Spatial Media Synthesis (SMS) is the scientific practice of generating sound in three dimensions. It is a hybrid of surround video and surround sound, in which the sound source is defined, and the spatial and visual elements are projected onto a three dimensional plane.
The technique can be viewed as a form of immersive installation. It also involves the social interaction between audience members. In an example, the SFMOMA exhibition “Future Cinema” features a simulated space that encourages interactivity between audience members.
The technology of spatial media synthesis is not new, but it is being applied in a variety of ways. For example, Recombinant Media Labs, a San Francisco-based organization, has produced works based on the technique. These include a 10-screen wrap-around cinema experience and an interactive installation. RML’s CineChamber is a multidisciplinary production platform that offers extensive immersive intermedia production opportunities, such as realtime installation interactions with live music.
RML has been active in the space of spatial media synthesis since the 1990s, but their work has evolved over time. The company started with hundreds of speaker arrays in Tokyo and later installed a permanent performance arts center in San Francisco. Currently, the lab’s work is focused on the aesthetic and technological boundaries of immersive environments.
One of the most exciting developments is the use of spatial media synthesis to produce a virtual environment. Polispective is an interactive audiovisual installation that combines abstract synthetic spatial elements with urban physical environmental imagery. The piece also explores a hybrid type of space, which is described as a mix of space and time.
Another important aspect of spatial media synthesis is that the resulting images are projected onto a three dimensional space. There are two different parts to the software: a module that defines the spatial properties of the input signal, and a module that defines the placement and distribution of the image objects in the space.
Among other forms of spatial media synthesis, Recombinant Media Labs has developed a telegenic staging platform that can be used to display a wide range of multimedia content. This immersive system, the CineChamber, is a large rectangular surround-screen apparatus that can be fitted into auditoriums. However, RML has not only explored cinema surround installations, but also other modes of spatial sound synthesis.
For example, the 4DSOUND system is a type of spatial sound medium that removes the localization of the sound source and is independent of the listener’s hearing characteristics. Rather than using a pre-recorded signal, the spatial sound data is generated and swarming algorithms are used to generate movement trajectories. Additionally, the 4DSOUND Animator contains modules for generative movements, complex shapes for multiple-point delay patterns, and scripts for movement trajectories.
Finally, a special guest artist will perform visual distractions. The resulting dialogue will explore topics such as catastrophism, disembodied temporality, information overload, artificial simulations, and shuffle-culture.
Recombinant Media Labs is a place for creative evolution, where the boundaries between art, science, and technology are blurred. The company continues to develop innovative techniques in Experiential Engineering and to foster radical spatial media synthesis methods.