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L-Acoustics talks immersive audio in 2020

The company's UK and Ireland sales manager, Paul McMullan, provides his viewpoint

L-Acoustics L-ISA being deployed at Wonderfruit festival in Thailand

One of the biggest talking points of the past decade was immersive spatial audio, and as we enter 2020, the future of this burgeoning sector looks brighter than ever. Here, Paul McMullan, regional sales manager for the UK and Ireland at L-Acoustics offers us his view on where the market is headed…

Immersive audio technology has been a major talking point in the live sector for several years, but has established itself in a bigger way than ever before over the past 12 months. How do you see this technology evolving further in 2020 and beyond?

The great news is that L-ISA immersive technology from L-Acoustics has already been deployed on over 7,000 performances, and experienced by over 10 million spectators. As more audio professionals are exposed to the technology and more rental companies become adept at deploying the technology, I see immersive audio snowballing in 2020 and beyond. The recent Mark Knopfler tour, supplied by SSE Audio is a great case in point. They designed the infrastructure of the configuration to ensure it would be deployed in the same amount of time as a standard L/R arena PA. They did this through extensive planning and design, and an intelligently designed cabling system, but also through their the award-winning SSE Azimuth, which allows for accurate site angles to be set on a mother grid prior to flying out the PA.

We are also enthusiastic about discussions that we are having with manufacturers of different disciplines to ensure interoperability of third-party systems which will enable us to create a full on, immersive, sensory assault. Recent collaborations with the guys at Wavepaths are a good example of the openness and flexibility of the L-ISA R&D team to cross these disciplinary boundaries, we are also working on some very exciting projects for next year with some incredible creative minds. Watch this space.

Immersive sound has been predominantly associated with theatre and classical shows. Do you expect it to become a more common fixture at rock and pop concerts?

It’s true that the expanse of a hyperreal L-ISA configuration does really lend itself to Classical. The localisation afforded by a frontal system alone across the entire audience, even in a large space like the O2 Arena in London where Agora deployed L-ISA for Ennio Morricone is incredible? However, when you look at the 7k plus performances that have used L-ISA technology, it’s democratically distributed across all styles of music from classical and theatre – we’ve got permanent L-ISA installs in Performing Arts Centers in Europe and America – through rock (Mark Knopfler), folk (Angus and Julie Stone, Ben Howard) all the way to EDM where just this month, Polygon is deploying a fully immersive L-ISA configuration at Wonderfruit Festival in Thailand for the third year in a row. DJs who will perform at Wonderfruit are invited to plan their mixes in advance in our studios and it’s amazing to hear them talk about the space the L-ISA technology affords them, inspiring them to approach their mix in new ways.

The variety of potential applications for L-ISA technology was in fact one of the reasons we very early on distinguished the requirement for our patented Wide and Focus L-ISA configurations was to accommodate the extra central LF energy required in some musical genres like rock.

The past decade has seen city-based festivals booming. Do you anticipate more of these types of festivals, and what is your business doing to meet noise restrictions?

Urban festivals have become much more popular in the UK. It’s important to note, however, that even the weekend-long camping festivals are still incredibly popular. One of the reasons for this is the extended time you have with a remote location to set up more extravagant stages and environments for the punters, – not to mention the capacity to kick up the noise level because of the wider spaces.

A challenge for urban festivals is not driving the neighbours crazy, and many of the recent articles in mainstream media have focused on the poor or low sound levels, which can be attributed to licensing restrictions placed on urban events. There is a careful balance required to ensure that the enjoyment of the festival-goers is not adversely affecting the local residents. Frequencies are generally the main offender when it comes to offsite noise, and these can never be totally eliminated. However, with good design practices they can be greatly minimised. We have recently released various new cardioid presets to maximise rear rejection from subwoofer arrays. In addition, we are working with some of our suppliers to develop specific deployment configurations of larger arrays to enable us to accurately control the null at the rear of the system to avoid problem areas. This approach offers far greater flexibility and control where the null will be directed based on the specific needs of the event.

Which markets present the biggest opportunities for your business?

The installation market in the UK is very exciting at the moment, especially in the live music and club venue market. We are working with some top-level sound designers in the UK to increase our penetration into the theatre markets, where immersive audio is obviously a hot topic, but also our new A Series range which is ideally suited to some more conventional distributed theatre system designs.

Asia continues to be a region that is looking for high-quality sound in venues from houses of worship to clubs and they also mount some of the most impressive and massive live shows on the planet.

What are the biggest challenges facing the live sector in 2020 and beyond?

Brexit is, isn’t, might, might not, will, won’t cause some problems – delete as appropriate! The fact that nobody can predict what will happen means it’s already started to impact the thought process of tour management and artists. The potential for additional paperwork to gain access for artists and for equipment is a real concern.

On a positive note, here at L-Acoustics we are looking to come to the table of live show planning much earlier in the process and with technology like L-ISA it makes complete sense to have the sound designer, the lighting designer and the video designer all collaborating together from the early stages to ensure everything works together to make the biggest impact. Our goal is to elevate sound to the same level as other elements of the production and I feel like we are making headway.