Cover Feature: Fruitful collaboration
Cover Feature: Fruitful collaboration
L-Acoustics’ L-ISA has been deployed on Thailand’s Wonderfruit festival for the second year running. Caroline Moss finds out more about the immersive sound technology
In a perfect example of synchronicity, Polygon Productions founders Hugo Heathcote and Archie Keswick knew what they were looking for even before they discovered L-Acoustics was developing it a few miles away. London-based Polygon, which also has a Hong Kong office, is a futuristic technology company set up to design and produce multi-sensory and immersive environments focused around spatial audio, and the duo were searching for an audio system that fitted their vision.
‘I had been exploring spatial audio with Archie for a good number of years,’ explains Heathcote. ‘We had a dream to deliver a fully immersive, 360° speaker array system for the dancefloor. We were just missing the right technical partners to bring this concept to life. The timing was perfect.’
Immersive audio has been gaining ground in the cinema market since content started to become available in 2012, with a particularly rapid uptake across Asia Pacific. Now, the immersive experience is being extended to multiple applications including concerts, festivals and art installations, courtesy of L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound. L-ISA has already been used on hundreds of events in Europe and the US, kicking off with La Villette jazz festival in Paris in September 2015. And thanks to that well-timed meeting in London, followed by a year of collaboration with the L-ISA team at L-Acoustics’ premises in Highgate, London, Polygon went on to debut L-ISA in Asia at the Wonderfruit arts and music festival in Pattaya, Thailand, in 2017, scaling up the system for 2018.
‘Having searched high and low for the right product for our new concept, it was a no-brainer,’ says Heathcote. ‘L-Acoustics and L-ISA had everything we needed. Not only did they make the best speakers but were also way ahead in the development of spatial audio technology.’
L-ISA technology allows the creation of multidimensional soundscapes. In the Hyperreal Sound version, a frontal configuration of speakers expands the audio panorama and facilitates detailed placement of audio objects throughout the sound design. Immersive Hyperreal Sound goes further, adding overhead and surround speakers above and around the audience to expand beyond the frontal system. L-Acoustics has extensively developed its existing Soundvision modelling software, introducing new metrics that assess designs against a protocol that evaluates acoustic performance and how it impacts the audience perception of audio.
In developing L-ISA, L-Acoustics was looking to raise the bar for all aspects of live performance. ‘Our approach was to develop a new paradigm in live sound reinforcement and a platform to achieve convincing audience experiences from a creative idea, and make it as easy to learn and intuitive to operate as possible,’ says Sherif El Barbari, director of L-ISA Labs. ‘At the same time, it had to fit into the workflow of engineers, and open them to all means of external communication with other tools and devices on the market, to make it powerful and flexible to use.’
In addition to L-Acoustics Soundvision software, loudspeaker systems and amplified controllers, which many rental companies will already own, an L-ISA Processor and L-ISA Controller software are required to implement an L-ISA production. As far as interfacing to external equipment is concerned, L-ISA’s Source Control functionality has been integrated into DiGiCo’s SD range of consoles in the form of a native desk-link, while plug-ins have been developed for all popular DAW products on the market – AAX, VST and AU – as well as AAX-DSP for Avid’s S6L console. Collaborations with other manufacturers are ongoing. The adoption of Open Sound Control (OSC) as L-ISA’s communication protocol opens up many creativity options including tracking solutions (BlackTrax, ZackTrack and Stagetracker II), Touch OSC, Max and QLab.
Although L-ISA can be deployed live on the spot, productions can be designed and programmed in advance, making preproduction a vital part of the process. L-ISA Labs in London, Paris, Los Angeles and New York, as well as rental company warehouses and other premises with the necessary audio infrastructure, can be transformed into a preproduction studio, provided the speaker system has been designed and optimised in Soundvision.
For Wonderfruit 2017, Polygon prerecorded content at L-Acoustics’ Highgate premises to play back at the four-day festival. However, for 2018, Polygon wanted to have live interaction with L-ISA on location at the festival. ‘The goal was to give our DJs and producers the ability to spatialise their content when playing live,’ explains Heathcote.
Rehearsals were carried out in London, this time in a preproduction studio setup at rental company, Delta Sound. ‘Sylvan Biguet, one of our L-ISA Labs engineers, went to Delta, which provided all the infrastructure that was additional to the processor, software and interfacing, including consoles and speaker setup, and he spent a few days there with Polygon’s team,’ says El Barbari. ‘They set up a scaled-down version of what Polygon was intending to stage at Wonderfruit, and artists were coming in to be introduced to the possibilities. Some of them prepared content using this preproduction space, while others saw it for the first time on location.’
L-ISA had already been used in this way on festivals including Tomorrowland and Coachella. ‘We’ve done festivals where engineers have walked in and been confronted with the technology, and we always make sure there’s someone there to help them,’ says El Barbari. For Wonderfruit, this person was sound designer Davey Williamson, who worked with Polygon at Delta before travelling to Thailand for the festival. ‘Davey had already gained extensive experience designing events and installs using an L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal setup, and his contribution was indispensable in making this a great success.’
The introduction of L-ISA resonates with L-Acoustic’s pioneering approach to line array technology with the early-nineties’ release of V-DOSC, which came with support and clear guidelines on how it was to be deployed. L-ISA looks set to repeat this, raising the bar of what’s possible in live and fixed installation environments while enshrining strict operational criteria.
It’s early days for L-ISA, but it’s catching on fast. From April, a system will be deployed on Aerosmith’s residency at the Park MGM in Las Vegas. Polygon is making plans to roll out its concept globally, and diverse applications – from classical to rock and pop concerts to art installations and theme parks – are stacking up. Proof of the ease – and enthusiasm – with which it’s being adopted by FOH engineers can be found at East London venue, EartH, which opened last September with a full L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal system. Most engineers arriving for a midday soundcheck are mixing in L-ISA after just a few hours, and running the show with it that evening, experiencing firsthand what the technology can offer compared to conventional stereo.
If any insight was needed into the future of audio, look no further.