambisonics both practical and more accessible.
This article traces some of my own explorations in the use of 3-space for musical composition, examines the limitations of basing structuring methodologies primarily on functional psychoacoustic studies of hearing, and suggests alternative approaches based on an understanding of 3-space from the work of the perceptual psychologist James Gibson.
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