With true 360° music – a step up from your surround sound hi-fi – you have no choice but to accept sound on its own terms. Sonic textures emerge from the front or approach from one side and then dance around the room, before dissipating or mutating into another sound behind you.
Last month Sheff Uni presented four free concerts showcasing the medium. On Saturday 14 May I caught a programme by Swedish composer Åke Parmerud, who oversaw the performance from a laptop in the middle of the audience. Parmerud’s first piece, Crystal Counterpoint, was centred around glassy high-pitched sounds, capturing the sub-audible essence of a dinner party. Freed from the constraints of rhythm, he could stretch his tones like elastic or speed them up to exponentially escalating tempos, recreating the sound of a spinning pound coin just before it falls flat on its side.
Grooves seemed to explore textures and materials, specifically what you would hear if someone put a paper bag over your head. Growl!, the most playful piece by Parmerud, apparently sampled a Norwegian black metal vocalist, extracted from the source material and chopped up until his yelps and blood-curdling howls echoed around the head like a bad trip.
After the interval came music that could have been a foley sound track from a Transformers film, all power-up wooshes and metallic clangs. Eventually, a chugging four-four kick emerged from the menacing abstraction and suddenly we could have been in Tresor.
Sunday’s program was subtler, but some pieces still surprised. James Surgenor’s Twist and Turn took us through a rainforest before ushering us into a celestial clearing, while Overture by Alejandro Albornoz seemed to ask the audience if they could differentiate real human voices from electronic approximations, a line that became increasingly blurred as the piece progressed. The première of Ceramos by Chris Bevan brought things to a dramatic close, with sudden crescendos that turned Firth Hall into a cathedral.