Laureates of the ISAC-2024 - International Sonosfera Ambisonics Competition

The ISAC-2024 competition is an international event that highlights the significant advancement in free Ambisonics technology in the recent years which has led to the proliferation of artistic creations across diverse realms of music production.

This second edition is organized by IRCAM Centre Pompidou and Pesaro UNESCO Creative City of Music to mark the 30th anniversary of the IRCAM Forum and Pesaro’s designation as Italian Capital of Culture 2024.
This page presents the award winners who had the privilege to travel from Pesaro to Paris, experiencing the world-renowned public facilities for High-Order Ambisonics (HOA) acousmatic listening: Sonosfera® and Espace de Projection.

Call, jury and instructions


ISAC-2024 - First Prize


Non è un compendio di etologia numerico-digitale.


- Notes from the Laureates -

Non è un compendio di etologia numerico-digitale9’23’’

As the title suggests, this piece does not want to appear like a compendium of behaviors, rather the experience of careful observation of chaotically organized beast-like mechanisms. We move among digital creatures of iron and code in their natural habitats of plasmatic volcanoes, razor-sharp deserts, and diaphane lagoons, composing a sonic documentary of the impossible nature of imaginary cartographies.

In this work we wanted to challenge the idea that acousmatic music composition is an individual activity. We decided to act collectively, to share practices and tools, to let our respective works and sounds influence each other, and to find solutions that would otherwise be unexpected. The work was carried out first remotely then the final composition and spatial mixing process was done in a multichannel studio with a 24-loudspeaker dome.

The piece was composed originally in High Order Ambisonics. The synthetic materials used were multichannel recordings of sound files processed through a 48-output convolution distortion unit made in MaxMSP. The field recordings were realized using either 1-st order sound field microphones or 3-rd order Ambisonics microphones, both these types of recordings were subsequently up-mixed in H6OA using the specific tools designed by AAlto University. Other stereo and mono materials were processed with different Ambisonics encoders.

For the encoding processes, the tools we used were the stereo- and multi-encoder by IEM, the Room simulation encoder from the SPARTA bundle, and the encoders designed by Matthias Kronlachner. Choices were made depending on the sonic characteristics of each material and the desired outcome.

For mixing, Multichannel reverbs and equalizers were used, the units we preferred were the ones produced by IEM and MELDA. During the work in the studio, decoding was done on MaxMSP using Ircam’s SPAT 5 suite, to ensure dual band decoding.

- Words from the Jury -

Today, we celebrate the collective genius of Paolo Montella, Andrea Laudante, and Giuseppe Pisano, whose groundbreaking composition challenges the very notion of acousmatic music and collaborative creation.

Their piece, "Non è un compendio di etologia numerico-digitale," (It is not a compendium of numerical-digital ethology) is an immersive journey into the heart of imaginary landscapes, where digitial beast-like creaters roam amidst plasmatic volcanoes, razor-sharp deserts, and diaphanous lagoons.

What sets this composition apart is not just its sonic richness, but the collective spirit in which it was created. Montella, Laudante, and Pisano shattered the notion of solitary composition, opting instead for a collaborative approach. Across distances, they shared practices, tools, and ideas, allowing their individual works to merge and evolve in unexpected ways.

Their dedication to pushing the boundaries of sound technology is evident in their meticulous process. From the original composition in High Order Ambisonics to the intricate mixing in a dome studio, every detail was carefully crafted to immerse the listener in a truly transformative experience.

Through their innovative use of synthetic materials and field recordings, Montella, Laudante, and Pisano have pushed the possibilities of acousmatic music. Their collaboration serves as a testament to the power of collective creativity and the boundless potential of sonic exploration.

Congratulations to Paolo Montella, Andrea Laudante, and Giuseppe Pisano on their remarkable achievement.


