Spatial Audio and Opera: The Old and the New

The French Aix-en-Provence Festival, held in the Grande Théâtre de Provence, is a summer festival that sees performances of classic operas along with bold new works in a bold and beautiful theatre space. It is a gem in the international operatic community and highlights that there is still a place for such a performance art in today’s world.

Although, opera as an art-form is hardly on the lips of every young art-lover and not even necessarily a well-loved medium to theatre-goers. As it goes, opera is niche. Not only that but it’s a form that lacks edge in a modern society, as it clings to its traditions in the hope that those who do appreciate it can hang on for another decade as its fanbase hits the geriatric stages of life. But what on earth can make opera modern? Strobe lights and autotune, molding a performance not dissimilar to a Kanye West concert? Or perhaps make the leap into immersive theatre that has given a little life to similar performance-types? Have an opera singer blast high-notes right next to my head, no thanks..

The Grande Théâtre de Provence

Of course, in today’s world if you think of anything that could do with a modern twist there’s likely someone, somewhere, doing it!

Astro are a spatial audio company that seeks to bring immersive audio into all manner of theatre spaces, and opera is no exception. Mozart’s Requiem got the full spatial audio treatment at 2019’s Aix-en-Provence Festival, and went down a storm.

“The vision was to immerse the audience within the original acoustic context of the Requiem – to help the audience feel as if they were really in a place of worship. Of course, that meant altering the acoustic parameters of the Théâtre de l’Archevêché, which is beautiful but certainly not a cathedral! It actually has a short reverberation time so we knew that to increase it we would have to adopt an artificial solution. Our main objective was to create a reverberant environment that didn’t sound as if it was being produced electronically, but was as natural as possible.

”it [Astro’s Spatial Audio Engine] provides interactive dynamic room acoustics and integrated object-based 3D immersive sound at a very high quality and it has very low processing latency so it’s ideal for live performance. Most significantly, it is compatible with every brand of loudspeaker, so we had the freedom to use the equipment that we really wanted.”
Rémy Brean

Most theatre-spaces nowadays are well acoustically treated, to reduce reverberation levels to something that feels natural but allows audience members to hear all of the sonic elements of a production without too much muddiness from long reverb-tails. That said, it doesn’t benefit all the productions that a theatre hosts. Astro have found themselves redesigning a space, without touching a single wall, and as a result have breathed new life into opera. Not many of the younger generation would jump at the chance to see an opera show, but call it an opera experience and you might find a couple of newcomers come through the box office. As a technology-focussed society, we can’t help but be curious about anything that has keywords like “experience” or “immersive”, because the suggestion of something new and cutting edge is just too gosh-darn tempting. Tradition is not dead, of course, but we aren’t all gasping for the classics.

Now for the slightly techy bit. Astro Spatial Audio used Dante ethernet audio distribution for super low-latency speaker feeds, which also allowed them to divide the performance space into acoustic zones (through EASE) that could track an audio object’s position over 160,000 times a second in 128 different audio pathways. This is a feat that would not be possible using standard audio distribution methods with snakes and looms, so props to them for their use of another fantastic emerging (ish) technology for audio networking.

“This year was the first time that the Aix-en-Provence Festival trusted in immersive 3D sound and interactive room simulation technology and I consider it an honour that they chose to work with us. This is another example of how true object-based audio can bring an entirely new dimension to even the most traditional live performance.” – Bjorn Van Munster

You can read the full post from Astro Spatial Audio right here!

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