Tomás Henriques

SUNY Buffalo State University; CESEM — NOVA University

Composing Space: Innovative sound display techniques for a 52.1 Surround Mixing System

Innovative strategies for sound motion and localization using a 52.1 surround mixing system are described. Artistic, technical and research approaches to multi-channel electronic music composition, spatial sound design, and sound- localization solutions for the study of auditory perception are introduced. A group of software applications is discussed to illustrate the scope of creative possibilities offered by the surround system as a singular performance and research venue.
Recent experiments in the creation of multi-media performance venues exhibit a growing interest in the spatialization of sound. Such experiments include Virginia Tech’s CUBE, or the AlloBrain project. On the commercial side, the exploration of 3D and spatial sound for cinema has led to the creation of new, large multi-channel sound systems, such as Auro-3D and Dolby Atmos. These new explorations in sound display reveal the need to create and re-imagine new ways to interact and experience the world around us; an immersive powerful space where the motion and localization of sound plays a pivotal role.
The 52.1 surround sound system described in this paper allows artists and researchers to embrace spatial sound in innovative ways. It is installed in Ciminelli Hall, at SUNY Buffalo State’s music department, in Buffalo, NY, USA. This multi-channel diffusion set-up is the result of integrating, via a Dante digital audio network, a 38-speaker Yamaha Active Field Control system (AFC), with a 6.1 surround sound system, and an 8-speaker PA. Users access the surround system with a Dante-enabled computer that plugs into a Dante network switch, either on-site or remotely.
Software applications for real time sound motion and sound display have been developed using the MAX graphical programming language to interface with the system. One such application, “Space-Sequencer,” treats a subset of 32 speakers geometrically distributed in the Hall in a 4×8 matrix (4 rows of speakers, each row with 8 speakers) as a 4-track, 8-step, space based step sequencer. Each speaker is a sequencer ‘step’ that contains either sound or silence but because ‘steps’ are also spatial locations, they depict the motion of sound in space allowing a user to compose intricate rhythmic spatial patterns. Researchers in the field of cognitive psychology have shown interest in utilizing the 32-speaker subset of the surround system to perform experiments in sound perception. “Space Pong” is the first application that has been created towards this end. It is an audio game inspired by the classic arcade Pong game. Using a graphical representation of the concert hall on a large screen, the player is asked to both aurally and visually track the random spatial motion of a sound that bounces off the walls, and is required to ‘hit’ the sound with the paddle – a joystick of a game controller – to make it bounce back. This software integrates audio, visual and motor skills and is part of a toolkit being developed to assess sound localization and how it relates to other cognitive functions.

Keywords: Spatial Motion of Sound; Electronic Music Composition


Tomás Henriques is a composer and researcher who obtained a Ph.D. in Music Composition in 1997, from the University at Buffalo, NY. His research focuses on using sensor technologies to create innovative electronic music instruments and digital controllers for human computer interaction. Dr. Henriques won First Prize at the 2010 Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Design Competition, with the invention of his “Double Slide Controller.” His “Sonik Spring”, a controller that integrates haptics and hand/wrist driven 3D motion was granted two full US patents. From 2010-2013 he was the Principal Investigator of the “See-Through-Sound” project, an international research project aimed at helping visually impaired individuals ‘see’, using sonic cues. Recently Dr. Henriques teamed up with Yamaha engineers to develop a 52.1 surround sound system, installed at Buffalo State’s music department. At this university, Dr. Henriques is the head of Music Theory and the Director of the Program in Digital Music.