The National Trust For Scotland
In collaboration with playwright Rob Drummond, we set out to explore a number of immersive theatre ideas: How do we bring a space to life with just audio? How do we capture performance on-site? How do we create a recording that gives the impression of the story unfolding all around the listener, making them feel as if they were there? Inspired by a new generation of 3D headphones, we decided to look into ambisonic and binaural spatial audio.
The research grew out of a live project the ISODESIGN studio was developing for National Trust for Scotland, where we were creating audio installations for Brodick Castle on the Western Isle of Arran. Here we had been asked to look for ideas to bring a large state room back to life, providing the perfect opportunity for a spin-off of the sound work we were doing with Rob.
Our research into immersive audio involved testing a range of commercially available recording equipment. We soon realised that most consumer-grade microphones did not meet our expectations in terms of sound quality, however products like the famous Neumann KU100 were too costly to buy or rent. Hence, to develop this prototype, we built our own binaural recording head from a styrofoam model.
We then took Rob’s script for the play ‘Sixteen’ and created a short piece for two actors and performed it around a site specific installation. Putting our dummy in the listener’s seat, dialogue, ambience and props were recorded binaurally. Additional foley, in the form of mono recordings and clips from audio libraries, was spatialised in software and added to the mix during post production.
Our intention for the work was to be very site-specific: Visitors to our studio can now take a seat in the space where Sixteen was performed and recorded, put on a pair of headphones, and listen to the play unfold around them.
The research work fed directly into our proposals for Brodick Castle and whilst that was ultimately delivered as a surroundsound installation a fully scoped out future proposal based around the use of augmented headphones was developed.