Robot Koch's The Next Billion Years Immersive Listening Party: "as incredible as a live concert"

Headliner takes a trip down to the London home of L-Acoustics to check out L-Acoustics Creations, where a small audience are given the chance to entirely unplug and hear the UK premiere playback of The Next Billion Years by Robot Koch, reworked by his own mind-massaging ambient project, Foam and Sand.

If you’re not familiar with Robot Koch, he’s a Berlin-originating artist who now resides in Los Angeles, and a man Headliner has dubbed a “transcendent trailblazer” in the past. In fact, the BBC’s Bobby Friction commented that his music "sounds like artificial intelligence discovering religion”. 

If an audience listening to his album with their eyes closed and the lights turned down in the quaintest part of London sounds niche, try some of his other projects on for size: he has even toured planetariums to perform an immersive Full Dome Live Show with 3D surround sound and 360 visuals.

Julie Blore-Bizot, director of brand and communications at L-Acoustics Creations, was kind enough to give the full technical rundown of the event – after which Headliner was, of course, fully sold and salivating at the prospect of hearing this new music through such stunning speakers.

“L-Acoustics Creations has been hosting intimate listening events since pre-pandemic, and resumed since restrictions were lifted,” she explains. 

“We connected with Robot Koch around the Pitchblack Playback premiere of Jon Hopkins’ Music for Psychedelic Therapy in our immersive sound space in Los Angeles, which mirrors our London environment. 

"That conversation led to mutual discovery and then collaboration around the global premiere of The Next Billion Years. We are moved by both the simplicity and depth of this sonically enveloping album which we are fond of describing as ‘a soothing blanket for the soul’.”

No acoustic detail is missed, and you almost feel as if the music is a cloud carrying you along.

How L-Acoustics took this recorded music and rendered it for these outrageously high-quality speakers is particularly fascinating. 

“Working from the artistic choices that had been made in the Dolby Atmos mix, the artist opted to take full advantage of the higher spatial resolution of L-Acoustics Creations’ 18.1.12 immersive spaces, which we call ‘Ocean’ in London and Los Angeles,” Blore-Bizot says. 

“L-Acoustics’ L-ISA Studio software was used to place sound objects in this 3D environment to create this special L-ISA mix. The artist worked with one of our application engineers in Los Angeles to create this ‘upmix’.

“The level of detail and immersion was astonishing,” she enthuses. “When our London engineer received the files, displayed the circular graphic interface of the L-ISA Studio software and did a sound check, he was fascinated that there was no true frontal sound stage to the mix. 

"Often we encounter spatial audio mixes that still have a clear, ‘this is the front’ orientation. In The Next Billion Years, the choice was to truly envelop listeners in a hemisphere of music. It’s as if spatial audio becomes a kind of instrument in itself. 

"Considering the artist's past forward-thinking projects creating immersive experiences for planetariums, he is ahead of the game in considering how to present music spatially.”

Who knew that simply listening to an album could be as incredible as a live concert?

With that said, the audience slowly filters into this sonic headquarters, are presented with olives, Booja Booja chocolates and beer or wine to whet the appetite before this most transportive of listening experiences. 

Music journalists, musicians and people from the world of music tech are all excited for what awaits, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that musician and tech wizard Imogen Heap turns up to take a listen too.

As everyone settles into their seat/bean bag, a pre-recorded message from Koch is played. As well as thanking everyone for being there and his apologies for not being able to get there from California, he affirms the idea of ‘immersive listening’ — the lights will be dimmed, phones placed firmly in bags/pockets, and shutting eyes is recommended so that it really is just us, the music, and nothing else.

The room darkens, conversations end and drinks and phones are set aside. 

And, goodness gracious, this music floats the audience up to some astral plane that happens to be incredibly calming. It doesn’t matter how stuffy and busy the tube to get here was – the opening track Liquid perfectly blends ambient synths and clarinets in a way that makes all those things melt away.

We sink even deeper as Stars As Eyes plays next, although this is very much the kind of album where time seems to cease, and as a result, all the songs seem to intersperse in a non-linear fashion. 

This song features violins played with the faintest of delicacy, over an ethereal bass line and vinyl crackle. Such artistic choices are so much more delightful in the Ocean Immersive Space.

This music floats the audience up to some astral plane.

One could go so far as to call it a mind-expanding experience, especially as the spacious piano chords and cellos of Post String Theory appear as and when they please. 

Said mind-expansion is taken so much further and made more immersive by the surrounding, wall-mounted L-Acoustics speakers — no acoustic detail is missed, and you almost feel as if the music is a cloud carrying you along. It’s a gorgeous album rendered even more beautiful by these world-leading bits of kit.

It’s a 28-minute album that feels somewhere between mere minutes and hours — it feels very hard to say when you’re dropped in this immersive listening experience. 

Everyone gradually opens their eyes, has a stretch and reluctantly leaves their comfy seat or bean bag. Some stay to chat, albeit in a very spaced-out kind of way. Koch delights everyone by appearing on Facetime to quickly say hello and ask what everyone thought. 

Who knew that simply listening to an album could be as incredible as a live concert, by simply being fully present to the experience?