Installed Audio

What is immersive Moonbathing? We pull up a bean bag & find out

An audience of approximately 50 people lie down on mats and bean bags, with a huge moon replica hanging above them – its lunar cycles, shadows and physical characteristics are replicated by the lighting around the room. All the while, a soundtrack is provided by electronic composers including Rival Consoles, Oliver Coates and Tim Exile, utilising immersive sound technology provided by d&b audiotechnik’s d&b Soundscape. In other words, just your average night out in North London.

This all takes place at King’s Place, the cultural hub located next to The Guardian newspaper’s headquarters in the sprawling transport metropolis that is King’s Cross, the gateway to the rest of the country and mainland Europe. The attendees, however, aren’t headed to Paris tonight, but rather the Moon.

With the Regent’s Canal to its left, King’s Place is the area’s premier multi-arts venue, self-referring as ‘the cultural pulse of King’s Cross.’ Its vibrant music programme welcomes many genres and genre-crossing artists, and such composers as Alexandra Streliski and Lambert have performed on its stages.

Tonight’s Moonbathing event, however, is a performance of light and sound, a deeply immersive experience – hence why the audience are encouraged to lie down and gaze up at the Moon, as it were.

There are three Moonbathing sessions on this frightfully cold January evening; the second session’s audience shuffles out, seeming noticeably nourished and refreshed by their experience. The third and final audience show their tickets and head into Hall Two, which on this occasion is almost pitch black.

The 360 degrees immersive sound from d&b is so potent, you often find yourself suddenly looking behind you.

Despite the darkness of the room, there’s no missing the giant replica moon hanging from the ceiling. The King’s Place staff ask everyone to find a bean bag or a space on the mat and advise people that the nearer they are to the moon, the more immersive the experience will be.

With everyone settled, the darkness lifts somewhat. Not via the lights coming back on, but because the sun appears to start shining on the moon above. The way in which the lighting around the room replicates day and night across the moon’s surface, its lunar cycles, and all its stunning details which appear and disappear throughout the evening as the moon makes its orbit is quite breathtaking – this aspect of the evening is worth the price of admission alone.

But with that said, this is a deep listening experience also. The 360 degrees immersive sound from d&b is so potent, you often find yourself suddenly looking behind you to see if something is there that isn’t. There are seven tracks in the evening’s programme, and London-based electronic artist Rival Consoles’ Pulses of Information sounds quite magnificent.

Coming out of the d&b Soundscape technology, the titular pulses can be felt all around the room, almost giving off physical bodily sensations as you lie and listen to this expansive electronic composition.

Another piece, cellist Oliver Coates’ Caregiver Part 2, with elements that you’d never guess came from his instrument, also sound uniquely superb, and gives the urge to dart your eyes around the room in a futile attempt to spot the sound source.

The audience as a whole seem to have collectively gone through a beautiful shift after this simple act of parking their busy lives at the door and enjoying a very special evening of light and sound.

In a world that makes it increasingly difficult to simply be present with music, nowadays often treated in a disposable manner as we commute to work or rush around, all credit to King’s Place and d&b audiotechnik for facilitating an event of much-needed deep listening.

Headliner spoke to Wayne Powell, who has worked in leading roles at d&b audiotechnik for over six years and worked closely with King’s Place to help make Moonbathing as immersive as possible.

Regarding what d&b Soundscape offers as a relatively new technology, Powell says “these immersive technologies have been around for decades. I think what d&b have done is they've made it a usable tool. It would usually take someone very clever to hand code DSP to achieve a spatial design. 

"Soundscape is made up of two main parts: one is channel-based object mixing, and the second part of it is a room emulation or reverb emulation engine. So between those two things, and the matrix, it's more of a toolkit. It gives us the ability to sit down with an artist and say, ‘what would you like to do? What's in your head?’”

Powell then talks about the collaborative experience of bringing this tech to Moonbathing and King’s Place.

“Spatial experience designers Loss><Gain, David Sheppard and John Best, who worked on this event, would have used many iterations of spatial technology prior to Soundscape being available,” Powell says.

“For Moonbathing, they chose to use Soundscape. Not just because of how it sounds, but also for the toolkit it provides them for their work on the event. And because Soundscape was going to be at King’s Place for several months, it gave them a location in London to present their work.”

The d&b Soundscape system in place on the night was mostly their T series, E15 and B2 subwoofers, with Ds100, using en-scene and en-space software. The system uses the ‘in the round’ configuration for Moonbathing.

Soundscape gives us the ability to sit down with an artist and say: what would you like to do? What's in your head?

“There's a ring of speakers, about three and a half metres high, a variety of d&b speakers sitting up in that ring. And there's a cluster of speakers in the centre of the room for when people want to do performances in the round. Or in the case of Moonbathing, when they need some audio to come from the moon, there's a cluster of speakers in the middle which facilitates that.

“This might sound unusual coming from a speaker manufacturer, but for Soundscape, the speakers don't become as important, the amplifiers don't become important, because it's all about that spatial design toolkit that’s a big part of the Soundscape system. It’s more about what you want to achieve.

“It's really important that the speakers disappear and that the audience sits in the room and looks at the moon or the cellist or whoever the performers are and just forget that there's any technology there. The aim is to increase the audience’s engagement with the music and appreciation of it.”

So there you have it, if you’re interested in spatial design and creating an immersive music experience, the moon is the limit, especially with d&b Soundscape now a leading player in the field.