Earlier this week, Southern Spaces (a peer-reviewed, multimedia, open-access journal published by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship) published a series of immersive 360-degree video recordings of Sacred Harp. The project was produced, filmed, and edited by ECDS senior digital scholarship strategist Dr. Jesse P. Karlsberg and senior video producer Dr. Steve Bransford. You can experience these immersive recordings and read more about the project’s background in the article, “‘Within Thy Circling Pow’r I Stand’: Immersive Video from Sacred Harp’s Hollow Square.”
The videos were recorded at the annual singing at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church in west Alabama on June 23, 2019. They provide “new virtual access to the experience of Sacred Harp’s spatiality from a vantage point typically inaccessible to those who don’t themselves lead songs,” according to the article overview. The article also provides an introduction to Sacred Harp singing and a brief explanation of new video and audio technologies used in the project.
These innovative recordings explore the inside of Sacred Harp’s “hollow square” around which singers sit, “organized by voice part and facing each other, as a procession of leaders take turns directing songs.” The hollow square, as Karlsberg explains, is “the spatial, aesthetic, and spiritual center of this international music culture with roots in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, and Texas.” Many of the songs in The Sacred Harp, a nineteenth-century Georgia tunebook, leverage specific features of the hollow square for both musical and emotional impact.
Bransford explains that they used new recording equipment that “included the Yi Halo, a device that captures video via seventeen separate cameras arranged in a circular housing.” When a user shifts their view in the YouTube video’s 360-degree visual field, the audio also shifts accordingly. (Users should wear headphones to properly hear the spatial audio shift.) In addition to the Sacred Harp singing videos, the ECDS has previously used the Yi Halo camera in partnership with a team of Emory special pathogen experts to develop immersive, 3D training videos.
Users can also wear a virtual reality (VR) headset for a truly immersive experience. Karlsberg and Bransford plan to stage VR viewings of the recordings at the Camp Fasola Sacred Harp singing school and at other singings in 2020. They also plan to make recordings of other songs accessible through the web in the coming months.
To view and listen to these recordings, please visit the Southern Spaces journal website.