Next-Gen 4D Audio
Part of the name I've tried to make for myself is as someone slightly ahead of the curve, living five minutes in the future, hip to new technologies and ideas, an agent of reconnaissance giving people a heads-up on what their lives are going to look like sooner than they think. And call it good luck or some actual pseudo-mystical magnetic attraction to the novel, but this disposition does actually deliver, and I frequently and synchronously meet people with amazing news for the world.
One such moment happened last summer while I was attending Denver's Transistor Electronic Arts Festival, a mostly-unlistenable, but warm and punky science fair of various quasi-musical noise projects and proggy crossover bands. Contrary to expectation, my find of the evening didn't come from the stages, but from the crowd – in the form of one Melissa Gonzales, representative for Englewood, CO company GenAudio and harbinger of an awesome new technology she insisted would change the landscape of music forever.
I was excited, but incredulous. Claims like this are made more frequently than they deliver. I'd read about so-called "holophonic" technologies (based on the same principles as holographic light, spatial information is embedded in the sound waves to reproduce fully immersive 3D environments from a stereo signal). But this tech has been around for over a decade, supposedly...if it is such a big deal, where is it? Other than web gimmicks like the "virtual haircut," holophony hasn't really gone the places I'd hoped it to. Even these technologies rely on the fairly unsophisticated placement of two microphones, spaced at about the distance of two human ears, to recreate a 3D sound field. Not exactly "holophonic" in the sense of being able to mix audio in a vast virtual spacetime lattice.
But thanks to GenAudio, this is all changing. Their "4D" audio (elevation, distance, lateral orientation, and movement over time) creates a sonic environment more compelling than traditional Surround Sound, and playable on any stereo system. Professional versions of their software allow engineers to place and move pre-recorded tracks anywhere in a spherical environment. Even their commercial AstoundStereo Expander breathes new life into older recordings by significantly widening the stereo signal, giving tracks a vivid new spaciousness.
They've slipped their tech into a few videogames and home theater releases, but I'm much more impressed by their other, less obvious applications. They've started work on a hearing aid that would restore stereo field sensitivity to people with significant hearing loss in one ear – as well as telepresencing tech would create uncanny "thereness" for teleconferences – as well as a program that would integrate communication, traffic and terrain avoidance, guidance beacons, and threat warnings into a single coherent sonic landscape for pilots.
I'm convinced it's only a matter of time before this becomes the new industry standard, both within and beyond the music world. The prospect of pairing AstoundSound with technology like the radical audio mixing interface Noodle (developed by Peter Gabriel's RealWorld Studios), or its hardware offspring the reactable, boggles my mind. Not to mention that being able to fine-tune 4D placement of audio sources means that for the first time ever, producers could hypothetically source a variety of audio signals at the points of an enormous, spinning polyhedron. Ever listened to Beethoven's Fifth from the center of a slowly tumbling dodecahedron? Now you can. Sound healing engineers and Pythagoreans rejoice.
Using music to offer new translations of scientific data has grown in popularity over the years – but imagine how much more intimate our understanding of physics can be, now that we can sit ourselves down in the middle of a DNA molecule and listen to each base pair's fundamental frequencies spinning around us as we follow a transcription protein down the double helix. Imagine an audio planetarium where we sit listening to the spherical symphony of our sky, the eerie music of the stars. And it opens up a whole new field of scientific inquiry within the study of psychology and acoustics. What happens to someone's state of consciousness when you place them in the pineal organ of a 4D audio representation of their own real-time brain scan?
For a moment, forget what this is going to mean for TV producers and Top 40 hits, forget the glorious but schmaltzy cineplex applications, and come at this as a participant in evolution. Human history, painted in its broadest strokes, is the story of a deepening understanding of space and time. Framed by this, AstoundSound could well be the latest quantum leap in educational and scientific technology. New knowledge will be created from this, new ways of understanding reality. I don't think they realize the full ramifications of what they've done.
And I can't wait until they do.
This article republished in part with permission from my Visionary Music Blog at ColoradoMusicBoard.com.Tweet