Quest Driven Spatial Song – PHD project

Project Details






PHD Candidate

UTS-Dolby Scholarship

Research Training Program Scholarship


Streaming services like Spotify show falling rates of patience in music fans who now spend 5 seconds auditioning new music (Krohn-Grimberghe, 2020; Modugno, 2020). The days of patient concept album explorations and nurtured love for B-side recordings falter in the Spotify-led market space. Now, individual artists creations and curations disappear into mood-driven playlists (Krohn-Grimberghe, 2020). Listeners from the pre-playlist, pre-high-speed internet days recall attributing a higher value to a recording.  High effort acts of exploring record shops or long hours spent by the radio to record a favourite song function narratively like quests for the listener. This adventurous journey through space-time creates a visceral connection to the music for the listener, who then values the record/prize more when they acquire music (De Poloni, 2020; Modugno, 2020).

This research intends to simulate this high effort journey for the listener. This is not done through commercial obstacles like Digital Rights Management that sour artist-listener relationships (Mcgreal, 2012). Instead, the approach is to apply quest-like structures found in games to music recordings and narratives. Hopefully, this retrains the listener, re-creating a sense of exploration of recontextualized music lost to music streaming’s world increased impatience with music (Lamere, 2014)

Many (computer) game narratives are built on quests, where players journey through narratives built on changing space-time. By design, these narratives encourage relatively more patience, as players understand that time must be spent in game-worlds before they can truly know the game-world (Ronimus et al., 2014; Tobias et al., 2014). The result is longer engagement times, and longer interest cycles, where stories of avid players replaying a game are commonplace and by design.

Increased accessibility to spatialized formats like Dolby Atmos now allow for spatial structures in music recordings (Dolby, 2021; Dolby Games, n.d.). When paired with space-time adaptive Game Engines’ Spatial Algorithms (GESA) and their corresponding middleware, there is an opportunity to create song structures that behave like musical buildings. Thus, rendering compositions that listeners can physically explore through space-time.

This research aims to create a Quest Driven Spatial Song (QDSS) where the listener can walk around a piece of music like an architecture; this experience mixes between multiple arrangements as they travel. For the purposes of this research, a song is defined as music with lyrics.

Currently, there is scarce literature around compositional narrative design frameworks for completely spatialized music, where each instrument in the composition is spatialized in virtual space, let alone instances of multiple arrangements sitting side-by-side. This is likely because, in games, where adaptive music is most developed, music tends to play the non-diegetic role. It is, therefore, head-locked to the player since it should only exist for the player’s emotional state (Dolby Games, n.d.; Phillips, 2014). Any attempts to spatialize music elements must be coupled with narrative logic of why it is spatialized as it should exist corporeally in the game-world lest it adds to player confusion (e.g: spatialised music coming from a radio game object).

However, my argument is that the narratives that drive space-time dependent quests in games may serve well as a design framework for virtually spatialised compositions like QDSS. This presentation is an exploration of these narrative design frameworks and how they can be converted and utilised for highly spatialised songs, and how they can guide the design of QDSS’s highly spatialized musical experiences.

de Poloni, G. (n.d.). Vinyl sales continue to grow, but does music sound better on a record or digital streaming? – ABC News. 2020. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from

Dolby. (2021). Dolby Presents: The World Of Sound | Demo | Dolby Atmos | Dolby – YouTube.

Dolby Games. (n.d.). Deeply Immersive Game Audio with Spatial Sound. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from

Krohn-Grimberghe, L. (2020). The Dematerialization of Music. In Classical Concert Studies (pp. 296–308). Routledge.

Lamere, P. (2014). The Skip | Music Machinery. Music Machinery.

Mcgreal, R. (2012). The need for Open Educational Resources for Ubiquitous Learning.

Modugno, L. (2020). The Increasing Disposability of New Music in the Digital Age — STEREOVISION.

Phillips, W. (2014). A composer’s guide to game music.

Ronimus, M., Kujala, J., Tolvanen, A., & Lyytinen, H. (2014). Children’s engagement during digital game-based learning of reading: The effects of time, rewards, and challenge. Computers and Education, 71, 237–246.

Tobias, S., Fletcher, J. D., & Wind, A. P. (2014). Game-based learning. In Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology: Fourth Edition (pp. 485–503). Springer New York.