Ircam reopens the Espace de Projection, a unique concert hall with 3D sound immersion

The center dedicated to musical creation and scientific research, located a stone’s throw from the Center Pompidou in Paris, reopens its Espace de Projection on January 12, closed for 8 years. An “unparalleled” concert and performance hall, packed with audio technologies.

When one enters the “Espro” (the nickname given to the Espace de Projection), in the basement of Ircam (Institute for Acoustic/Music Research and Coordination), one plunges into a retro-futuristic decor surrounded by an army of loudspeakers. The walls of this room, designed in the 1970s by the architect Renzo Piano and the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, are covered with dozens of periacts: panels that can be oriented from a distance to vary the acoustics location and create a variety of soundscapes. Materials with three faces: a first absorbing, a second reflecting and a third diffusing.

It is a place without equal, explains Frank Madlener, director of Ircam. An a capella song, a theatrical monologue, very powerful electronic music… You can modulate the acoustics in real time with more or less reverberation, depending on the works and pieces played.

The room has been closed to the public for eight years, due to the presence of asbestos. After 14 months of work, for a budget of five million euros, the renovation is finally complete. The acoustic panels, which open and close on demand, are now controlled by a simple screen on a desk. Before the works, the system was already motorized but the piloting went through a six-metre-long cabinet.

The ceiling of the Espro, also mobile, can drop from 10 meters to 3 meters from the ground. What play on the volume of the room, which goes from 4,000 to 1,200 cubic meters. During concerts, the space can accommodate 500 people standing, 300 seated and even 120 spectators lying on the floor for certain works.

On the occasion of the reopening of the Espace de Projection, “Ircam celebrates” offered from Thursday 12 to Tuesday 17 January a series concerts (including a performance by Jean-Michel Jarre), installations but also participatory experiences in open houses. Musician Lucie Antunes is scheduled for opening night. “It’s a kind of racksays the artist. There will be compositions designed for the Espro and other pieces adapted by adding long sound layers, to play with space. It’s an incredible room, we can adapt everything.

Another Espro technology that immerses the public in a unique sound immersion: a set of nearly 250 speakers. A speaker dome thus makes it possible to offer a “spatialized” audio experience, with three-dimensional sound that evolves around the viewer.

Transfer, a creation by composer Florent Caron Darras, scheduled for Tuesday January 17 at Ircam, is also based on three-dimensional sound. “We started with a sound recording in the forest, to record soundscapes with a 3D microphone. The original sounds – birdsong for example – are then gradually replaced by instruments and synthesizers. For the concert, there will be an instrumental ensemble of 10 people, and spatialized electronic music using a hundred speakers“, explains the composer, discovering the equipment of the room before the rehearsals.

The Projection Space remains an experimental lab, a prototype, says director Frank Madlener. Audio spatialization techniques are used, for example, by live performance halls and opera houses to amplify the actors’ voices by giving the illusion of naturally following their position on stage.

One of the main challenges for the world of culture can be summed up in one question: how to make the public want to go out with something you don’t have at home? points out Frank Madlener. You have to make the public want to move. The Espro can accommodate contemporary music, visual art, participatory science… When you have tasted this room, and you find yourself elsewhere, the sound can quickly seem flat and dry.

Beyond its Projection Space, Ircam houses numerous studios, located under the fountain in Place Igor-Stravinsky. In particular, there is an “anechoic chamber”: a “deaf room” where more than 99% of the sound waves are absorbed.

Ircam reopens the Espace de Projection, a unique concert hall with 3D sound immersion