Steve Heimbecker is an audio and new media artist working in installation art, sound design and multi-channel immersive sound. He is also a musician, composer and performer. His first octaphonic composition was presented in Calgary in 1992. A Dolby 5.1 DVD collection of his work was produced in Montreal with OBORO in 2005-06 as a comprehensive book work called Songs of Place. Born on the Canadian prairies, Heimbecker has retained a strong sense of the prairie landscape in his work, which has inspired many of his sound-space diffusion concepts, including Acoustic Mapping Process and Wind Space Architecture. His work has received art grants in Canada and Quebec, as well as two Honorary Mentions at the Prix Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria), for Interactive Art (2005) and Digital Music (2009). His installations, audio performances and compositions have been presented in Canada, Quebec, New York City, Europe, and Peru. Since the mid-80s, his compositions have been presented internationally by many FM radio broadcasters. Steve Heimbecker currently creates, composes and lives in Montreal.
About the work
The composition Octaves 2013 was created from a stereo D.A.T. recording made in a barn in the village of Springwater, Saskatchewan on August 12, 1997. By using a professional TEAC analogue reel-to-reel tape machine, the original digital recording was pitch-changed down 1 octave, and copied again in digital. This recording was put back on the reel-to-reel and pitch-changed down 1 octave again, then saved again, and so on—over and over again until 9 stereo audio files were produced, each a different/lower octave. The final stage of the composition was to create long transitional cross-fades between each of the octave files, gradually going up in pitch until the original recording could be identified.
This audio experiment was an exercise in the relationship between sound frequency and physical time and space. With each octave lower the audio will double the wave length of the audio frequencies. If the audio is of a small object or objects, then metaphorically each octave lower also doubles the size of the original object(s) relative to the constant size of the listener.
In 2011, I worked on this stereo composition again, preparing it anew with minor mastering changes, and as an 8-channel octaphonic composition. I then presented it as part of my “de la voûte” studio concert series using my 64-channel audio immersion system, the Turbulence Sound Matrix.
It is my pleasure now to have mastered this 8-channel version into stereo for Avatar's 20th-anniversary digital collective publication.
A circle is a sphere
Perhaps you have already discovered this scenario, but please indulge me. I would like you to find a pen or pencil and a blank piece of white paper. Your paper does not need to be large—8.5 x 11 is fine. Place these on a table or desk in front of you. Now, I would like you to relax for a few minutes. Sit in the quiet of your home or office or studio. Empty your mind of thoughts, and try not to have too many external distractions.
When you are ready, please pick up your pencil or pen and on the top half of your paper draw a circle. Draw it slowly so that you can be as precise and round as you can. If you want to turn a cup upside-down and trace around its edge, do so. It doesn't really matter. Just draw the best circle you can. Are you finished? You should have a nice round line drawing of a circle on the top half of your paper. When you look at it you will notice that the white of the paper that surrounds your line drawing is the same white that is on the inside of your line drawing.
Now, I'd like you to think of a plain round ball. Don't think too much about the details of it, such as the colour or the kind of ball. Just think of the shape of the sphere of your favourite kind of ball. If you have access to a ball, why not go get it and study its spherical shape? Study the edge of its roundness in space. Then pick up your pencil or pen again—just as you did earlier, and make a line drawing of the shape of your beautiful round ball. Draw it on the bottom half or your paper, just below the circle drawing you just did before. Draw the edge of the sphere of your ball as accurately as you can. Try to make it about the same size as your circle drawing. Just draw the edge of the best round ball you can.
When you are finished with this second drawing, look at your two drawings together. Of course you can see that one is a circle and the other is a sphere. Yet, generally speaking, they look the same on that white page of yours. I am fascinated by this phenomena in which two quite different conceptual objects—a circle and a sphere—can share the same visual representation on a page, each including two spaces: the space to be entered and the space to be observed. This is not an optical illusion or a trick. But this is an important element when understanding and listening to immersive audio composition.
When I compose and listen to audio, I metaphorically play with the circle and the sphere, the entered and the observed. I conceive and perceive within these layered dualities. I just concentrate my attention on the centre of both the circle and the sphere, together on the same page at the same time, as in your drawing. I can even turn my drawing upside-down and the circle and the sphere will remain more or less the same. The white ground of the page too is still the same on the inside as the outside of each. Sound immersion is like this. It does not matter if the audio representation is delivered in multi-channel sound like a circle, or in stereo like a sphere. Both systems are like a circle and a sphere; both are to be entered and observed simultaneously. It just may take a little practice to hear.
I recommend allowing both states of perception to exist together when you listen (or compose), to be able to enter and observe with the cognitive ear. If you wish, keep the drawing you just made as a reminder of this duality, and then when observed again, well voilà—a circle is a sphere.”