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Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment


Abstract and Figures

The UCSB Allosphere is a 3-story-high spherical instrument in which virtual environments and performances can be experienced in full immersion. The space is now being equipped with high-resolution active stereo projectors, a 3D sound system with several hundred speakers, and with tracking and interaction mechanisms. The Allosphere is at the same time multimodal, multimedia, multi-user, immersive, and interactive. This novel and unique instrument will be used for research into scientific visualization/auralization and data exploration, and as a research environment for behavioral and cognitive scientists. It will also serve as a research and performance space for artists exploring new forms of art. In particular, the Allosphere has been carefully designed to allow for immersive music and aural applications. In this paper, we give an overview of the instrument, focusing on the audio subsystem. We give the rationale behind some of the design decisions and explain the different techniques employed in making the Allosphere a truly general-purpose immersive audiovisual lab and stage. Finally, we present first results and our experiences in developing and using the Allosphere in several prototype projects.
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Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive
Xavier Amatriain, Jorge Castellanos, Tobias H¨ollerer, JoAnn Kuchera-Morin,
Stephen T. Pope, Graham Wakefield, and Will Wolcott
UC Santa Barbara
Abstract. The UCSB Allosphere is a 3-story-high spherical instrument in which
virtual environments and performances can be experienced in full immersion. The
space is now being equipped with high-resolution active stereo projectors, a 3D
sound system with several hundred speakers, and with tracking and interaction
The Allosphere is at the same time multimodal, multimedia, multi-user,
immersive,andinteractive. This novel and unique instrument will be used for
research into scientific visualization/auralization and data exploration, and as a
research environment for behavioral and cognitive scientists. It will also serve as
a research and performance space for artists exploring new forms of art. In par-
ticular, the Allosphere has been carefully designed to allow for immersive music
and aural applications.
In this paper, we give an overview of the instrument, focusing on the audio
subsystem. We give the rationale behind some of the design decisions and ex-
plain the different techniques employed in making the Allosphere a truly general-
purpose immersive audiovisual lab and stage. Finally, we present first results
and our experiences in developing and using the Allosphere in several prototype
1 Introduction
The Allosphere is a novel environment that will allow for synthesis, manipulation, ex-
ploration and analysis of large-scale data sets providing multi-user immersive inter-
active interfaces for research into immersive audio, scientific visualization, numerical
simulations, visual and aural data mining, knowledge discovery, systems integration,
human perception, and last but not least, artistic expression.
The space enables research in which art and science contribute equally. It serves
as an advanced research instrument in two overlapping senses. Scientifically, it is an
instrument for gaining insight and developing bodily intuition about environments into
which the body cannot venture: abstract, higher-dimensional information spaces, the
worlds of the very small or very large, the very fast or very slow, from nanotechnology
to theoretical physics, from proteomicsto cosmology,from new materials to new media.
Artistically, the Allosphere is an instrument for the creation and performance of new
avant-garde works and the development of new modes and genres of expression and
forms of immersion-based entertainment, fusing future art, architecture, science, music,
media, games, and cinema.
R. Kronland-Martinet, S. Ystad, and K. Jensen (Eds.): CMMR 2007, LNCS 4969, pp. 380–400, 2008.
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2008
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 381
Fig. 1. A virtual rendering of the Allosphere
The Allosphere is situated at one corner of the California Nanosystems Institute
building at the University of California Santa Barbara (see virtual model in Figure 1),
surrounded by a number of associated labs for visual/audio computing,robotics and dis-
tributed systems, interactive visualization,world modeling, and media post-production.
The main presentation space consists of a three-story near-to-anechoic room contain-
ing a custom-built close-to-spherical screen, ten meters in diameter (see Figure 3). The
sphere environment integrates visual, sonic, sensory, and interactive components. Once
fully equipped, the Allosphere will be one of the largest immersive instruments in the
world. It provides a truly 3D 4
steradians surround-projection space for visual and
aural data and accommodates up to 30 people on a bridge suspended in the middle of
the instrument.
The space surrounding the spherical screen is close to cubical, with an extra con-
trol/machine room in the outside corner, pointed to by the bridge structure. The whole
outer space is treated with sound absorption material (4-footwedges on almost all inner
surfaces), forming a quasi-anechoic chamber of large proportions. Mounted inside this
chamber are two 5-meter-radius hemispheres, constructed of perforated aluminum that
are designed to be optically opaque (with low optical scatter) and acoustically transpar-
ent. Figure 4 is a detailed drawing showing a horizontal slice through the Allosphere
at bridge height. The two hemispheres are connected above the bridge, forming a com-
pletely surround-view screen.
We are equipping the instrument with 14 high-resolution video projectors mounted
around the seam between the two hemispheres, projecting onto the entire inner surface.
A loudspeaker array is placed behind the aluminum screen, suspended from the steel in-
frastructure in rings of varyingdensity (See speaker in the bottom left corner in Figure 2).
