Moulton Laboratories
the art and science of sound
Loudspeaker array as a musical composition genre
David Moulton
Moulton Laboratories
June 2006

Composing in surround sound.

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Abstract:
A fixed array of loudspeakers can be used as a proprietary format for electronic music composition, leading to a fixed genre of work. The author will describe his experiences using a 6-channel array of full-range loudspeakers, describing the compositional principles he has employed, including issues of source localization, ambient and reverberant fields, available bandwidth and sound pressure levels. Spatial relationships, musical issues and problems and related concerns will all be discussed.

Background

Electronic Music Composition

Electronic music composition has been with us since before World War II. The processes and techniques have concentrated on the generation of new instruments (mostly syntheisizers), new modalities of considering the audio signal and new ways of thinking about the composer/machine/performance interface. In the evolution of electronic music, comparatively little attention has been paid to the loudspeaker – it has been treated as a generic black box, a generic portal to convert the composer’s creative efforts and electronic realizations into sound for the listener.

Loudspeaker As Musical Instrument

In a previous paper for the ASA [1], I described the loudspeaker as a musical instrument, and described the ways it fits into the family of musical instruments, including a consideration of the genre of music called loudspeaker music. I suggested that when we view it in this light, and consider loudspeaker music as transcriptions from other musical media, that we can see more clearly through some of the puzzlements and confusions that confound us in loudspeaker design and usage. However, in that paper I did not consider the use of an array of loudspeakers as a specific musical instrument, an instrument essentially without precedent, an instrument that offers us some fresh ways to think about and approach the creation of music.

The BeoLab 5 Loudspeaker

In a companion paper [2], I described a new loudspeaker, the BeoLab 5 by Bang & Olufsen, that attempts to resolve a number of loudspeaker/room/listener interface problems. I suggested that such a loudspeaker is a powerful enabling device for such loudspeaker music applications, due to its unique combination of full-bandwidth dispersion, room adaptation, amplitude range and timbral neutrality and flexibility.

The development of the BeoLab 5 was, for me, the culmination of a twenty-year effort to obtain a loudspeaker array that functioned in inherently musical ways. I have come to believe that the use of such a loudspeaker is essential for high-quality realizations of electronic music, and that without such loudspeakers, such music is seriously degraded and marginalized in ways that simple recordings (transcriptions) of traditional music avoid, due to the willing suspension of disbelief that attends such traditional musical playback experiences.

At the present time, I am using an array of six BeoLab 5 loudspeakers in a proprietary array as a fixed instrument for which I am composing a body of music. In this paper, I will discuss that effort.
1. The loudspeaker as musical instrument: an examination of the issues surrounding loudspeaker performance of music in typical rooms, by David Moulton, presented in Nashville, April, 2003. Available gratis as a PDF from the author at moultonlabs.com
2. A new loudspeaker design: a case study of an effort to more fully integrate the loudspeaker into the playback room in a musical way, by David Moulton, presented in Nashville, April, 2003. Available gratis as a PDF from the author at moultonlabs.com.
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