Paul Oomen, born 1983 in Amsterdam, is a composer, curator and technologist. From an early age on he gathered extensive experience in theatre as an actor and director, and as a musician skilled in percussion, piano and singing. Oomen holds a BA and MA with Honours in Music Composition from the Conservatory of Amsterdam and Universität der Künste Berlin. He specialised himself initially as a composer of music for theatre and opera, before he turned to work exclusively on the investigation of space, sound and perception within the context of 4DSOUND.
Paul Oomen is Founder of 4DSOUND, and was its Creative Director from the start in 2007 until 2014. He has led over seventy spatial sound projects to date, working with numerous internationally acclaimed artists and festivals and continuously propagating new forms of experiencing sound, such as sound exhibitions, immersive sonic meditation, participative sound theatre or collective sonic sleep-ins. His curatorial explores spatial sound as a medium with significant impact on a variety of fields in society, such as music and performing arts, architecture and public space, consciousness studies and augmented and virtual reality.
'I was deeply inspired by Tesla’s theories of movement and energy, and in my earliest experiments with spatial sound I tried to formulate certain rules as I understood them from Tesla's ideas and inventions. I challenged myself with the question what the conclusions could be once one would apply such principles on sound and music composition. If we allow ourselves to think about physical movement in space as a parameter in music, what kind of variables do we get?'
The year 2012 saw the premiere of his 5-hour opera Nikola based on the life and work of inventor Nikola Tesla, which was the first-ever composition and live performance in 4DSOUND. In this opera we experience being inside Nikola Tesla's head - lost in a world of sounds, voices and information. Vocals emerge from within the audience, immersed in techno sound designs set for the 4DSOUND system, creating an immersive environment that transcends the border between the club and theatrical space. Sounds and voices appear anywhere, moving around, above, beneath and in between the audience. The audience is not only listening to a performance, but is active participant in a transforming spatial narrative of sound.
Since then, Oomen has been at the heart of realising many spatial sound performances by artists such as Peter van Hoesen, Max Cooper, Biosphere, Pantha du Prince, Martin Stimming, Murcof, Senking, Frank Bretschneider, Robert Lippok, Vladislav Delay, John Connell & Florence To, Marco Donnarumma, Michelle Lewis-King, Kazuya Nagaya, Robert Jan Liethoff, Kyoka, Satya Hinduja and IOANN, among many others.
In 2013, Oomen created a series of spatial re-arrangements of compositions by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich for the Blown Away festival with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The aim was to create an experience that would engage listeners with the orchestra in various new ways – by extending the live experience of classical compositions with a spatial listening dimension, creating musical encounters between the orchestra and electronic musicians, and processing the sound palette of the orchestra into generative spatial sound sculptures. As a part of this, Oomen and Salvador Breed created the installation work ‘Pathetique’ which uses the rich sound world from Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony and transforms it into an organically evolving sound landscape.
In 2016, Oomen worked on new spatial interpretations in 4DSOUND of early electronic music works by Edgar Varese and Iannis Xenakis, for premiere at 4DSOUND: Points on the Curve at ZKM in Karlsruhe. Xenakis’ 'Concret PH' and Varese’s 'Poeme Electronique' were originally written for the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, and can be considered the first endeavour of such scale in the field of sonic architecture and spatialisation of electronic music. Rooted in the work of the GRM Studio by Pierre Schaeffer and Musique Concrete, Xenakis’s composition 'Orient-Occident' from 1960 explores the notion of sound objects and their physical characteristics in an almost encyclopedic manner. Oomen asks the question what the acoustical experience of these works must have been like, then and there. Given the current state of the art in spatial sound technology, more than fifty years after the original conception of these works, what can the realisation of these spatial conceptions sound like in the here and now? His reinterpretation of these historic works in 4DSOUND are evocative of dematerialised architectures from a time and space by now gone, not limited anymore by the constraints of a physical reality.
Oomen currently lives and works in Budapest, Hungary, where he founded the Spatial Sound Institute in 2015, a global centre for research and development in the fields of spatial sound and immersive sonic environments. As Head of Development at the Spatial Sound Institute, he teaches artists and students from all over the world on a daily basis about working with spatial sound and his vision on its development as a new medium. On this behalf, Oomen practices a philosophy of sound and occasionally publishes lectures and writings in this field.
Image: Nienke Berghuis