382 X. Amatriain et al.
Fig. 2. Looking into the Allosphere from just outside the entrance
The Allosphere represents in many senses a step beyond already existing virtual
environments such as the CAVE [9], even in their more recent “fully immersive” rein-
carnations [15], especially regarding its size, shape, the number of people it can ac-
commodate, and its potential for multimedia immersion. In this paper, we focus on a
particular aspect of the multimedia infrastructure, the audio subsystem.
Although the space is not fully equipped at this point, we have been experimenting
and prototyping with a range of equipment, system configurations, and applications that
pose varying requirements. We envision the instrument as an open framework that is in
constant evolution, with major releases signaling major increments in functionality.
2 A Truly Multimedia/Multimodal System
An important aspect of the Allosphere is its focus on multimedia processing, as it
combines state-of-the-art techniques both on virtual audio and visual data spatialization.
There is extensive evidence of how combined audio-visual information can
influence and support information understanding [19]. Nevertheless, most existing im-
mersive environments focus on presenting visual data. The Allosphere is a completely
interactive multimodal data mining environment with state-of-the-art audio and music
capabilities [28].
Figure 5 illustrates the main subsystems and componentsin the Allosphere, as well as
their interactions. The diagram is a simplified view of the integrated multi-modal/media
system design. The exact interactions among the various media data (visual, aural, and
interactive) are dependent on the particular individual applications to be hosted.
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 383
Fig. 3. The Allosphere
The remainder of this section will briefly introduce each of those components and
subsystems, as well as the way they interact. In Section 3 we will then discuss the audio
subsystem (Allo.A) in detail.
The main requirements for the Allosphere visual subsystem (Allo.V) are fixed both
by the building and screen characteristics and the final image quality targeted [12]. The
sphere screen area is 320.0 m2and its reflective gain, FOV averaged, is 0.12. The Allo-
sphere projection system (Allo.V.D.P) requires image warping and blending to create the
illusion of a seamless image from multiple projectors. We have designed a projection
system consisting of 14 3-chip DLP active stereo projectors with 3000 lumens output
and SXGA+ resolution (1400x1050) each. The projectors are being installed with an
effective projector overlap/blending loss coefficient of 1.7.
A typical multi-modal application in the Allosphere will integrate several distributed
components, sharing a LAN:
- back-end processing (data/content accessing)
- output media mapping (visualization and/or sonification)
- A/V rendering and projection management.
- input sensing, including real-time vision and camera tracking (related to Allo.V.V),
real-time audio capture and tracking (related to Allo.A.C), a sensor network includ-
ing different kind of regular wireless sensors as well as other presence and activity
detectors (related to Allo.SN).
- gesture recognition/control mapping
- interface to a remote (scientific, numerical, simulation, data mining) application
It follows from our specification requirements – and our experimentshave confirmed
this view – that off-the-shelfcomputing and interface solutions are insufficient to power
the sphere. Allosphere applications not only require a server cluster dedicated to video
384 X. Amatriain et al.
Fig. 4. Horizontal section of the Allosphere
and audio rendering and processing, but also a low-latency interconnection fabric so
that data can be processed on multiple computers (in a variety of topologies) in real
time, an integration middleware, and an application server that can control the system
in a flexible and efficient way.
The computation infrastructure will consist of a network of distributed computa-
tional nodes. Communication between processes will be accomplished using standards
such as MPI. The Allosphere Network (Allo.NW) will have to host not only this kind of
standard/low-bandwidth message passing but also multichannel multimedia streaming.
The suitability of Gigabit Ethernet or Myrinet regarding bandwidth and latency is still
under discussion. In our first prototypes, Gigabit has proved sufficient, but our projec-
tions show that it will become a bottleneck for the complete system, especially when
using a distributed renderingsolution to stream highly dynamic visual applications.We
are considering custom hardware technologies as a possible necessity in the future.
3 The Audio Subsystem
The Allosphere is designed to provide “sense-limited” resolution in both the audio and
visual domains. This means that the spatial resolution for the audio output must allow
us to place virtual sound sources at arbitrary points in space with convincing synthesis
of the spatial audio cues used in psychoacoustical localization. Complementary to this,
the system must allow us to simulate the acoustics of measured or simulated spaces
with a high degree of accuracy.
In a later stage we also plan to complement the audio subsystem with a microphone
array in order to arrive at fully immersive audio [25]. However, this component is still
at the very early stages of design and will therefore not be discussed in this section.
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 385
Fig. 5. The Allosphere Components with a highlighted Audio Subsystem
3.1 Acoustical Requirements
In order to provide “ear-limited” dynamic, frequency, and spatial extent and resolution,
we require the system to be able to reproduce in excess of 100 dB sound pressure level
near the center of the sphere, to have acceptable low- and high-frequency extension
(-3 dB points below 80 Hz and above 15 kHz). We designed the spatial resolution
to be on the order of 3 degrees in the horizontal plane (i.e., 120 channels), and 10
degrees in elevation. To provide high-fidelity playback, we require audiophile-grade
audio distribution formats and amplification, so that the effective signal-to-noise ratio
exceeds 80 dB, with a useful dynamic range of more than 90 dB.
