The audio behind Bjork Digital at Somerset House

bjork

As the ground-breaking Bjork Digital immerses audiences in London’s Somerset House after a sell-out run in NY, Sydney and Tokyo, we thought it a good time to talk to audio engineer Marco Perry about his critically acclaimed sound design including exhibition centrepiece, Black Lake.

One of the world’s foremost experts in spatial sound design and ambisonics, Marco had worked previously with Björk making him the perfect choice for the installation. Here, he describes the original aural concept for Black Lake which he then created using fifty Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers:

“There is a huge amount of audio design within the show. A modular exhibition, it consists of three types of VR experiences, a 5.1 surround mix-enhanced cinema design showing a selection of 29 videos from Björk’s long career, live performances from the artist herself and, of course, the now legendary Black Lake theatre experience.

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“Björk is an artist of great integrity and very much wanted the sound to be as important as the visuals which consists of four 16 x 9 film projections hung side by side on two opposing walls. The film, made by artist director Andrew Thomas Huang, is pretty dark, the ambient lighting is low and the whole experience is very intense.

“I have been a fan of quadrophonic sound for years and explored the theories of ambisonics in the analogue domain. Now that it’s practically possible, using today’s digital processing power and sophisticated loudspeaker control, I was keen to do an ambisonic install of such global prestige using modern technology.”

“The idea was to create a fantastical organic two level giant sphere design built with carbon fibre and mycelium fungus in the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It was a very abstract concept and quite amazing! What I ended up being given was, essentially, a cave-like black box for Black Lake. We had to cover all the walls and the ceiling in various sized and shaped hand-made felt cones to improve the acoustics.

“Other elements of the design of the installation always come into play. Whatever the sound design and its aims, we aren’t performing in a laboratory and it’s always going to be a practical exercise of compromise in some of the areas to enable us to deliver the best possible audio experience and whilst always wanting to push the envelope in any installation I also have to go along within the parameters of time, space and budget.”

Like all of Marco’s projects, the work actually starts in his South-west London studio:

“We first mix and produce the audio elements with our software and custom analogue tools using the most appropriate spatial audio techniques to suit the requirements of the application. We have a 43 loudspeaker mixing system mounted in the formation of a 6 metre diameter cylinder with rings of loudspeakers from floor to ceiling and on the ceiling itself. I’m able to use all known spatial audio formats and also some hybrid ones we’ve created.”

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Visitors experience the installation using VR headsets and Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones. The experience is truly immersive and the sonic design packs a punch, particularly the booming bass:

“The piece she composed is really deep and emotional so there’s plenty of scope for some deep immersive audio 3D mixing technique especially with those provocative orchestra strings and the various basses and impact of the beats and her haunting vocal.

“I’ve heard it a thousand times and it still creeps up on me with goose bump moments.”

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Bowers & Wilkins speakers and amplifiers used in the Björk Digital installation:

10 x CT8.2
16 x CT8.4
18 x AM-1
4 x SW15 subs
2 x CT8PA  super subs

6 X Rotel RMB 1575
2 X Rotel 12 channel amps RMB1512,
8 X SA1000 bass amps

Björk Digital is at Somerset House, London until 23 October 2016

Immersive Audio Ltd was founded in 2012 by audio engineer and sound artist Marco Perry to deal with the practical application of spatial audio techniques for use in live events, installations and exhibitions.

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