The Hemisphere as Architecture


I first experienced the hemisphere loudspeakers in 1998 at the SEAMUS national conference held at Dartmouth College.  At that conference I saw an amazing performance by Curtis Bahn and Dan Trueman in a genre/style/practice to which I had never before been exposed.  I saw (and heard) them again at a performance at the Peabody Conservatory in the Spring of 1999.  The speakers sound amazing in the right context, not because of the quality of the drivers, but because of how they engage the acoustics of the space.

Fast forward a couple of years and my good friend Stephan Moore, at this time studying with Curtis at RPI, became involved with producing a fair number of a new generation of hemisphere for use in installations and performances. At the 2002 SEAMUS Conference at the University of Iowa, Curtis and Stephan presented their work with the Hemispheres. Their work included experiments with different sound dispersion paradigms. One example is a laying the speakers throughout a space on the floor and distributing the sound material amongst the loudspeaker arrays using the Boids algorithm.

Later that year, in the middle of a very hot July in Upstate New York, I helped Stephan build 43 of the third-generation Hemispheres.  The hemisphere’s have evolved a few more times since then.  The fifth generation hemisphere’s now sold by Electrotap are produced through a joint effort of Stephan and master furniture maker Ken Malz.


Incidentally, Stephan has been touring this Spring with the sixth generation Hemisphere — a powered version that has the amplifiers built into the cabinet.

A couple months ago an inquiry came in to Electrotap’s support asking about different ways to mount or suspend the Hemispheres in a gallery.  In the process, Stephan sent me a couple of the photos you see in this post (and gave me permission to post them).


These photos are from his installation “Outside Information”  that was shown July-November 2008 at the Mandeville Gallery of Union College in Schenectady, NY, in the Nott Memorial.  From the photos I would say the architecture of the building is pretty fascinating.  Here is Stephan’s artist statement from the exhibition:
Depending on how you listen to it, Outside Information is a decorative soundscape for an already highly-decorated space, or a means of listening to and navigating a complicated acoustic environment.  The eight Hemisphere speakers suspended in the giant column of air carry layers of small, shifting sounds to all parts of the Nott Memorial, activating the space’s acoustics and providing opportunities to explore its sonic eccentricities.  The small sounds in the speakers create a wash of sound in the space, which can resolve into high, unexpected detail when a speaker is approached closely.  Every point on each of the floors provides a different perspective on these sounds.

The title is inspired by the Jason Martin song “Inside Information”, which was written about the Nott Memorial and the mysteries (and potential conspiracies) surrounding its geometry and decoration.  In Martin’s song, he describes trying to discover the secret meanings of the Nott, suggesting that “If you ask, no one will tell you/but you should ask anyway.”  Outside Information, by contrast, supplies the space with an extrinsic layer of activity, geometry, decoration, and meaning, no less mysterious, but gradually yielding to investigation and exploration.

In many ways, this piece expands upon my 2007 Steepings series of sound installations, which were made to flood smaller spaces with intimate, shifting sounds that varied based on a set of simple rules.  Outside Information uses similarly-conceived custom sound software to generate algorithmic sound with both greater momentary variability and the capacity for long-term drift.  As the resulting environment can sound quite different from hour to hour, day to day, and will interact with changes in the air conditioning’s rumble and human activity in the space, my hope is that it will reward repeated visits from the members of the Union College community that encounter it daily or weekly.


Unlike many loudspeakers, the Hemispheres work visually with the space and the concept of the art.  They become a part of the artistic expression itself rather than a force acting in contradiction (or in orthogonality) to the creative concept.

These loudspeakers seem to lend themselves well to this in a number of different contexts as well.  A couple of months ago I saw a video of a work by Michael Theodore, who used hemispherical speaker arrays for this particular work, and they appears as mounds of earth rising from the surface.  The Princeton Laptop Orchestra also situates the speakers on the floor next to a person who is also sitting the floor, invoking a ritualistic image which perfectly reinforces the context of the performance ecosystem created by PLOrk.

I had a conversation with Trond Lossius walking back to BEK from the Landmark in Bergen a few years ago, following a sound installation exhibition.  Trond was interested in using the Hemisphere not just for it’s radiant acoustic qualities, but for its visual quality.  Two hemispheres placed back-to-back to create sphere, on top of a pole about 5 or 6 feet tall.  The resulting visual invokes a human image. How then do we interact with the sound in space that emanates from this creature/sculpture/environment?

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