To be useful for data sonification [4] and as a music performance space, the decay
time (the “T60 time”) of the Allosphere was specified to be less than 0.75 seconds from
100 Hz to 10 kHz [6]. This is primarily an architectural feature related to the properties
of the sound absorbing treatment in the quasi-anechoic chamber, which was designed to
minimize the effect of the aluminum projection screen. The perforations on the screen
have also been designed to minimize its effect across most of the audible spectrum.
Initial experiments confirm that the absorption requirements have indeed been met.
3.2 Speaker System
It has been a major project to derive the optimal speaker placements and speaker density
function for use with mixed-technology many-channel spatialization software
386 X. Amatriain et al.
Fig. 6. Allosphere speaker placement iterative design method and variables
Fig. 7. Allosphere speaker placement design, initial results after first iterations taking into account
VBAP requirements
(see discussion and calculations in [13], summarized in figure 6). Our driver place-
ment design comprises between 425 and 500 speakers arranged in several rings around
the upper and lower hemispheres, with accommodations at the “seams” between the
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 387
desired equal and symmetrical spacing and the requirements of the support structure.
The loudspeakers will be mounted behind the screen.
We have projected densely packed circular rings of speaker drivers running just
above and below the equator (on the order of 100-150 channels side-by-side), and 2-3
smaller and lower-density rings concentrically above and below the equator. The main
loudspeakers have limited low-frequency extension, in the range of (down to) 200-300
Hz. To project frequencies below this, four large sub-woofer(s) are mounted on the
underside of the bridge.
At this moment, because of timing and construction constraints, we have installed
a prototype system with only 16 full range speakers installed along the three differ-
ent rings mentioned above and two subwoofers under the bridge. Those speakers are
connected to the computer via Firewire audio interfaces that support 32 channels.
For the imminent growth of the prototype into the full system, we plan to switch to
passive speaker elements wired to a set of 8-16 networked digital-to-analog converter
(DAC) amplifier boxes, each of which supports in the range of 32-128channels and has
a Firewire interface. As an alternative, we are also considering building custom inter-
face boxes consisting of a Gigabit Ethernet interface, digital/analog converter, power
amplifier, and step-up transformer (this would be based on a design developed at CN-
MAT for their 120-channel loudspeaker array [10]).
4 Spatial Sound System
Since the Allosphere is to foster the development of integrated software for scientific
data sonification and auditory display, as well as artistic applications, it is essential that
the software and hardware used for audio synthesis, processing, control, and spatial
projection be as flexible and scalable as possible. We require that the audio software
libraries support all popular synthesis and processing techniques, that they be easily
combined with off-the-shelf audio software written using third-party platforms such
as Csound, Max/MSP, and SuperCollider, and that they support flexible control via
(at least) the MIDI and Open Sound Control (OSC) protocols. Due to the sophistica-
tion of the audio synthesis and processing techniques used in Allosphere applications,
and the expected very large number of final output channels, we require that the core
audio libraries support easy inter-host streaming of large numbers of channels of high-
resolution (24- bit, 96 kHz) audio, probably using both the CSL/RFS and SDIF net-
worked audio protocols.
This section discusses the design of the spatial audio software library developed
for the Allosphere. The CREATE Signal Library (CSL) [20] is intended to function
as the core library, handling all audio needs of the Allosphere. We have developed a
flexible software framework based on the CSL, in which different techniques, sets of
psychoacoustical cues, and speaker layouts can be combined and swapped at run time
(see Castellanos thesis [7]).
The first step towards this goal was to design a spatial audio library that integrated
seamlessly with CSL. To this end, the spatial audio software developed for the Al-
losphere consists of the implementation of a library written in C++ as part of CSL.
By designing this framework, we provided an immediate solution for spatial sound
388 X. Amatriain et al.
reproduction in the Allosphere, but also, most importantly, opened the path towards the
development of a universal spatial-sound reproduction system. The system aims to be
intuitive and easy to operate by those that need a ready-to-use surround sound system,
but at the same time sufficiently complex and flexible for the initiated user who may
desire to fine-tune the system and or add new configurations and techniques. Such sys-
tem would ideally include, in one package, all major currently existing spatialization
techniques. The next paragraphs give an overview of the framework that was designed
to that effect.
4.1 Spatial Audio Framework
The design of the spatial audio framework was driven by the goal of using the Allo-
sphere as a multipurpose environment, equally suitable for scientists and artists for a
variety of applications. This goal required flexibility in the systems configuration and
interfaces manipulation. Its most current version [7] was designed using the ”Meta-
model for Multimedia Processing Systems” (also known as 4mps) proposed by Xavier
Amatriain [1]. This metamodel provides a solid ground for a flexible, dynamic and
extensible library.
The flexibility vs. simplicity trade-off was solved by using a layered interface, where
each layer provides different levels of flexibility, with the trade-off of complexity. Es-
sentially, the system provides different interface layers, where higher-hierarchy layers
conceal the complexity of lower (and more flexible layers), while providing more de-
fault / standardized options. Thus, a higher degree of complexity and flexibility is avail-
able on to those who need it.
