Music for headphones: Acousmatic music in binaural spatialisation

By Tiange Zhou (UC San Diego) and Marco Bidin (ALEA)

The association ALEA is the sponsor of the Workshops of the Forum Paris 2021. 


Music for headphones


Acousmatic music in binaural spatialisation

by Tiange Zhou (UC San Diego) and Marco Bidin (ALEA)



We at ALEA realised several CD productions to document our activities and help spread the artistic contents. This has been particularly effective to reach out to the potential audience that could not join us for real-time events and have poor or no means to use social media.

For this last production (2019), a question arose: can we consider the CD production the artistic activity itself? The challenge was to switch from the idea of trying to fit our music into the CD format to the active attempt to conceiving our composition process having the CD production as an artistic goal.

At that moment, Tiange was working on hybrid fixed media, realised with sound synthesis processes mixed with signal processing of recorded samples.  I experimented with sound spatialisation techniques, conceived not as a performative aspect but as a compositional dimension like timbre, timing and pitch perception. After merging our experiences, we opted for composing a series of electroacoustic works, all rendered as binaural audio. Some of the works are entirely new, and others are re-conceived and re-mastered.

By applying and blending diverse HRTF techniques, we explored an exciting field of artistic creation that was new for us. This CD results from this first stage of artistic cooperation, and we are looking forward to the next production.

Tiange and I wish to thank ALEA for the support and the IRCAM Forum for the opportunity to present our work on this platform. We hope you will enjoy our previews, and we are looking forward to your comments and suggestions.

CD Content

  •   Studio Sincretico VIII
  •   Air
  •   Sprinkles
  •   PiPaPa
  •   Zone
  •   Lontananze fragili
Composed and synthesized by Tiange Zhou (2, 3, 5) and Marco Bidin (1, 4, 6)Binaural spatialisation and rendering by Marco Bidin (1, 2, 3, 4, 6) and Tiange Zhou (5)Mastering by Marco Bidin


1 - Studio Sincretico VIII - Extract

Studio Sincretico VIII is part of a cycle of works inspired by Syncretism's concept (combining/blending different elements and beliefs) and at the same time by the perception syncrétique (global perception of the external reality as a whole in the psychology of the children).

It is composed of realising virtual instruments and integrating recorded voices and samples with synthetic sounds, using technology as a cross-cultural resource and as a means of re-interpretation of discarded musical material. (MB) 


 2 - Air - Extract

Air belongs to the cycle of works based on my dream series. It is transparent and, at the same time, dense. In Air, I tried to pursue the augmentation of sound action force and reaction force while diminishing the gravities' perception.

The listening experience tends to have our perception float in a container with viscous air and lose its direction. (TZ)


 3 - Sprinkles - Extract

Sprinkles is another of the works of my dream series. A set of unstable sound flow and scatter a wild space tries to create a milieu with mild unpredictabilities from all sonic directions.

Both Air and Sprinkles were initially composed for Spat Lab at UCSD Qualcomm Institute, providing a site-specific ambisonics set-up. However, such experiences are only available to a small number of audiences at very few privileged facilities and venues.

Fortunately, Spat5 binaural in Max/MSP suited my artistic purposes to transform the listening experience instead of merely adapting it. With this technology's help, I am now creating the specific sonic world I was looking for and utilizing various SOFA to experience the IRCAM HTRF collections.

This approach creates a new relationship between the listener and the aural experience. We have the perception of being immersed in the sound, which evokes a peculiar feeling of self-awareness. (TZ)


4 - PiPaPa - Extract

Dedicated to the Italian intellectual, director and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. This work is freely inspired by the associations of images, words and music in his movies.

PiPaPa is a further development of the concept of "Studi Sincretici". Here musical form and structure are even more faint and ambiguous, leaving the listener to an almost dystopian perception of sound phenomena.

I deem electronic music the new artistic approach that allows us to dive into the very nature of sound, tap into multiple soundscapes and express art as a creation transcending cultural boundaries and political contrasts. (MB)


5 – Zone - Extract

A zone is commonly defined as an area or stretch of land having a particular characteristic, purpose, or use or subject to specific restrictions.

One ancient Chinese Zen monk in Song dynasty determined three different dimensions of epistemology. “At first, we recognize mountains and waters themselves; then we view them with personal judgement; at last, we truly know them as they are.” or in another word “, see mountain and water as a substance, view mountain and water as images, discern mountain and water as truth.” The object does not really change. The experience of change is made by the transformation of one’s cognitive perspectives.

If the zone is taken as an object, in this piece, the idea “zone” values its fixed position binaural listening experience more than actively developing the musical materials. It tends to leave the space for self-aware musical experience change to the audiences.


6 - Lontananze Fragili ("Fragile distances") - Extract

The music presents an interpretation of everyday life situations that suggest expanding the time perception through a constant change in the colours and speed.

The electronics consist of sound synthesis processes. The composition has been realised with controlled aleatoric processes in the OpenMusic environment.

A dedicated virtual instrument has been created with the CSound program, then imported in OpenMusic for the sound synthesis with the OMChroma library. The library OM-Prisma has been used for binaural spatialisation in post-production. (MB)



Other CDs by ALEA


Music for flute and organ (2 and 4 hands)

Works by Luciano Berio, Sukhi Kang, Kyung-Hwa Chae

performed by Marco Bidin, Valerio Fasoli, Sayaka Toyama


Electroacoustic Music

Works by Daniel Quaranta and Marco Bidin


Music for Organ

Works by Olivier Messiaen, Bengt Hambraeus, John Cage

Performed by Marco Bidin


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