Interview with Sebastian Frisch about SPASM 4 Live development

SPASM 4 Live screenshot

Interview with Sebastian Frisch about SPASM 4 Live development

Sebastian Frisch spent a few months in 2011 working on SPASM, V2_’s Spatial Audio Mixer, in the V2_Lab. After completing two theses on spatial audio in virtual environments, he decided to rebuild the tool entirely from scratch. Joris van Ballegooijen talked to him about the new version, SPASM 4 LIVE.

JB: The first time I can remember SPASM being presented was in 2008 by Boris Debackere at Test_Lab: Better Than Reality. What’s been happening with SPASM since then?

SF: The basic idea behind SPASM has stayed the same. We wanted to offer a tool for artists looking to use sound in an immersive experience or to mix spatial sound. In practice, that tool turned out to be too unpractical for a lot of people to use. As I was working on SPASM in 2011, I came to the realization that the previous version had been designed too much from a programmers’ point of view. Programming turned out to be too high a barrier for many artists, musicians and producers. So I wanted to make a new, user-friendly version, in which I'm using Ableton and Cycling ’74’s Max for Live, a tool often used in the music scene.

JB: What's new about SPASM 4 LIVE?

SF: It's easy to add channels to a schematically represented virtual space; every channel has its own color, and its placement and strength determine the listener's experience of the sound. All the channels are visible on a virtual stage, and you can easily adjust them by moving them. That’s it. The coolest thing is that we started with the idea of a person walking through a real space and create an immersive audio situation; now you can use SPASM 4 Live already in the sound production process. That means, you don't have to export files or anything like that; you can hear the result right away. For the listener, the effect is like moving through an virtual auditive space. The effect is achieved through ether a combination of panning the sound and using an orientation filter or make use of the head-related transfer function (HRTF). You can choose the right method for each channel. The spatialization of the sounds works best with headphones.

JB: In the Netherlands, people often talk about media art in the context of the “creative industry” and the development of products for the media art market. From experience, we know there's a big difference between a prototype and a product, but is SPASM 4 Live an example of a product born out of artistically motivated research?

SF: Definitely – although of course SPASM 4 Live is open source, and at this moment it's not possible to use it to, say, make something for PlayStation. On the other hand, it’s a valuable tool for more experimental developers and producers. Game developers can also benefit from it, because it makes it very easy to set down a quick outline. I really hope a lot of people will use SPASM 4 Live and help us think about the development of new capabilities and functions. In any case, for now, everyone’s welcome to come to me with questions and comments. 

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