The simplest interface conceals from the user all spatialization mechanisms, not of-
fering the option of choosing any distance cues or the spatialization technique for sound
reproduction. The user is responsible only with determining the desired location of the
sound source in a 3D coordinate space, and providing the audio material. The frame-
work will handle everything else, including the encoding/decoding technique and the
loudspeaker configuration. At the other end, by using the lowest layer, the user can
determine the distance cues, filters and spatialization algorithm. It is also possible to
perform changes dynamically at run-time.
The most complex configuration of the framework is created around the concept of a
Spatializer. A spatializer constitutes a processor capable of manipulating a stream of au-
dio with its output appearing to originate at a particular location in a virtual/simulated
space. A spatializer is composed of various processing units, such as distance filters,
panners and a layout of the loudspeaker setup. Ideally, the Spatializer would simplify
the spatial audio reproduction by loading the most appropriate ”panner” (vbap, am-
bisonic, etc.) based on the audio setup description (loudspeaker layout). This technique
would eventually appear to the user as a single spatialization engine that performs satis-
factorily under any circumstances. When more flexibility is needed, the various compo-
nents of a spatializer can be used individually creating custom or more complex audio
The current design does not place any restrictions on the number of loudspeakers
to be used and their placement. The limit to the number of loudspeakers to be used in
a particular configuration is primarily imposed by the computing resources available.
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 389
Fig. 8. Spatializer Class Diagram
The loudspeaker layout has to be specified as needed for audio spatialization processing.
The framework is designed to load the loudspeaker layout from a text file containing
the position of each individual component (loudspeaker). For the more user-friendly
configurations, there are several default loudspeaker layouts that can be chosen without
the need of manually entering the coordinates of the loudspeakers For instance, a Stereo
setup will automatically add two loudspeakers -30 and 30 degrees.
5 Spatial Audio Techniques
There are three main techniques for spatial sound reproduction used in current state-of-
the-art systems: (1) vector-base amplitude panning [21], (2) ambisonic representations
and processing [17], and (3) wave field synthesis (see [23] and [5]). Each of these
techniques provides a different set of advantages and presents unique challenges when
scaling up to a large number of speakers and of virtual sources.
In the following paragraphs we outline how we have approached the challenges and
opportunities of each of these techniques in the context of the Allosphere project.
5.1 Vector-Base Amplitude Panning
With the Vector base Amplitude Panning technique, a sound can be located in a virtual
space by manipulating the balance of the audio signal sent to each speaker. It is as-
sumed that the speakers are equidistant from the listener, and that panning only allows
moving the source position along the arc between speakers (i.e., source distance must
be simulated independently). The first step is to determine which three speakers define
the smallest triangle that includes p(the desired position), and what the contribution of
energy from each of these will be to simulate a source at position p. Given a desired
source position, one can apply an arbitrary weighting function to derive the factors for
the output channels given the position of the vector for the loudspeaker triplet L(see
equation 1).
390 X. Amatriain et al.
gains =pTL1
mnk =[p1p2p3]
Practical VBAP systems allow interactive performance with multiple moving sound
sources, which are mapped and played back over medium-scale projection systems.
VBAP has been mainly promulgated by groups in Finland and France and is used ef-
fectively in 8-32-channel CAVE virtual environments.
The drawbacks of VBAP are that it does not directly answer the question of how
to handle distance cues (relatively easy to solve for distant sources and low Doppler
shift), and that it provides no spatialization model for simulating sound sources inside
the sphere of loudspeakers. This is a grave problem for our applications, but also a
worthy topic for our research. The question boils down to how to spread a source over
more than 3 speakers without limiting the source position to the edges of the surface
described by the chosen set of speakers.
The VBAP algorithm involves a search among the geometrical representations of
the speakers defining the playback configuration, and then some simple matrix math to
calculate the relative gains of each of the three chosen speakers. Thereare several open-
source implementations of VBAP that support multiple sources (with some interactive
control over their positions), and flexible speaker configurations involving up to 32
Members of our research group implemented a system in which the user can move
and direct a number of independent sound sources using a data glove input device, and
play back sound files or streaming sound sources through VBAP, using a variable num-
ber of loudspeakers specified in a dynamic configuration file (see McCoy thesis [18]).
VBAP can be integrated with a spatial reverberator, allowing early reflections from a
reverberator to be individually panned, though this gets computationallyexpensive with
many sources, complex room simulations, or rapid source (or listener) motion.
Because VBAP is so simple, most implementations are monolithic, 1-piece pack-
ages. This is obviously unacceptable for our purposes, so we needed to consider both
(1) how the VBAP system scales to large numbers of sources, rapid source motion, and
many output channels, and (2) how such a scaled-up application can best be distributed
to a peer-to-peer server topology streaming data over a high-speed LAN. The scala-
bility of VBAP encoding software is excellent, since the block-by-block processing is
very simple, and the computation of new output weights for new or moving sources
can be accelerated using well-understood geometrical search techniques. For the case
of many sources or rapid source or listener motion, VBAP scales linearly,because each
source is encoded into 3 channels, meaning that many mappers each write 3 channels
into a many-channel output buffer. Alternatively, if the servers are distributed, each
mapper sends 3 channels over the LAN to its output server. If the output servers are
themselves distributed (each taking over a subset of the sphere’s surface), then most
encoding servers will stream to a single output server.
