LONG BEACH, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 2008: For one amazing night in September, the Long Beach artist group, FLOOD, dedicates four square blocks of indoor and outdoor space in the East Village Arts District to dozens of sound art installations. Now in its fifth year, â€œSoundWalkâ€? bills itself as â€œan audio tour for people who donâ€™t normally take audio toursâ€? and has gained international acclaim. This year, seasoned theater sound designer and UC Irvine Professor Vincent Olivieri presented â€œSound Ceilingâ€? using four ultra-directional Sennheiser AudioBeam loudspeakers to deliver four unique aural environments within one undivided space.
To realize his installation, Olivieri spaced the four Sennheiser AudioBeam loudspeakers three feet from one another and lined them up against one wall in a room that was about 20â€² by 10â€². He covered the opposite wall in absorbent material to minimize reflections. The extraordinarily narrow beamwidth of the AudioBeam made the distinct program material emanating from each speaker seem like an aural spotlight. A participant walked into one of the four â€œspotlightsâ€? and experienced one soundtrack while someone else a few feet away and standing in a different â€œspotlightâ€? experienced something completely different. Participants could walk from â€œspotlightâ€? to â€œspotlightâ€? and radically alter their aural environment in just a few paces. Program material included the sounds of machinery, forest animals, a train, the New York City subway, an art gallery, and water dropping.
Nothing in everyday life can compare to the â€œSound Ceilingâ€? experience, according to Olivieri. â€œBy delivering a variety of aural environments to different ultra-directional loudspeakers, I hoped to raise questions about how we define our environment,â€? he explained. â€œHow do our ears determine where we are? How do our bodies navigate the disparity that arises when different senses perceive wholly different environmental cues? What happens when people in the same physical space receive different environmental cues? â€œSound Ceilingâ€? caused each listener to challenge their preconception of how sound affects perception of the physical environment. By passing through the â€œSound Ceiling,â€? a variety of aural cues caused the listener to reevaluate their surroundings.â€?
â€œSuffice it to say, â€˜Sound Ceilingâ€™ could not have happened without Sennheiserâ€™s new AudioBeam technology,â€? he continued. â€œThey have a reputation for creating high-quality products that are innovative and reliable. Audio Beam is no exception.â€?
The Sennheiser AudioBeam is much more than a variation on standard loudspeaker technology, for which only high-frequency content is directional. Instead, AudioBeam uses 150 piezoelectric transducers to transmit an ultrasonic signal that demodulates at a short distance in front of the speaker. As a consequence, even low-frequency content retains tremendous directionality.
By all accounts, â€œSound Ceilingâ€? was a smashing success – a steady stream of participants filled the room throughout the evening and appeared equally puzzled and delighted by the experience. Olivieri will certainly elaborate on â€œSound Ceilingâ€? at next yearâ€™s SoundWalk. But Olivieri is already contemplating other creative uses for UC Irvineâ€™s new AudioBeams.
â€œMost of my professional work has been as a theatrical sound designer,â€? he said. â€œPart of designing sound is determining how best to deliver that sound to the audience. Standard practice is to divide the audience into subsections and design delivery systems for each subsection. In theatrical environments, the goal is usually to create a uniform aural experience for every member of the audience, but I have long been interested in breaking that rule.
â€œThe Sennheiser AudioBeam now makes it possible to break that rule,â€? he continued. â€œMore importantly, it raises a host of interesting philosophical questions that both me and my masters students are excited to tackle. For example, what is the role of audio if not every member of the audience hears it? How does changing the aural environment for different members of the audience alter their experience of the event?â€?
SENNHEISER Sennheiser is a world-leading manufacturer of microphones, headphones and wireless transmission, and acoustic audio systems. Established in 1945 in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser is now a global brand represented in 60 countries around the world with U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Sennheiserâ€™s pioneering excellence in technology has rewarded the company with numerous awards and accolades including an Emmy, a Grammy, and the Scientific and Engineering Award of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
For more information, please visit www.sennheiserusa.com
PHOTO CAPTION Vincent Olivieri, theater sound designer and UC Irvine professor, presented the fifth annual â€œSound Ceilingâ€? sound art installation using four ultra-directional Sennheiser AudioBeam loudspeakers to deliver four unique aural environments within one undivided space.