"Model A" Wave Field Synthesis array
Almost all of my musical works are created in relation to the unique qualities of a given space. Over the past few years I have specialized in multichannel spatial audio, with a particular interest in Wave Field Synthesis, a form of spatial audio that employs a large number of small speakers to create highly realistic sound source images in space.
I currently design and build Wave Field Synthesis (WFS) systems that are portable and flexible. In Autumn 2021, I publicly premiered my first complete system, the Model A: a 24-channel, single-height, fully modular array, built with a focus on sound installations in small to medium-sized rooms.
Wave field synthesis (WFS) is a spatial audio technology that places virtual sound sources in real space with a high degree of precision, using anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of small speakers in a linear array. To the listener, the synthesized source sounds “real” no matter where the listener sits. Listeners can perceive musical instruments as if they were in the presence of real musicians, or take a walk inside a highly realistic natural environment. In a WFS system, a large number (from dozens to hundreds) of small loudspeakers are arranged in a straight line. Each speaker is controlled independently via computer, which coordinates the firing of the loudspeakers to generate the wave field. While stereo and traditional surround-sound systems only really work for listeners seated in a small “sweet spot,” WFS listeners can be anywhere in the sound field and still perceive the virtual sound sources where they are intended.
I first got interested in Wave Field Synthesis in 2017, at a spatial audio workshop held by the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. Although it is very large, with several hundred speakers, EMPAC's WFS system was built largely with commercially available components.
The Model A at Brown University, March 2022.
Studying their system and learning from their team, I and several others started to realize that WFS was within reach of smaller institutions and even non-affiliated individuals, such as myself. I decided I would try building my own system, for my own use, with the idea that I could 1.) take my show on the road, with my own original works composed for WFS as well as those of colleagues; and 2.) work with other individuals and institutions interested in developing their own WFS.
The Model A's speaker enclosure has a hexagonal cross-section, allowing the user to stack two linear arrays on top of each other, offset by 45°. This effectively cuts the distance between driver centerpoints in half, raising the upper frequency limit. This design along with the magnetic join plates allow them to be connected to each other in multiple configurations, not just linear arrays. I plan to make the design of the Model A publicly available via the CERN Open Hardware License.
Portability is a design necessity for me. I've been playing contrabass for 30 years, which means dealing with the complications of travel with a large, complex, and fragile instrument that costs extra hours and, often, extra money at the airport. I wanted to make sure I could fly with my WFS without extra hassle, so I gave myself the requirement that my system would fit in a Pelican 1615, the largest flight case allowed on most passenger jets without an oversize fee.