Acouscous is an interactive audio-spatialisation project that integrates theatre, game design, and modern spatial tracking technologies. At the heart of the project is a live performance staged in the Cube using its high density loudspeaker array. Acouscous is a highly participatory experience, exploring and documenting the new territory of audience agency in a spatial audio setting. The performance invites audiences to navigate three-dimensional soundgardens using their bodies and gestures; these soundgardens are dynamic soundscapes that will place participants in various worlds through experimental and cinematic music composition. The project will investigate the use of tracking sensors to encourage movement to trigger changes in the soundgarden. Audiences will also be able to travel between soundgardens using similar tracking. Live actors in the space will play a crucial role to facilitate, support and enhance the piece.
The project is a collaboration of sound, visual, theatre and gaming artists from Boston, MA, Blacksburg, VA, Nova Scotia, and London. All members participated in the 2018 Spatial Music Workshop (SMW) as part of ICAT’s programming for upskilling artists in use of the Cube’s sonic and motion capture capabilities. The team established connections after the SMW around a keen desire to work together to bring a collaborative project back to the Cube. Ryan’s expertise as a composer and Katharine’s eye for narrative threads in visual arts and cinematography, combined with Bagel+Balloon and Tanner’s cross-disciplinary experience in game design, technology and theatre, demonstrates a unique team that is at the cutting edge of exploration into how live performance, interactive technology and sound composition invite new audience engagement in the 21st century.
The experimental nature of triggering audio through physical gesture is both exciting and challenging. Acouscous strives to create agency for public audiences with a clear connection between body motion and its effect on designed sound. Curated kinesthetic and narrative invitations provide audiences with clear feedback of how they can navigate and manipulate an aural world. Acouscous intends to put trackable props in the hands of the audience as they explore a responsive narrative.
The sensory capabilities of spatial sound combined with live performance elements both invites and expands audience perception of the “magic circle” and the possibilities of what is “real”. Prioritizing audio and physicality move us into an alternate realm that is accessible for a wide audience and moves away from our reliance on a fixed, visual perspective. Ambulatory input with the motion capture systems will invite audiences to explore a spatial relationship to an aural experience. The team integrates all the technologies with computer networking by an Internet of Things (IoT) protocol Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), which is used to trigger and process sounds in Max and Ableton Live. Audience members will always have a choice in how they engage with the work and live performers. The team will also be performers in the experience to guide audiences.
Drawing upon experiences from the SMW, the Cube’s physical dimension and high density loudspeaker array offers the potential for social, interactive experiences. Acouscous is a journey through an evolving landscape of sound where individual, physical interactions change into a collective response. We think the most innovative work in this area is when audiences enter into a
dialogic relationship with both the piece and each other. Similar works include Raumklang by Zeno van den Broek & Robin Koek at the 2018 Gaudeamus exhibit. Raumklang collects acoustic elements through spatial tracking, and “transforms [them] into a site-specific composition which intertwines the virtual and physical architecture.” Raumklang is reliant on headphones, while the proposed project prioritizes the unencumbered sound space. Acouscous will innovate the first performance in the Cube where every audience member has a spatial controller affecting both immediate sound changes and the broader narrative.
ICAT 2019-2020 Major Sead Grant