ISAC-2024 - Second Prize


"Transformations": Music for a Destinationless Journey


- Notes from the laureate -

"Transformations": Music for a Destinationless Journey, 9'51'

Synopsis and Poetic Details:

"Transformations" is based on the concept that sonic stimuli can catalyze an energetic transformation in humans. It is an invitation to venture into unexplored sonic landscapes, where the timbres of the voice and gong, as therapeutic sources, lay the groundwork for timbral construction. The piece delves into the essence of sound, perceived as the most fundamental sonic expression, which opens a path to timbral and rhythmic textures residing in an impossible auditory space. Timbres, stripped of their context, weave a sonic fabric that defies expectations, shedding their conventional labels and allowing new sonic identities to emerge. "Transformations" encompasses auditory spaces within spaces, creating universes within universes for the listener to traverse and explore without an apparent destination, enriching the act of listening with endless possibilities.

Composition Strategies:

The work unfolds a sonic narrative that intentionally avoids conventional musical storytelling. The timbres and their placement in space exist without encoded and cultural language, in a clear quest for the primordial power of sound in our lives. Through decontextualization and the stripping away of sound origins, the composition suggests new timbres containing elements of their source, on one hand, ensuring our perception is not bound by preconceived ideas and remains focused on continuous discovery, and on the other, providing familiar enough touchpoints within the internal structure of the sound material to keep the ear engaged and connected.

Technical Aspects:

The spatial creation is directed along three interconnected paths:

1- Timbral decomposition of the original sound source to create new synchronous or asynchronous sources. These spatial components of the timbre are deployed, allowing work within the timbral and spatial dimensions simultaneously, and enabling different trajectories for the various components of a single sound. Techniques such as signal factorization, concatenative synthesis, and granular synthesis are used to manipulate multiple lines independently of each channel.

2- Trajectory generation. The piece has served as a testing ground for a prototype generative trajectory generator in its initial stages, based on machine learning. This system endows spatial components with individual trajectories that change in shape, direction, and speed in a generative manner and have an assigned group behavior, allowing them to move freely through the sound space, mutating in size and form.

3- Lastly, the creation of additional virtual spaces within the spatializer. Various rooms with different acoustic responses have been used to give the space greater complexity and the sensation of containing multiple spaces. Reverberant sources with initial reflections, diffuse fields, echoes, and delays have been used as mobile and expandable sources. Moreover, any signal can adopt the spatial behavior of several of these clusters, thereby transforming its spatial presence and providing a highly aesthetic and compelling tool.

- Words from the Jury -

It is with great honor that we recognize Ralph Killhertz for his exceptional work, "Transformations," awarded the 2nd prize in the ISAC-2024 competition.

"Transformations" invites us on an audacious journey through uncharted sonic territories, where voices and gongs serve as catalysts for energetic metamorphoses within the human psyche. Through a masterful exploration of sound's primal essence, Killhertz crafts a mesmerizing tapestry of timbral and rhythmic textures, transcending conventional musical storytelling.

His composition deftly strips timbres of their contextual constraints, allowing them to evolve into new sonic identities that defy expectations. By weaving auditory spaces within spaces, "Transformations" offers listeners an immersive experience rich with endless possibilities, each sound a doorway to an enigmatic universe waiting to be explored.

Killhertz's innovative approach challenges us to reimagine our relationship with sound, inviting us to embark on a journey of discovery where preconceived notions are left behind, and the power of sonic expression reigns supreme.

In recognizing Ralph Killhertz for his extraordinary achievement, we celebrate not only his artistic vision but also his profound contribution to the exploration of the transformative potential of sound. Congratulations, Ralph, on this well-deserved accolade.


ISAC-2024 - Third Prize


Incredible Moments from Venice: The Other Side of the Lagoon


- Notes from the laureate -

Impossible Moments from Venice: The Other Side of the Lagoon, 10'

“Impossible Moments from Venice: The Other Side of the Lagoon” is an impossible experience of a real place based on my first visit to Venice. Loaded with preconceived notions about history and culture, and inspired by how Venice has featured in the literary fiction of some of our great writers, my goal was to explore the reality of this city of islands, canals and bridges with my microphones. Happy to be there outside of the peak of the tourist season, and a year after the cruise ships had been banned from the lagoon, I walked, listened and recorded. The tall buildings mislead my GPS and cast me into watery dead- ends, while a blind corner might reveal a hidden diagonal bridge leading to a passage the width of a person, transporting me to my desired destination. The composition places the listener in a fictional location beyond the reach of reality as Venice awakens one misty morning - as if in a dream state that nevertheless appears to be totally real.

