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This immersive concert put everyone to sleep —on purpose

Sleep—an eight-hour instrumental—was performed last weekend for 500 dozy people on cots in a downtown L.A. park using a massive d&b audiotechnik immersive system.

The audience, some dressed in pyjamas, arrived carrying blankets and pillows for the world outdoor premiere of Max Richter’s Sleep in downtown Los Angeles on July 27 and 28, as reported by PSNEurope‘s US sister title Pro Sound News. The composer’s “personal lullaby for a frenetic world” is an eight-hour minimalist instrumental piece intended, through an overnight performance, to accompany the sleeping mind.

Sleep was presented for the first time using d&b audiotechnik’s immersive Soundscape object-based processing, together with a large, distributed d&b loudspeaker system. “It’s an ideal way to present the work, because I’m always looking for a sense of being immersed in the sound,” says Richter. “A lot of the time, you’re telling a lie to achieve a truth. But this is very impressive in the way it manages to transmit real spaces. It’s quite magical.”

Sleep is about creating an atmosphere, says British sound designer and mixer Chris Ekers, who has known Richter for 20 years, working with him since 2004. Since its world premiere at the Kraftwerk in Berlin in 2016, the piece has always been presented indoors in naturally reverberant spaces. 

The piece features Richter on piano, the five-piece American Contemporary Music Ensemble (two violins, viola, two cellos) plus soprano Grace Davidson. Richter has also developed 16 to 18 channels of playback stems of elements originally recorded for the multi-disc CD release.

“Natural sound reinforcement demands that you place the sound where the source is,” says Ekers. But as people doze off, he says, he likes to take those static images and begin to manipulate them, bringing them off the stage and enveloping the audience.

His initial draft proposal was for a d&b system with speakers at the front and rear of the audience, but as Soundscape was being publicly rolled out, Ekers took the opportunity to attend the 2018 NAMM Show and visit the site with representatives from d&b. He also consulted with Fred Vogler, principal sound designer and mixer at the Hollywood Bowl, who works with the L.A. Philharmonic and the Music Center, the presenter of the event in L.A.’s Grand Park.

“The bottom line for me was the ambient noise floor,” says Ekers. A visit to the park at midnight confirmed that it would be quiet enough.

The next challenge was how to deliver the same experience to each audience member slumbering on the 500-plus cots spread throughout the park. “Sleep is a very quiet piece. You can’t make it loud; we don’t want to take it loud. It sits there at 75 dB all night. How do you project and give everybody the impression of 75 dB over a 200-meter space?”

The stage, on a cement platform in front of a grassed area at the lower end of the park, designated Zone 1, was off-center, necessitating an asymmetrical front speaker system comprising seven flown arrays, including three across the stage, each of four d&b Y8 modules, Each was accompanied by a single J-Sub topped by a T10 for fill.

Farther up the grassy slope, two delay systems in the transition areas between Zones 1B and 2 and Zones 2 and 3 included nearly a dozen V10P arrays with additional J-Subs. Another 40 T10 speakers around the perimeter of the three zones ensured even, immersive coverage.

Zone 3 covered an upper paved area. “In many ways, the symmetry has allowed us to really use the capabilities of Soundscape extremely well; it sounds really nice up there, because we can get the loudspeakers in the right place,” says Ekers.

You can read the story in full here.