Cilia Erens – Time Lapse China – the binaural Omniwave experiment

How can I design a loudspeaker setup in an exhibition space where the speakers enter into a dialogue with each other, and within which the visitor chooses his/her own route through the sound universe?

In 1982 I knock on the door at STEIM, by then situated at the Groenburgwal in Amsterdam, Nico Bes opens. He immediately refers me to a sonologist who reveals the binaural recording technique to me.
From that moment on I start experimenting with this technique and from 1987 to 2017 I create soundwalks and other forms of presentation of my binaural recordings. Sound themes, such as urbanity, collective silence, random rythms, arise from listening-observations of the world around me.
The keyfactor during this whole period remains the use of headphones as the tool to address the imagination with my unprocessed binaurally recorded ambient sound.

In 2017 Nico Bes will again open the door, this time for an artist-in-residency, some of June, July and October 2017. He leads me to Steim’s Studio 3 in Amsterdam Nieuw West. It is about an exploration on my binaural recordings, but now a first to be played on loudspeakers instead of over headphones.
The Amsterdam Fund for the Arts has granted me a Development Budget. I asked advisors to support me.

My 100 hours of binaural recordings of China’s immense globalisation in between 1986 and 2015 form the basis of my research on Time Lapse China

interview (3m51) by filmmaker Patricia Werner Leanse 

STEIM is ideal for this exploration, because they don’t have a fixed loudspeaker setup. Now I can examine all possible types of speakers to my heart’s content, that is to say I try and test, I drag them around; really a laboratorium situation.

working outline of the Omniwave speaker by Leo de Klerk : photo Cilia Erens

working outline of the Omniwave speaker by Leo de Klerk : photo Cilia Erens

Central to this research is that I can utilise a special loudspeaker system, the Omniwave, ‘the inaudible loudspeaker’, invented and provided by Leo de Klerk of Bloomline Studio. This type of loudspeaker creates a ‘sound-field’ without you being able to trace the speaker indifferently from your position in the studio.

Walking around in my installation the listener is experiencing a binaurally recorded sound-field, representing my chosen proximity to sound sources, my movements with my head and with my mics in ear, while recording.
The China recordings played over the Omniwave speakers sound so transparent and realistic that in the first phase of my research period in spite of my 24 tracks Pro Tools session I mainly utilize 2 stereo tracks, the Omniwave tracks.
‘As if I am in China myself’, is a repeatedly heard reaction, an experience which I only know from my recordings, when played through the headphones.

Magic! But that’s not what this exploration is about. I still have the rest of the speakers left to tempt the listener to focus on sounds that can enter into a dialogue with the sound field.
I choose different types of speakers with ‘local‘ reach, and insert isles of contrasting or additional sound into the sound-field. I use their sound characteristiques as  filters in stead of filtering the audio. I am looking for a balance between a sound-field and point sources.

A few inserts:
In the corner of the studio I hang a group of Xmini speakers. Despite their small  size, these type of lofi mono speakers accentuate the reverberation of an intercom in a huge train station hall (1986) locally.  

Other characteristic sounds, such as the sharp often overmodulated sound of the Chinese commercial megaphone-culture anno 2015, take a route through several  types of mono speakers. Thereafter briefly blaring solo from the ceiling through five lofi plastic Shidu voice- amplifiers in the middle of the studio, they end up over the Omni’s with their space-filling natural sound field.

The recordings of buzzing car tyres from the extensive e-traffic are criss crossing the studio with intervals through various mono speakers. For a short time they mix with the Omniwave sound-field of a passing shuffling mumbling woman, sounding hollow in the narrow alley. The buzzing ultimately takes over, softer and softer, the intervals becoming longer and longer in order to let it work as an abstract silent passage in the predominantly noisy composition.

At the end of the period I also start to sample. The sonic affect becomes more important than the recognition of the sound itself.
Playing with sound themes through the variety of speakers and speaker-systems mixes them into one spatial composition. The listeners can walk their own path through the studio, choosing from the panorama of sounds, that expresses altogether a time picture.Pilot NFA Sound Design lichting 2021STEIM Open Days, merged photo by Cilia Erens

PILOT during the Open Studio Days and the Amsterdam Museumnight 2018:
These four days give me the opportunity to experiment with the public. I place up to 10 chairs randomly through space. I am questioning myself:
Will the visitors sit or walk or do both within this spacial composition?
Do I let them experience the composition (13m18) from start to finish or can they jump in at any moment?

The pilot study at Steim combining Omniwaves and other types of speakers, starts to give me insights into how binaural sound expressess itself in a space instead of through headphones. Balancing between sound-fields and point sources teaches me more about possible ways of creating a spatial composition, a universe, resounding my listening-observations of the Chinese globalization between 1986 and 2015.
A first step in setting up an exhibition, my ultimate goal.

Thanks Steim. It was inspirational to be able to explore in the Steim atmosphere on the other side of the Amsterdam ringroad A10.

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