Halina Rice combines 3D soundscapes and mixed reality with L-ISA

Using L-ISA Studio, electronic music producer, Halina Rice creates object-based binaural compositions in her studio, then translates them to 360° performances in multi-speaker arrays. Photo: Michal Augustini

Since her very first live show in 2016, Halina Rice has been working to combine music, art and technology in ways that will immerse her audiences in an audiovisual experience that transcends the confines of the performance space. Most recently, for a live show in London, the UK-based electronic music producer and AV artist harnessed L-ISA Studio 3D audio software and L-Acoustics speakers to bring an extra dimension to her evocative soundscapes and beat-driven tracks.

Rice and collaborator Jan Petyrek, a visual artist and interactive designer, first experienced L-Acoustics immersive sound capabilities when they performed at Abbey Road Studios’ 36-hour Hackathon 2019. “We said, ‘This is exciting, let’s start building upon that,’” she said but the COVID-19 pandemic put any further exploration of immersive audio on hold. Then, in December 2021, Rice organised her own show at London’s Copeland Gallery, programming her tracks with L-ISA Studio and performing through a 360° surround array of L-Acoustics X8 coaxial speakers in combination with mixed reality, 3D, generative and audio-reactive visuals and lighting.

“I wanted people to feel like they were somewhere else, the same way I feel when I go to see a show by Ryoji Ikeda, the audiovisual artist. It’s enlivening and interesting,” Rice said. For her show at the Copeland Gallery, she said: “People could hear sounds coming from different places. Some of the tracks I create are more like sound pieces; they don’t have a tempo or a structure, so I can position sounds coming from all around, and the lights are coming from all around. It puts people in a different space.”

With a background running digital and marketing operations for retail companies, Rice is not only comfortable with technology but also has a visual sensibility. “I’m not a visual designer, but I art direct on these projects. You’ve got to be an international team these days,” said Rice, who collaborates with multidisciplinary designers and technologists located across Europe and Asia. “If I can’t figure out how to do something, I find someone who does. It’s important to find the right people, wherever they are.”

Rice already had some familiarity with the concepts and structure of object-based immersive audio production tools from her experience at Abbey Road’s Hackathon when she began working with the L-ISA Studio software. “L-Acoustics got me started and provided me with a link to their training videos. They’re great, because they’re in bite-sized pieces that are very specific,” she said.

As the date for her show at the Copeland Gallery approached, she also conferred with Stephen Hughes at Delta Live, the audio, communication and technology solutions, event production and equipment rental firm, and with Chris McDonnell, L-ISA application design engineer at L-Acoustics. “I played some tracks for them and Chris gave me some great advice to translate these to the L-ISA system,” she reported.

“It’s a challenge to start with, because you’re bouncing more stems than you would normally bounce,” Rice continued, “and you don’t know until you’ve done one of these projects exactly what it’s going to sound like. But once you’ve got that, it’s not difficult.”

Working on her MacBook with L-ISA Studio, she said: “The binaural mix, in headphones, gave me a really clear sense of what I was doing. Many sounds were static, and there were soundscape pieces that were moving fairly dramatically.”

Once she was at the Copeland Gallery space, “The sound engineer, Ben Davey, and I stood in the room, listened, and adjusted a few things; we had time during the installation day, so we experimented. And I found it wonderful working with the L-Acoustics crew there; they were extremely generous in trying to make sure that I felt I had the best sound possible,” said Rice.

“Now that I’ve worked in this way,” she added “I would feel confident that I could do those mixes just in binaural and go straight to the venue.”

Currently, Rice is driving the audio component of her show using an Ableton Push controller and L-ISA software on her laptop. The object-based workflow of L-ISA is simply an extension of her former stem-based approach, she said. “I was previously bouncing five or six major stems: drums, bass, synths, vocals, VFX, etcetera. I realized I had more opportunity to space these, pinpoint different sounds and move them in different ways. Now, I bounce, let’s say, 10 stems. Within those stems I write the automation for distance, width and panning. A lot of those objects are static; you don’t necessarily want a kick drum moving around. But a lot of the synths might have a small movement. And all of that movement is pre-programmed.”

There is also live audio, she continued: “I have a set of live tracks over the top of everything, which feed through the L-ISA system. My energy during the show is in the live sampling, which is then fed through a pair of outputs into a particular placement in the L-Acoustics speaker array.”

Separate from the audio, Rice maps herself into the mixed reality visuals as an avatar with Microsoft’s Kinect motion controller. The visual side of her show is further enhanced with pre-recorded generative art, she says, developed in collaboration with Freny Antony aka @procedural.disarray. Rice is also assisted by her event producer, Sophie Charrington, who is an AR and VR producer.

“Through serendipity I’ve created an immersive product at the moment when immersive concepts seem to be taking off,” she observed. However, there are still challenges to solve before her next shows – the first at Sonica arts festival in Glasgow, Scotland on 19 March followed closely by a show at Iklectik in London on 24 March. In particular, Rice Sid, she would like to build a system to trigger the visuals herself. “I’ll get so far with it, but I’ll be reaching out to friends and contacts to help me.”

Collaboration is a two-way street, of course. “I’m leading some workshops for Ableton at various universities and for a company called Music Hackspace, with a focus on women in technology, which will be at the L-Acoustics showroom on the first of March,” she said.

Offering a final word of encouragement to any artist looking for new tools, such as L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio, to expand their creative vision, she said: “Producing for immersive sound may look intimidating from the outside, but my encouragement would always be to get through the first threshold of getting familiar with the software and new workflow, which is the toughest.”