Virtual auditory reality
Inhabiting digital pop music as simulated space
This article examines popular music listening in light of recent research in auditory perception and spatial experience, record production, and virtual reality, while considering parallel developments in digital pop music production practice. The discussion begins by considering theories of listening and embodiment by Brandon LaBelle, Eric Clarke, Salomè Voegelin and Linda Salter, examining relations between listening subjects and aural environments, conceptualising listening as a process of environmental ‘inhabiting’, and considering auditory experience as the real-time construction of ‘reality’. These ideas are discussed in relation to recent research on popular music production and perception, with a focus on matters of spatial sound design, the virtual ‘staging’ of music performances and performing bodies, digital editing methods and effects, and on shifting relations between musical spatiality, singer-persona, audio technologies, and listener. Writings on music and virtual space by Martin Knakkergaard, Allan Moore, Ragnhild Brøvig-Hanssen & Anne Danielsen, Denis Smalley, Dale Chapman, Kodwo Eshun and Holger Schulze are discussed, before being related to conceptions of VR sound and user experience by Jaron Lanier, Rolf Nordahl & Niels Nilsson, Mel Slater, Tom Garner and Frances Dyson. This critical framework informs three short aural analyses of digital pop tracks released during the last 10 years - Titanium (Guetta & Sia 2010), Ultralight Beam (West 2016) and 2099 (Charli XCX 2019) - presented in the form of autoethnographic ‘listening notes’. Through this discussion on personal popular music listening and virtual spatiality, a theory of pop listening as embodied inhabiting of simulated narrative space, or virtual story-world, with reference to ‘aural-dominant realities’ (Salter), ‘sonic possible worlds’ (Voegelin), and ‘sonic fictions’ (Eshun), is developed. By examining personal music listening in relation to VR user experience, this study proposes listening to pop music in the 21st century as a mode of immersive, embodied ‘storyliving’, or ‘storydoing’ (Allen & Tucker).
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