The Moonwalkers is the latest experience at the Lightroom space in London, following its highly successful  opener, David Hockney: Bigger & Closer not smaller & further away.  A year on from its opening, the performance space in the heart of London’s King’s Cross is conjuring up the awe and majesty of space travel with the help of the Holoplot X1 Matrix Array.

This new production is narrated and co-written by Tom Hanks, and includes original NASA audio. The score is composed by Anne Nitkin and was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. With source material this exquisite, a sound system capable of creating ‘a different kind of acoustic feeling’ – as Hanks said in a recent interview – is requited.

The Moonwalkers immersive experience at the Lightroom‘There are thousands of speakers here, and when the music begins, it’s not coming from a particular source, it’s coming from everywhere around you,’ he elaborated. ‘And that too, ends up being this one of a kind physical experience that very quickly becomes an emotional experience.’

Ensuring an immersive and engaging experience for an audience within the reverberant concrete space that is Lightroom is no small task. The X1 system at Lightroom is permanently installed and completely invisible, blending into the existing infrastructure of the building. The system’s software capabilities make it highly flexible and nothing in its physical configuration needs to be changed to design the audio for a new show. So, when The Moonwalkers took over residency, the hardware remained, while the sound design changed dramatically, using the Holoplots software ecosystem.

‘If this were a point source system, you would physically have to move the speakers,’ Sound Designer Tom Hackley reveals. ‘It would take much more time and you could be fighting for space to hang them. With the Holoplot systems, everything is done in the software, it’s instant and once rehearsals started, it was a huge help to brainstorm when Tom [Hanks] wanted to try out ideas in the space.

‘When I first got involved with Lightroom I had thought, “please don’t make me use a system that I’ve never experienced”,’ he continues. ‘I was also concerned that we wouldn’t be able to deliver the same experience to every position in the room. But, actually, you hear everything everywhere. It wasn’t long before I was thinking, ‘thank goodness we’ve got Holoplot, because I couldn’t have done it with anything else’.’

Hackley discovered benefits, not only in the dynamic capabilities of the system, but also the creative possibilities. ‘X1 is hugely impressive, both in terms of volume and definition,’ he says. ‘We go from a rocket taking off, the loudest sound known to man, to a complete lack of sound in the silence of deep space. The frequencies X1 has to deal with are vast; there’s infrasound, not only when the rocket takes off, but when we have boots on the moon, and then you add the symphony of the orchestra playing at the same time; it’s gigantic and dynamic.’

As compared to traditional techniques, the 3D Audio-Beamforming technology employed by Holoplot allows sound designers greater control over the sound and the freedom to experiment, as Hackley found.

‘I can move sound within the space, but also send sound back beyond it,’ he says. ‘In terms of an immersive sound experience, Holoplot is at the forefront; you aren’t only putting the audience within the sound, you’ve got the facility to push sound beyond the audience, which feels kind of alien. I haven’t experienced that dramatic effect in other systems, especially when it comes to audio image placement, and we would never have been able to do some of the spot effects with traditional line array or point source boxes.

The Moonwalkers is destined for more venues. Lightroom’s creator, 59 Productions, recently opened a new Lightroom in South Korea, and there are plans for more.

‘We’ve already been out to prepare the show for Seoul,’ Hackley says. ‘The interior of the venue is very similar to London, but it’s purpose built so we have more positions for speakers and there have been some additions. We’ve upgraded to two MD80-S with two MD96 arrays in the equivalent north and south sections, together with four arrays fixed as single pairs within the East and West walls, so it isn’t a case of transferring it exactly, there are tweaks. Even so, it sounded great straight out of the box, but with Holoplot’s Plan software, I could already make any changes I needed to before I arrived.’

This journey of discovery for Hackley is one that he is happy to have made: ‘Holoplot X1 is completely different from anything I’ve used before. I think I’m going to really struggle using anything else for a project like this.’

See also: 
Holoplot reports first fixed UK X1 installation


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