Tony Churnside – Interview Snippet

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Tony Churnside discusses Sound and Innovation


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Tony Churnside is a creative technologist, who produces innovative ways for people experience audio. He recently spoke at an Artful Spark event under the theme of “Immersive Sound” at Google CampusSamuel Fry interviews him about his work.

How would you describe what you do?

I’m often referred to as a Creative Technologist, but this is quite a loaded title. I tend to embark on projects that have both artistic and technological aspect to them; projects that are artistically interesting but also use a new piece of technology or an existing technology in a novel way. If it’s been done before, or it’s obviously possible then it’s a less exciting project for me.

Why is it important that we know more about the way that people experience audio?

The only way to innovate and improve in a sustainable way is to understand more about how people perceive sound now. A lot is understood about how humans perceive sound, but there are many more unanswered questions, especially around the interplay between sound and storytelling.

What is a binaural and why is it important?

Binaural is how everyone (with normal hearing) hears the world. We have two ears and our brain receives two streams of information. Understanding how our brain interprets those two signals as an auditory scene is critical to being able to design and create immersive and believable audio experiences.

How is the audio in computer games and broadcasting changing?

Broadcasting is a compromise. The way content is created and distributed at the moment means the same audio signals arrive at the listener’s device (TV/Radio/Phone etc.). But the audiences’ devices, locations, contexts, tastes and moods are all different, so the quality of experience that listeners get varies widely. New technologies, production methods and creative practices will result in content creation and storytelling that accounts for these differences and dynamically adapts the content to maximise the quality of the listener’s experience.

You worked with Bjork on a binaural installation last year. What did you create?

An augmented audio experience. Visitors to MoMA were given a set of headphones and experienced a binaural poem which was a retrospective of Björk’s back catalogue. Visitor’s explored a physical exhibit while listening to the story and her music. The audio would change as the listener’s location in the exhibit changed, allowing them to discover sounds like hidden Icelandic volcanos and geysers. We used head trackers and iBeacons to detect the listener’s head orientation and location in the exhibit which allowed us to construct a binaural sound scene around that location.

What was the story that you were trying to tell through this work?

It was a retrospective of Björk’s musical career to date. Icelandic poet Sjón created a story with Björk which paralleled her career to date. This poem was brought to life using Björk’s music, and natural sound recordings from Iceland. For me a really interesting aspect of the work was the balance between linear storytelling in an interactive setting.

How can people without tech knowledge find out where to start with working with immersive music technology?

Talk to people (Twitter is a great place to start), attend events (there are some great local arts-tech communities out there) and start to play with technology. For example it’s not too difficult to start experimenting with binaural recording by building your own binaural microphone.

tony churnside audio recording
Tony Churnside spoke at an ArtfulSpark event. For more information, visit www.artfulspark.org or follow the organisers @stellarnetwork and @thoughtben on Twitter.
All images courtesy of Tony Churnside.

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