Harry Burson at Sounding Out Space

28 Nov, 2017

Harry Burson at Sounding Out Space

Harry Burson is a current graduate student specializing in immersion, space, media archaeology, sound studies, and stereophony at UC Berkeley Department of Film & Media. Earlier this month, he travelled to Dublin, Ireland for Sounding Out the Space: An International Conference on the Spatiality of Sound. Burson was one of the Fall 2017 BCNM Conference Grant Recipients.

Burson presented his paper "Lost in Stereo: Stereophony, Stereoscopy, and the Construction of Virtual Spaces" in which he examines the relationship between sound and 3-D image to contrast the 'hyperreal, staged space of stereophony' and 'the uncanny, irreal space of stereoscopy.'

After Burson's time at the conference, he reported back his life-changing experience:

I’m extremely appreciative of the support from BCNM that allowed me to present my research at Sounding Out the Space: An International Conference on the Spatiality of Sound hosted collaboratively by DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama, the Dublin School of Creative Arts, and the Graduate School of Creative Arts and Media in Dublin, Ireland. I presented a paper entitled “Lost in Stereo: Stereophony, Stereoscopy, and the Construction of Virtual Spaces.” My paper examined the history of the relationship between stereoscopic images and stereophonic sound. Since Clément Ader undertook his first experiments with stereo sound in 1881, stereophony has been closely associated with the 3D images of the stereoscope. Today, the recent wave of so-called immersive sound formats for VR and cinema—often marketed as “3D” sound—indicates the continued popular association of stereophony and stereoscopy. However, my paper argued that as much as these technologies might intuitively seem to be related, 3D images and surround sound diverge in significant ways in their formal strategies, especially in how they construct space. Careful attention to the relationship between sound and image from the history of 3D and stereo sound underscores the remarkable aesthetic incongruity between stereoscopy and stereophony. By closely analyzing the sonic strategies employed by surround sound films made during the 3D cinema crazes of the 1950s and 1980s, I argued that the hyperreal, staged space of stereophony is opposed to the uncanny, irreal space of stereoscopy. In particular, my paper focused on the tnesion between the stereo sound and 3D images in the 1953 film adaptation of the Cole Porter musical Kiss Me Kate, which was one of the few movies made in Widescreen 3D and stereo sound during the first wave of 3D in the 1950s.

Traveling to the Sounding Out the Space conference in Dublin provided me with useful feedback on my work and insight into recent research on sound technology from scholars, artists, and sound engineers from around the world. In particular the keynote talks by Brandon LaBelle and Bill Fontana on how artists working with sound have addressed cultural issues relating to space were compelling. In addition to this work on sound art, many delegates at the conference presented recent research on the role of sound in contemporary virtual reality technology. This work addressing questions of realism and sonic space from the perspective of psychoacoustics and emerging sound technologies provided me with new perspectives on how questions concerning spatial audio addressed in my paper continue to be releveant in the latest research on sound and media.