Computational distribution of a VBAP-based spatial reverberator is more difficult,
since by definition the individual reflections are not localized to a small number of
channels; indeed, if you calculate a reasonable number of reflections (e.g., 64 or more)
for a complex room model, you can assume that the reflections will approximate an
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 391
even distribution among all channels, leading us back to a monolithic output server
topology. We look forward to attacking this scalability and partitioning issue in the full
system. For the time being, we run the reverberator on a single server.
The assumptions of the speaker elements and system configuration for playing
VBAP are that elements be identical full-range speakers, and that they be placed in
triangles of more-or-lessequal size in all directions. The speaker density can be made a
function of height, however, leading to somewhat poorer spatialization accuracy above
(and possibly below) the listener. All that being said, since VBAP makes so few as-
sumptions about the constructed wave, it supports non-uniform speaker distributions
quite well. Directional weighting functions to compensate for an uneven distribution of
speakers can be built into the VBAP amplitude matrix calculations, and the fidelity of
spatial impression is a directional function of both the speaker density and regularity
of spacing. In our earliest designs for the sphere, we ran a set of programs to tessellate
spherical surfaces, leading to the 80-channel configuration shown in Figure 7. Note the
two regular rings above and below the equator; one can rotate the upper hemisphere by
1/2 the side length to form a zigzag pattern here (which handles VBAP better) Contin-
uing this process, we can design and evaluate further regular subdivisions of a sphere.
5.2 Ambisonics
Ambisonics [11] is a technique to re-create the impression of (or synthesize) a spatial
sound-field via a two-part process of encoding recorded or virtual spatial sources into an
Ambisonic domain representation, and then decoding this representation onto an array
of spatially located loudspeakers. The Ambisonic domain is a multi-channel representa-
tion of spatial sound fields based upon cylindrical (2-D spatialization) or spherical (3-D
spatialization) harmonics. First-order Ambisonics, also known as the B-Format, encode
sound-fields as an omni-directional signal (named W) plus three additional difference
signals for each of the axes X, Y and Z. Higher Order Ambisonics (HOA) increases
the detail of directional information and expanding the acceptable listening area of the
decoded spatial sound field by using higher ordered cylindrical/spherical harmonic or-
ders, and thus increasing the number of encoded signals [17]. The number of Ambisonic
domain channels depends only on the order and dimensionality of the representation
chosen, and is somewhat independent of the number of sources and of the number of
loudspeakers (it is required that the speakers outnumber the domain channels).
To implement an Ambisonic encoder, one generates an encoding matrix based upon
the virtual source orientation (azimuth, elevation) relative to the center-spot and uses
this matrix to mix a scaled copy of the input signal into each of the Ambisonic domain
channels. An Ambisonic encoder does not need any information about the speaker lay-
out. The encoding matrix must be recalculated whenever the center to source orientation
changes. A decoder pre-calculatesa decoding matrix of weights per Ambisonic domain
channel for each of the loudspeakers in the array, again using cylindrical or spherical
coordinates and harmonics. The decoder uses these weights to mix each received Am-
bisonic domain channel to each speaker, and thus is essentially a static NxM matrix
One of the main benefits of the Ambisonic representation is that it scales very well
for large numbers of moving sources. Since the encoding and decoding operations are
392 X. Amatriain et al.
linear and time-invariant, as many sources as needed can be encoded into the same
Ambisonic domain channels, and encoder matrix recalculation can occur at less than
sample-rate resolution (and be interpolated).
Ambisonic encoders and decoders can also therefore be decoupledfrom one another.
For a simple scaled-up system, multiple 3rd-order encoders would run on machines in
our server farm, each of them streaming a 16-channel signal to the output driver(s).
These signal buses can be summed and then distributed to one or more output decoders.
The decoding scales well to large numbers of speakers because decoders are indepen-
dent of one another, each receiving the same set of inputs. CPU limits can therefore
be circumvented by adding more encoding and/or decoding nodes. The scalability to
higher orders is well understood, and scales with the number of channels required by
the representation, bounded by LAN bandwidth.
Ambisonic decoders work best with a regular and symmetrical loudspeaker configu-
ration. There is no way in the standard algorithms to compensate for irregular speaker
placement, though this is an area for future research, along with spatial radiation pat-
terns and near-field encoding. What is interesting is the fact that very large speaker ar-
rays can especially benefit from higher-order ambisonic processing, using ever-higher
orders of spherical harmonics to encode the sound field, and then decoding it using
these factors to play out over a (regular and symmetrical) many-channel speaker array
with a very large acceptable listening area.
As with VBAP, graduate researchers from our group (see [13])) have implemented
higher- (up to 11th-) order ambisonic processing and decoding in C++ using the CSL
framework. The encoder and decoder are separate classes, and utility classes exist for
processing (e.g., rotating the axes of) Ambisonic-encoded sound. We also implemented
the algorithm for Max/MSP [27], and there are also open-source implementations in
both SuperCollider and PD.
