CubeFest to Crank the Sound Way Beyond '11'

Aug 1, 2016

“Spatial Music” is an immersive roomful of sound that is so new it can be heard in only a few places on the planet. One of them is Blacksburg, Virginia, where you’ll find a venue called "The Cube” at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech.  This week, a three-day "spatial music festival" will explore the new medium with a concert series and workshops. Robbie Harris has more on what this new venue, and its 2 tons of audio equipment, can do.

The 'Cube' at the Moss Arts Center, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

“Some of the music is more esoteric, but it's also very interesting because it uses sounds that could not exist in nature. Sounds that we’ve never heard before spatialized in this room.”

That’s Technology Director Tanner Upthegrove, one of the Maestros of the Cube. A four-story black box where people can blue sky new ideas.

“You can do a combination of any sounds - natural sounds, found sounds, synthesized sounds, impossible sounds - and combine them all and use them in ways that have never been used before.”

The Cube at Virginia Tech is like only a handful of other immersive music venues that exist in the world, all of them built in the 21st century, but it’s the only one that is as much a tool for science as it is for art where the two can meld into something completely new.

“Rooms like this allow us to use these spatialization technologies that have not existed yet and, more importantly, create music for them.”

This piece called "Penumbra," by Richard Garret, was composed specifically for Cubefest. And that’s significant because at this moment in music, very little has been written for a place like the Cube, with its 148 high-density speaker array along all four walls and the ceiling putting every listener in the sweet spot, enveloping them all in sound.

“It’s not about loudness, it’s about immersion, so when we say we have 148 speakers it's not about volume, it’s about hearing everything around you in 360 degrees; so length, height, width and literally being in the center of this sonic experience.”

Willie Caldwell, graduate assistant and program director for Cube Fest:

Tanner Upthegrove, Eric Lyon, Willie Caldwell

“We will be featuring venue-specific compositions, fixed media compositions. We’ll also have live performances by a band called Modality, which will feature motion captured dancers; as they do their back-up dancing, it will actually change the sound in the space and augment the sound in the space in real time. And we’re going to cap everything off with a spatialized performance of Pink Floyd’s 'Dark Side of the Moon' as a way of getting this technology, getting this experience to general audiences.”

Eric Lyon, Associate Professor for the School of Performing Arts and Cubefest Artistic Director says,
“It is quite unusual to have the combination of relatively more popular forms of music with some of the more experimental forms. And I think it’s going to be interesting because, where some people may feel that some of the experimental music is a little bit harder to grasp or more abstract, actually very often music in what’s sometimes called the avant garde or experimental world, finds its way into the pop world sooner or later. So Pink Floyd was already experimenting with all sorts of electronic synthesizers and things that were available at the time. But if you were to listen to what film scores sound like today and what they sounded like in the 70s, computer music, digitally processed sound has become a huge aspect of music today. And so while you still have things like harmony and melody, you have so much more of just abstract sound that’s moved into it. So the kinds of experiments that are happening now and more research oriented are definitely things you’ll be hearing more and more of 10 years from now. 

Cubefest will culminate in 5 concerts over 3 days, after a series workshops with, researchers, artists in residence, audio technicians and computer specialists, creating music that can be heard in all it’s Massively Multi-Channel way only there and only now that this 15 million dollar facility exists.