Application of Wave Field Synthesis in the composition of
M.A.J. Baalman, M.Sc.
Electronic Studio, Technical University, Berlin, Germany
Wave Field Synthesis offers new possibilities for
composers of electronic music to add the dimension
of space to a composition. Unlike most other
spatialisation techniques, Wave Field Synthesis is
suitable for concert situations, where the listening
area needs to be large. It is shown that an affordable
system can be built to apply the technique and that
software can be written which makes it possible to
make compositions, not being dependent on the
actual setup of the system, where it will be played.
Composers who have written pieces for the system
have shown that with Wave Field Synthesis one can
create complex paths through space, which are
perceivable from a large listening area.
Spatialisation1 has been a topic of interest in the
development of electronic music since the 1950's;
common techniques make use of quadraphonic or
octaphonic setups and are based on providing
localisation cues based on psycho-acoustics or
acoustics (e.g. Chowning 1971). The technique of
ambisonics has become popular since the 1990's
(e.g. Malham and Matt 1995). There are also various
examples where more loudspeakers are used, mostly
as setups for one specific piece or location and not
as a standardardized setup. A detailed historical
overview of spatialisation techniques can be found
in Malham & Matt (1995).
The limitation of stereo or ambisonic techniques
is that it only works perfectly well for one listener,
who is positioned on the so-called "sweet spot".
Obviously, in common concert environments the
intended effect of movement of the sound will in
these cases not be heard by a majority of the
Wave field synthesis is a technique that can
overcome the limitation of only working well for
one "sweet spot" and can provide a good perceptual
'In this paper no comparisons are made to
headphone techniques, as these techniques are
quite different from loudspeaker techniques by
principle and less suitable for concert situations.
localisation in a relatively large listening area. This
makes the techique ideal for concert environments.
Its increasing popularity in audio engineering
shows that it is not unlikely that the technique will
be available in concert halls and becomes affordable
for studios in the near future (see CARROUSO2).
This article describes the first experiences with
the application of wave field synthesis in the
composition of electronic music. A short,
comprehensive explanation of the technique is
given, a description of the system used in the project
at the TU Berlin and the interface software, followed
by a description of the possibilities that were used by
composers. The pieces described were presented on
the Club Transmediale Festival in Berlin, on the 4th
of February 2003.
2 Wave Field Synthesis
The concept of Wave Field Synthesis (WFS) is
based on a principle that was thought of in the 17th
century by the Dutch physicist Huygens (1690)
about the propagation of waves. He stated that when
you have a wavefront, you can synthesize the next
wavefront by imagining on the wavefront an infinite
Figure 1. The Huygens' Principle
2 CARROUSO (Creating, assessing and rendering in
real-time of high-quality audio-visual
environments in MPEG-4 context),
http://emt.eemtiis.fhg. de/proj ects/carrouso/