Using Ambisonics for Navigable Immersive Environments. Adapting Ambisonics
for navigable virtual environments presents a number of challenges. Ambisonics models
spatial orientation well [17], but does not inherently model distance. We have extended
our implementation to incorporate multiple distance cues for point sources using stan-
dard techniques (amplitude attenuation, medium absorption/near-field filtering, Doppler
shift and global reverberation mix [8]). Additionally, we implemented a rudimentary ra-
diation pattern simulation by filtering spatial sources according to the orientation of the
source relative to the listener. A more realistic approach to radiation pattern simula-
tion can be found in [16]. This system was used in the AlloBrain project described in
section 6.
Though an Ambisonic sound-field in its entirety can be efficiently rotated around
three axes using equations based upon spherical harmonics [17], this efficientfeature is
unfortunately inapplicable to navigable virtual worlds, since any navigation movement
changes the spatial orientations on a per-source basis rather than as a group.
Sound source direction in Ambisonics is expressed in terms not immediately appro-
priate to virtual environments. C++ code was written to efficiently translate absolute
positions and quaternion orientations of sound sources and the mobile viewpoint into
the appropriate Euler angles of azimuth and elevation for Ambisonic encoding, and the
relative distance and angle needed for distance/radiation simulation.
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 393
5.3 Wave Field Synthesis
Wave field synthesis (WFS) is an acoustic spatialization technique for creating virtual
environments. Taking advantage of the Huygens’ principle, wave fronts are simulated
with a large array of speakers. Inside a defined listening space, the WFS speaker array
reproduces incoming wave fronts emanating from an audio source at a virtual location.
Current WFS implementations require off line computation which limits the real-time
capabilities for spatialization. Further, no allowances for speaker configurations extend-
ing into the third dimension are given in traditional wave field synthesis.
A wave field synthesis system suitable for real-time applications and capable of plac-
ing sources at the time of rendering is presented. The rendering process is broken into
logical components for a fast and extensible spatializer. Additionally, the WFS renderer
conforms to the spatial audio framework designed by Jorge Castellanos [7] and thus
fits well in CSL. A broad range of users and setup configurations are considered in the
design. The result is a model-based wave field synthesis engine for real-time immersion
WFS Theory and Supporting Work. Wave field synthesis is derived from the Kichroff-
Helmholtz integral,
P(w,z)=dA G(w,z|z)
which states that the pressure P(w,z)inside an arbitrary volume and due to an incom-
ing wave can be determined if the pressure at the surface of the volume P(w,z)and
wave transmission properties G(w,z|z)(free field Green’s function) are known. Ap-
plying this, the wave field synthesis principle states if the volume surface is lined with
speakers, exact acoustic scene reproduction is possible for listeners inside the volume.
It should be noted from the integral the volume shape is not defined and the speaker
configuration can be irregular. However, there is a disconnect between the outlining
theory and practical WFS system.
Berkhout [5] describes three of the assumptions needed for a WFS driving signal at
each speaker source. First, the two terms inside the integral of the Kirchoff-Helmholtz
integral represent both monopole and dipole sound reproduction sources along the vol-
ume surface. Dipoles are an unrealistic expectation in a numerous channel environment.
Fortunately, dipole sources can be omitted at the expense of an incorrect sound field out-
side the speaker-enclosed volume. Given the reproduction room in anechoic, this is a
reasonable assumption. In place of the dipoles, a windowing function is applied to the
speaker signal allowing sound only when a virtual source is behind the speaker.
Next, the Kirchoff-Helmholtz integral requires a continuous sound reproduction sur-
face which must be discretized for practical speakers. Discretization to monopole point
sources results in a 3dB per octave boost to the original signal. The WFS driving sig-
nal corrects for this effect with a high-pass filter. Additionally, the spatial sampling
of speakers creates spatial aliasing. Unlike the more familiar temporal aliasing, spatial
aliasing does not produce as pronounced artifacts, but instead confuses spatialization
above the aliasing frequency. The aliasing frequency is proportional to the distance be-
tween sources in linear arrays. Aliasing for circular speaker arrays are described by
Rabenstein et al. in [24].
394 X. Amatriain et al.
Finally, Due to hardware and computational limitations, most WFS designs range
contain less than 200 speakers, not enough to surround a listening space. Instead, the
dimensionality is reduced from three to two. Ideally, a speaker array is in the plane of
the listener’s ear.
Based on assumptions and limitations listed above, a driving signal is derived from
the Kirchoff-Helmholtzintegral by Rabenstein [22]. The driving signal defines the filter
computed per each virtual source at each speaker in the array.
)is a window function as a result of eliminated dipole speakers and the normal
dot product of the incoming wave. A(|xx|)is the amplitude attenuation due to dis-
tance and the reduction to 2 dimensions. K(w)is a square root of the wave number
spectral shaping also due to the dimension reduction. ejw
|applies the appropriate
delay to the incoming wave. Finally, F(x,
)is the signal emitted from the source.
