Composer, Vibraphonist / Percussionist, Teacher


Sound installation: SONOMATRIX

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.

Description of the installation

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.