SONOMATRIX is the name of a new instrument. This instrument plays a form of music in which the spatial dimension is specified in detail and given particular importance as a musical parameter. Complex movement patterns are brought to life with sound, and musical gestures are given new depth and dynamics by being tossed about in space.
The installation consists of 64 small loudspeakers
placed in 8 rows of 8 speakers each. The loudspeakers rest on the floor
pointing upwards, such that the audience can wander about within the matrix,
surrounded by sound. A small light mounted on each speaker cabinet shows
when that speaker is active. If the room is dimly lit, the lights on the
speakers create clearly visible patterns of motion. The matrix covers an
area of approximately 8 x 8 meters. Each speaker cabinet measures 18 x
18 x 9 cm. A computer, a synthesizer, a sampler, a small line mixer, and
a control unit for the speakers are placed in a glass display cabinet.
Transparent hoses lead cables from the sound sources out to the 64 speakers.
The system has 2 channels. Each speaker can play
channel 1, channel 2, or both simultaneously. A specially constructed control
unit, containing an ampifier for each speaker, routes the signals and turns
speakers on and off according to messages from the computer. A small light
is mounted on each speaker cabinet. These LEDs have 3 colors (red, green,
and yellow) and show when each speaker is active, and whether it is playing
channel 1, 2, or both. A mixer combines the sound sources
and delivers 2 channels to the control unit. A specially developed computer
program plays the music itself: it triggers various sounds and controls
how they will be diffused throughout the loudspeaker matrix. These patterns
are simultaneously shown on the computer screen.
"At this point, in time...", by Rob Waring, is the first piece of music composed for the SONOMATRIX. It lasts approximately 16 minutes and runs continuously in a loop. The computer program utilizes algorithms which illustrate various relationships between sound and space.
One algorithm imitates a leaking roof: it drips at different rates from each position. In the music, each speaker is assigned a pitch and a drip rate, creating complex polyrhythms. The model for another algorithm is 2 billiard balls. We hear different sounds as the balls roll, bounce off a wall, or collide with each other. A third algorithm utilizes a random principle to send sounds through the matrix like a wild animal that is running about aimlessly at blinding speeds. A predetermined relationship between position and pitch results in a characteristic but unpredictable melodic progression. In another case, a nonlinear dynamical system generates ever new melodic, rhythmic, and spatial variations.
The SONOMATRIX was conceived and built by Rob Waring (1995-96) with generous support from the Norwegian Center for Technology in Music and the Arts (NOTAM), and with the invaluable technical assistance of Øyvind Hammer and Hans-Christian Holm. The photographs shown here are from the Henie-Onstad Art Center in Høvikodden, Norway, where the SONOMATRIX played 24 hours a day for 6 weeks in March - April, 1996. In September, 1997 it was on display at the International Computer Music Conference in Thessaloniki, Greece. (Click here to see Bijan Zelli's doctoral thesis of January 2001 (in German): "Reale und virtuelle Räume in der Computermusik", with an entire chapter (p.180) devoted to the SONOMATRIX and an analysis of the composition "At this point, in time...") [300 pages in .pdf format - requires Acrobat Reader]
Rob later improved and expanded the capabilities
of the system to enable MIDI-control in live performance. This has been
utilized in a piece for Sonomatrix, saxophone, and MIDI-vibraphone ("Saxono-vibramatriphonics") which was premiered
in October, 2002 during the Ultima International Festival of Contemporary Music in Oslo.