Are We Not Dreaming?


“Are We Not Dreaming?” – an immersive sound experience based on the mythology and exploration of the Marble Arch Caves.

“No man has gone before us in these depths, no one knows where we go nor what we see, nothing so strangely beautiful was ever presented to us, and spontaneously we ask each other the same question: are we not dreaming?” were the words of French speleologist Édouard-Alfred Martel in 1889, upon the first exploration of Marble Arch Caves.

Myth, legend and exploration diaries are brought together in a unique sonic journey which immerses the listener in the evocative and intriguing acoustic environment that characterise the caves. Employing recent research into hybrid listening and 6 Degree of Freedom VR, “Are We Not Dreaming?” uses innovative approaches to sound design to engage the listener in immersive storytelling.

The hybrid listening system uses a combination of binaural rendering on headphones and ambisonics on loudspeaker arrays. We showcase a number of scenarios which take advantage of the system and explore the notion of ambiguity, creating the sensation of blur between signals played over headphones and loudspeakers. The system is designed to allow for personalised listening experiences which are responsive to the listener’s position and rotation in real time.   The research is in response to the growing need for complex spatial audio scenes in Virtual, Augmented and Mixed reality environments and indeed the acknowledgment of the importance of sound design in immersive experiences more broadly.

“Are We Not Dreaming” was designed and produced by Pedro Rebelo, Michael McKnight and Matilde Meireles at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Queen’s University Belfast emerging from a collaboration with New York University and the Seamus Heaney Centre.

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