Model-based wave field synthesis simulates acoustic sources by modeling the prop-
erties of its incoming wave to the WFS speaker array. Any arbitrary acoustic shape
or radiation pattern is viable for wave field synthesis. However, due to computational
complexity, point and plane wave sources are used as audio emitters. Baalman [3] has
demonstrated how an arbitrarily shaped WFS system can work.
Interactive Environments. Additional requirements are placed on a wave filed syn-
thesis renderer for use in an interactive environment. Most importantly, rendering must
happen at as close to real time as possible. Psyco-accoustical experiments from Wenzel
[29], find that audio latency of 250ms presents a perceivable lag when paired with vi-
sual or user feedback. Existing WFS implementations such as WONDER [2] or CAR-
ROUSO [26] offer real-time processing, but restrict virtual sources to pre-computed
positions, panning between points to simulate source movement. Using this method,
not only is WFS rendering incorrect between points, but the perceptual cue of Doppler
effect inherent in WFS is omitted.
A different method is presented in which WFS filters are calculated in real time per
each sample with a small computational overhead. For each buffer, audio is processed
by a filter calculated from the sources current position. Stationary virtual source cost no
additional cycles and are treated in the traditional way from [22]. For moving sources,
an arbitrary source position determines the new filter for the current audio buffer and
corresponding source metadata. The source’s relative speed is then used to find the
Doppler rate corresponding to the buffer’s sample rate due to its speed. The result is a
sample accurate WFS rendering with buffer rate position updates.
Outer and Focused Point Sources. Another necessity for effective immersion is con-
tinuity of the audio scene. WFS allows for virtual sources outside the speaker array and
inside (often called ’focused sources’). Rendering virtual sources inside the speaker ar-
ray is non-causal and different filters must be used.Special consideration is given to the
transition from outside to inside filters in order to prevent dead spots or discontinuous
audio. The windowing function w(x,
), which determines if the source is in front or
behind the speaker, is reversed for focused sources. For this reason, knowing a speaker’s
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 395
and source’s positions alone is not sufficient to determine the source’s location in the
speaker array and which filter should be applied. To overcomethis confusion, an expert
container class is implemented which models the speaker array shape and informs the
rendering chain the correct filter for the virtual source. A third state for virtual sources
is near field. When a source is placed at a speaker, the 3db per octave approximation
from discretized speakers no longer applies. To accommodate the near-field effect, The
spectral filtered audio is mixed with unfiltered audio proportional to is distance to the
speaker at small distances.
Separation of Processing. For large scale systems, the WFS rendering process may
need to be distributed to keep up with real-time computational requirements. Separat-
ing the WFS rendering chain into smaller components allows the distribution of work
to multiple machines. Calculation of the auditory scene using the driving signal can be
split into two groups, source and speaker calculations. Separation of these processes
removes the need for an m (virtual sources) times n (speakers) number of applied filters
as suggested in [22]. Additionally, splitting the rendering in this way allows the entire
process to be distributed in a way that suits the particular WFS system. If a large num-
ber of virtual sources are given, all source-related DSP could take place on multiple
machines. Likewise, for a large speaker array, multiple machines could each be synced
to handle their own smaller number of speakers.
Finally, an WFS interface is designed to accommodate a range of audio applications
and operating systems. The interface must not only allow for the connection of block-
rate source audio, but also asynchronous control messages describing the virtual audio
CSL and Spatial Audio Interface. The WFS rendering engine is integrated as a spatial
audio technique in the spatial audio framework outlined above. Virtual audio sources
and positions serve as input to a scene rendered for a certain number of speaker outputs.
However,wave field synthesis, while similar, requires additional information compared
to VBAP, Ambisonics and other spatial audio techniques.
Due to the physical model of WFS, virtual sources can be easily represented as point
or plane sources, a concept unique to WFS. This source attribute would normally ac-
company its position data. Secondly, a wave field scene rendering requires not only each
speaker’sposition but its normal vector. As a result, the WFS module extends the spatial
audio framework to allow for source shapes and extra speaker data. When other spa-
tialization modules, such as VBAP or ambisonic, are used inside CSL, the additional
components brought on by WFS are ignored allowing integration between all spatial
audio techniques.
6 Testbed Applications
In parallel to the development of the core libraries described above, several tests, pro-
totypes and demonstrations of the Allosphere capabilities have been performed. This
section describes the approaches adopted for some of these prototypes.
396 X. Amatriain et al.
In the first iteration over the prototype we have set up an environment consisting of
the following elements:
* 4 active stereo projectors(Christie Digital Mirage S+2K), 3000 ANSI lumens, DLP
2 rendering workstations (HP 9400), AMD Opteron 64@2.8Ghz, NVidia Quadro
** 1 application manager + Audio Renderer (Mac Pro), Intel Xeon Quad Core @3Ghz
* 2 10-channel firewire audio cards.
* 16 full-range speakers + 2 subwoofers
* Several custom-developed wireless interfaces.
The research projects described below make use of this prototype system to test the
functionality and prove the validity of the instrument design.