Short synopsis detailing poetics and compositional strategies.

The composition primarily uses EigenMike sound recordings captured as Venice awakens early morning: town squares, the noisy iron piers, motorboats, a fish market and everyday activities that punctuate the dawn such as window shutters being opened and the sound resonating down the canals. Rather than create a soundscape composition my aim was to explore the space, the texture and the spectrum of the sources as musical materials. The work hovers on the intersection between real and abstract, soundscape and pure music.

Although all information about the soundscape is encapsulated in the recorded 3D sound-field, I applied methods that I have developed over recent years to isolate simultaneous sound sources and their spatial features such as location, focus and motion characteristics. This then allows me to process and control what are now independent sources extracted from the original recording, and then combine both scene-based and object-based approaches to composition. With this method I can also represent the spatial scene as a high density of directional sources that allow me to synthesise a continuous morphology between the real space and a dynamically shifting fiction.

Some of the compositional processes include resonant filtering based on spatial- frequency information in the original scene, and directional gating to isolate intermittent articulations which can be used to rearticulate the original recording.

Sound images are also particularly important in my compositional strategy: I avoid spatialising mono sources unless I intend a pointed result and instead create spatial images from clusters of sources. In this way I can more easily control the nature and behaviour of my sounds, scenes and musical counterpoint. In this composition I combine both methods.

One of the challenges with these methods is that diffuse reverberant qualities tend to be spatially ‘gated away’. To overcome this, I made ambisonics impulse response recordings which I could then convolve with some of my processed sounds to reintroduce the original diffuse sound field.

Technical information outlining the original spatialization techniques employed.

  • Source recordings were made with the MhAcoustics EM32 microphone and two Dolphin Ear hydrophones.

  • Spatial analysis and source extraction was carried out using beamforming techniques in Spat5, and spatial data tracked in my own MaxMSP patches.

  • Spatialisation in 7th order HOA was carried out in Spat5 (spat5.hoa.encoder~ and Spat5.spat5~ / spat5.oper). Reaper was used as a container for sound and spatial data streams that were then passed into to MaxMSP using IRCAM’s ‘OSCAR’ vst plugin for data, and ‘BlackHole’ for audio.

  • Feature analysis to explore frequency and amplitude variation, then used as data to control sound processing, was carried out using Flucoma and Spat5 objects within custom made MaxMSP patches.

  • HOA impulses were captured with the EM32 and a cluster of Genelec loudspeakers (I did not have IKO or similar omni-directional speaker available). Convolution was processed using Kronlachner’s ‘MCFX’ vst plugin and spatially fine-tuned to suppress the directional bias of the IR using Kronlachner’s ‘ambix direction loudness’ vst plugin.

  • Mixing was carried out in Reaper.

- Words from the Jury -

It is with great pleasure and admiration that we award Natasha Barrett the 3rd prize in our composition competition for her exceptional piece, "Impossible Moments from Venice: The Other Side of the Lagoon."

Natasha Barrett's composition embodies the essence of artistic exploration and creativity. In "Impossible Moments from Venice," she masterfully captures the enigmatic allure of one of the world's most iconic cities, Venice, and transcends its tangible reality into a realm of auditory imagination.

In her own words, Barrett takes us on a journey beyond the ordinary perceptions of Venice. Loaded with preconceived notions, she ventures into the city armed not with brushes or pens, but with microphones, ready to unearth its hidden treasures. Through her keen observation and acute listening, she navigates the labyrinthine alleys and canals, where every blind corner holds the promise of a hidden passage.

Barrett's composition skillfully manipulates sound to create a dreamscape that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. As Venice awakens on a misty morning, listeners are transported to a place that feels both familiar and otherworldly, where the mundane transforms into the extraordinary.

It is through her meticulous craftsmanship that Barrett invites us to experience Venice in a way that transcends the limitations of sight and transports us to a realm where the impossible becomes possible.

Please join me in congratulating Natasha Barrett for her remarkable achievement and for enriching our artistic landscape with her visionary composition.