Music as an Environment: 4DSOUND

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Courtesy of FACT Magazine

By Austin Weimer

Massive towers of speakers sit on both ends of the stage. The house music fades out and the band starts to play. A wave of sound explodes out of the PA system and the musicians’ amps, all facing the crowd. It’s loud enough for people outside the venue to hear. Standing in different areas of the venue changes the range of hearing in minute ways, but the company 4DSOUND is about to change everything. Sound no longer travels at an audience—it encircles one. Concerts in a 4D space are dynamic environments where the placement of an audience member drastically alters the experience.

4DSOUND turns entire venues into sonic environments by incorporating speakers into every conceivable space—surrounding the audience from the floor, the ceiling, and columns. Warehouse Elementenstraat in Amsterdam is the first club designed with this concept. The 16×16-meter space houses 48 small satellite speakers running up 16 evenly-spaced four-meter columns, as well as nine subwoofers that are flush with the floor.

Every speaker is routed and interpreted by Max, a virtual programming software that allows artists to view a real-time map of what sounds are traveling through the speakers. Each piece of a song has a place through which it can sit or travel. This means that dropping the bass is now a literal possibility with sound falling from the ceiling.

Courtesy of edmsauce.com

While this system is perfect for electronic music, it raises some questions about the translation of conventional recordings. Stereo channel recordings, which make up the majority of modern recorded music, will work with the software. Individual parts of a song, when set to pathways, travel through speakers around the room rather than constraining to two-dimensional panning. The fourth dimension of time applies to sound traveling from speaker to speaker, designed and monitored by a delay module, which functions in milliseconds. Remixing popular stereo songs for 4D has the potential to draw interest to the system.

Music already tailored to the system requires an entirely different approach. Songs have to take the form of a shape to fill and travel through space. In an article from The Creators Project, music producer Max Cooper described using the 4D space by saying, “You close your eyes and listen to that and you freak out because you think someone’s chopping your hair or putting a plastic bag over your head—it’s really quite convincing.”

Wherever artists take the music, the system is bound to embellish it in ways still unknown. The expense of purchasing and constructing a 4D system currently limits the growth of more such clubs, however, this unmatched experience will only feed consumer demand. For now, if the trip to Amsterdam sounds too expensive, binaural recordings intended for headphone use will recreate the space to a degree.

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