Designing space and place in auditory virtual environments

  • Michael Alexander McKnight

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores how concepts of space and place can inform compositional approaches to auditory virtual environments. It is practice-based artistic research that combines electroacoustic composition, storytelling, and field recording with the use of Extended-Reality (XR) technologies to examine these themes in context. A portfolio of works, together with this text, are the outcome of a creative and conceptual investigation, in addition to a developed framework which can be used for the creation and presentation of new spatial works. The immersive audio framework is the culmination of the compositional strategies and feature sets explored in the pieces of the portfolio. The works are designed for multiple listeners in a shared experience, where each listener, based on their tracked position and rotation in space, wirelessly receive an individually binaurally decoded sonic perspective via open back headphones. The sounds presented in open-back headphones are combined with a periphonic loudspeaker array to form a hybrid listening system.

The research responds to the recent rapid evolution and accessibility of XR technology, as well as the increasing ubiquity of immersive spatial experiences, and seeks to explore compositional methods that achieve a semantic connection between the sounds and the strategies employed for their spatialisation. The discussion explores the multifaceted aspects of space, its effect on auditory perception, and its intersection with other domains such as time, timbre, and movement. This symbiotic relationship is encapsulated by the term agency, that is used to depict the fluid nature of the exchange and represent the human interaction at each of these intersections. This is then situated in relation to concepts of place, which are presented as important factors in considering an individual’s engagement with auditory virtual environments and their design.

Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorPedro Rebelo (Supervisor) & Trevor Agus (Supervisor)


  • Sonic Arts
  • auditory virtual environments
  • extended reality
  • immersive experience
  • space
  • place
  • spatial audio
  • ambisonics
  • hybrid listening
  • tracking systems
  • sound design
  • interactive composition
  • music
  • perception
  • listener agency
  • practice-based
  • sound studies
  • electroacoustic
  • field recording
  • digital arts
  • presence
  • binaural
  • virtual reality
  • sound art

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