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Realizing A Vision: Deploying Immersive Sound For Björk & “Cornucopia” In NYC

Behind the scenes with a 100-minute audio visual journey of live musical arrangements, digital technology, and stunning visuals.

By Live Sound Staff August 12, 2019

"Cornucopia" in full swing.

The Audience Experience

The sound design delivered a new listening experience for the audience as well as a unique opportunity for Björk’s creativity on stage. “For me, the song Body Memory is a stand-out moment in the show,” notes Steve Jones. “We have a choir set in a concert hall environment utilizing En-Space algorithms and with really musical, but dynamic, effects coming from various angles that the lighting team, led by Bruno Poet, accentuated within their designs.

“We also found ways of creatively breaking the normal rules of Soundscape’s creative use with sound objects appearing to come from above, despite there being no ceiling speakers. This song is a rich layer of so many parts that Soundscape manages to deliver without ever being too much to take in. The Shed is also a very individual space, geometrically and acoustically.”

The McCourt theater also houses a newly-installed d&b V-Series line array house system consisting of 12 V8s for left-right main arrays, four more V8s for side out fill arrays, eight D20 amplifiers located in the grid, eight Y7P loudspeakers used across the stage for front fill, dual Y7Ps on each side of the stage for edge fills, a dozen V-SUB subwoofers, four J-INFRA subs, and four M4 monitors.

(Sidebar) John Gale’s Perspective

For some time now Björk has been asking if we could do our shows in 360-degree surround. She has been working on some VR projects and is very much into a fully immersive approach to her music and art, so this was a very natural progression for the production.

I looked at a few options for live immersive audio and did some experimenting with multi-tracks with different brands. Chris Jones (Southby Productions) and I had been chatting and he introduced me to Steve Jones at d&b. I was extended an invite down to their demo room in Nailsworth, where Steve was able to show me the basics of d&b Soundscape and introduce me to the concepts involved.

A few months down the line, Southby organized a full set-up over several days in a church in London for us to really get to grips with what the software was capable of, and this was probably the turning point. It became quite clear that particularly for work in 360, Soundscape was very advanced and what we were looking for. The support they showed us was fabulous.

The initial brief I had in mind was that Cornucopia was going to be very theatrical, and therefore a transparent show. There would be subtle effects and ambient noises… objects placed in the Soundscape field to sound like they were coming from the stage and reinforced but not amplified.

Monitor engineer Manu Goodwin and FOH engineer John Gale at a DiGiCo SD7 console provided by Southby Productions for the production.

 

Björk was very keen for the surround sound element to be introduced, but there was a lot of discussion about how we would approach taking our stereo sound sources and tracks and make that work in an immersive object-based format.

There was also concern that making things busy in surround would confuse the audience.

But as things often do in Björk’s world, it developed quite substantially over the months. Cornucopia became an all immersive world and is still very much a music event, so it became apparent that while the show would have these transparent and quiet moments, it would also have moments of a fully immersive audio concert with music enveloping you from all corners of the room.

I definitely binned the rulebook somewhat in my mixing approach. I still mixed in the traditional way regarding some EQ of sources and compression but found you didn’t always need to be so brutal. You’re not trying to buy so much sonic space between the elements in the mix, because these can be spread across the hangs and allow your ears to do the summation. That was eye opening.

I also had concerns about losing master buses, group EQ, group compression – traditional tools I have utilized in a stereo mix. So, it took some adjustment to my approach, but the more I worked in the format I realized that a lot of these approaches no longer apply. When you are placing objects across a stage in seven hangs of PA, everything finds its own space and you’re not trying to compress everything into one stereo bus. It was a rewarding journey in that respect.

A perspective of The McCourt theater at The Shed.

Creatively, we’re presented with so many possibilities. It’s been a lot of fun and very rewarding. I particularly enjoyed working with the lighting department, making decisions and talking with Bruno the lighting designer, who would then incorporate ideas into his design. Percussive stabs from a particular loudspeaker that he’d then assign a strobe to, for example. That’s a lot of fun and also really helps engage the audience, marrying visual elements and the audio together. Björk really wanted to embrace this.

Another element I really enjoyed was the En-Space room simulation. It really helps tie together the whole picture. I placed, for example, the choirs into this, and then read a review discussing the “unamplified choir and how wonderful they sounded.” There are some great sounding rooms in the En-Space software and it really helps glue things together transparently.

From an audience perspective, there are definite moments where you aren’t aware of the technology: a choir carefully placed to sound un-amplified, a flute in the auditorium amplified by a speaker near it so the sound comes from that direction while Björk duets on stage. Then there are moments where people stand in a reverb chamber on stage, where the sound comes from that area of stage or percussive instruments (including water drums) are placed in their physical space on the stage.

But there are other moments where the backing vocals envelop the whole room from all directions (somewhat losing Björk’s vocal amongst them), while flutes spin around your head in pure chaos and digital beats hit you head on – or a moment where the audience is placed within the reverb chamber with her; these things are all by design. It’s how Björk hears the moment and it makes for quite a ride for the audience sonically.

I think every audience member takes away something different from this show. Visually, the show is incredible so sometimes an audience member is so immersed they don’t even realize that the Soundscape is working, or the show is in surround. Other times, people have approached to remark on how amazing it was to be immersed in the audio. I take both as an equal win.


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Heather Bara says

This article is mind melting! Bjork has always pushed boundaries REALLY & not in a sex hyped typical way. Her voice broke into me as a teenager some 27 years ago & she has haunted me since. I am always excited to read about her newest ventures, she is brilliant & untouchable; like the Brit Soundscape company in article

chris mcdermott says

I have such respect for Bjork and the great artists and engineers she has assembled to push Musical and visual entertainment into a new Realm. However this is entertainment for Elites only. The ticket prices were 400 to $6,000. Of course all the production and preparation to create such a show is extremely expensive but it's a shame that it will never be presented to people who are hungry and inspired enough to do something with it. I have been a professional musician for over twenty years and will never be able to afford to see such a thing.

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