In the first project, we are developing an immersive and interactive software sim-
ulation of nano-scaled devices and structures, with atom-level visualization of those
structures implemented on the projection dome of the Allosphere (see Figure 9). When
completed, this will allow the user to stand in the middle of a simulation of a nano-
scaled device and interact with the atoms and physical variables of that device.
Fig. 9. Rendering of a 1M atom silicon nanostructure in real-time on a single CPU/GPU (Allo-
sphere rendering occurs in stereo projection)
Our science partners are implementing algorithms for nano-material simulations in-
volving molecular dynamics and density functional theory using GPUs, transforming a
single PC workstation into a 4 Teraflop supercomputer.This allows us to run nanoscale
simulations that are 2-3 orders of magnitude faster than current implementations. We
will also be able to use this extra computational power to solve for the physical prop-
erties of much larger structures and devices than were previously possible, allowing
nano-system engineers to design and simulate devices composed of millions of atoms.
Sound design will play an important role in such simulations and visualizations. The
sound system will be used to bring important temporal phenomena to user’s attention
and to pinpoint it precisely with 3D sound. For instance, to alleviate the difficulty of
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 397
finding specific molecules in the vast visual space of the Allosphere, subtle auditory
clues can alert the user to the emergence or presence of a specific molecular event in
a particular direction (which is especially relevant when the object is behind the users
In another project, we focus on molecular dynamics. We are extending the VMD
[14] package through the use of Chromium in order to have seamless visualization of
complex protein molecules and their interactions, immersively supported with direct
manipulation and spatial sonification by the Allosphere.
6.1 AlloBrain
The last ongoing research project, called AlloBrain, explores brain imaging data as an
immersive environment,following a desire to meld data from the sciences with the artis-
tic pursuits of new media art. Our goal is not to interpret the data in a scientific way, but
rather to indicate and provoke inspiration regarding immersive three-dimensional me-
dia offers in terms of new insights and interaction with data sets from other disciplines.
Digital artist and transvergent architect Marcos Novak undertook the fMRI brain scan-
ning and even before the Allosphere building was completed. The AlloBrain project
became our driving prototype and experimentation platform.
While the brain data provides an intricate architecture for navigation (see figures
6.1 and 6.1), it does not by itself create a compelling interactive experience. Dynamic
elements are added to the world through mobile, agents that indicate their presence spa-
tially, visually, and sonically 11. Their distinct behaviors within the system provide a
narrative for the installation based around exploration for features in data-space, and
clustering activities around features of interest. The immersant can navigate the space
and call specific agents to report the status of their findings using two wireless (Blue-
tooth) input devices that feature custom electronics, integrating several MEMs sensor
Several synthesis techniques were used to inform the immersant about the agents’
current actions in the environment. Short noise bursts were used as spatial cues since
wideband signals provide more precise elevation cues. In addition, we created a bed of
ambient sound serving to draw the immersant into the environment. We found that in
this sonic atmosphere immersants felt more inclined to spend longer stretches of time
within the world.
Rather than building a software solution specific to the AlloBrain project, gradu-
ate students at MAT designed a generalized system, the Cosm toolkit, to support the
rapid developmentof many different kinds of projects within the Allosphere and similar
spaces, incorporating audio spatialization, stereographic distributed rendering within a
real-time fully navigable scene graph. The toolkit is currently implemented as a C/C++
library,and has been embedded within the Max/MSP/Jitter environment[30] to support
real-time project design and testing. To make the best use of the Allosphere’s current
audio capabilities, the Cosm toolkit currently employs third-order 3D Ambisonics and
distance-coding software developed at MAT (described earlier in this document), cou-
pled with 3D motion and navigation algorithms for virtual environments.
398 X. Amatriain et al.
Fig. 10. Screen capture of the AlloBrain interactive recreation of the human brain from fMRI
data. External frontal view in which even facial expressions are visible.
Fig. 11. Screen capture of the AlloBrain offering a side view with only some active layers. Users
are able to navigate through the different layers of tissues and analyze the data in a collaborative
immersive environment.
Experiencing Audio and Music in a Fully Immersive Environment 399
7 Conclusions
Once fully equipped and operational, the Allosphere will be one of the largest immer-
sive instruments in existence. But aside from its size, it also offers a number of features
that make it unique in many respects. In particular, it features immersive spherical pro-
jection, multimodal processing including stereoscopic vision, 3D audio, and interaction
control, and multi-user support for up to 30 people. In this paper, we have focused on
the audio infrastructurein the Allosphere, discussing the requirements, approaches, and
initial results.
We envision the Allosphere as a vital instrument in the future advancement of fields
such as nanotechnology or bio-imaging and it will stress the importance of multimedia
in the support of science, engineering, and the arts. We have demonstrated first results
in the form of projects of highly diverse requirements. These initial results feed back
into the prototyping process but also clearly support the validity of our approach.
Although the Allosphere is clearly still in its infancy, we believe that the presented
results are already meaningful and important, and will inform other integrative endeav-
ors in the computer music research communities. The development of our prototype
test-bed applications is geared towards an open generic software infrastructure capable
of handling multi-disciplinary multi-modal applications.
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