Inside the Shed’s Sonic Sphere

When the curtain opened, a man nearby said, “Oops.”

He and I, and hundreds of others, were waiting in a large room at The Shed, an arts center in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards. There was an eerie and mesmerizing BGM, as if an encounter with aliens was imminent.

Then those curtains opened to reveal a much larger room. In the hut’s vast McCourt space, a 65-foot-diameter sphere, pockmarked like Swiss cheese, was suspended from the distant ceiling and illuminated by a red light.

This astonishing and truly “oh-oh” spectacle, sonic spherethe realization of the concert hall design by the genius and incomparable mad composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), who inspired German architecture. first one For the 1970 Osaka Expo.

A director of electroacoustic experiments and outlandish concepts such as a string quartet playing in a helicopter, Stockhausen discovered that the audience in his “Kugelauditorium” had a level of sound transparency within a sphere. I imagined that it could sit and even have speakers under it. Again and again they.

Hundreds of thousands of people visited during the six months of Expo ’70, listening to taped music and live performances suitable for in-round playback. Then, for the next half century, the idea lay dormant. Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Musikverein were left intact, not replaced by giant spheres.

A few years ago, a team led by Ed Cook (whom his biography calls him an “interdisciplinary consciousness seeker”), sound designer Merjen Royers, and the project’s engineering director Nicholas Christie joined.

They built Sonic Spheres in France, England, Mexico and America. Like the plants in Little Shop of Horrors, the contraptions grow each time. The Shed iteration, which opens until the end of July, will cost more than $2 million and is the first facility to be suspended in the air.

As in Osaka, some presentations will feature taped music. Live some. On Saturday, I climbed the steps to the sphere’s entrance and, like everyone else, lay down in a comfortable hammock-like seat and listened to the mesmerizing moody sounds. 2009 debut album A song by the British band The xx. Forty-five minutes after it ended, pianist Igor Levitt appeared in person to play a Morton Feldman piece for a fresh audience. “Palais de Marie” Since 1986.

Colors and compositions of light that tended to change to the beat of the music played on the fabric skin of this large wiffle ball. But for audiences who might have been watching Beyoncé or Taylor Swift’s high-definition stadium shows this summer, the visuals were blurry and rudimentary. This was the aspect of presentation that felt most stuck in the 1970s.

And the audio experience coming out of the 124 speakers was mediocre at best. The xx remix did a good job of separating the bass, clearly emerging from the bottom of the sphere, from the surrounding and upper voices. But there’s no compelling ending, and the album’s whispered intimacy magnifies into a far more bland grandeur.

Things were even worse for Levitt. The roomy, spacious chords of “Palais de Marie” recorded almost cleanly with only a hint of fuzz, but the sound was very muddy. Bach’s Chorale He played it as a prelude. It was the eternal task of amplifying an acoustic instrument by a factor of 124. And the unnerving lighting, a collaboration between Levitt and artist Lirkrit Tiravanija, couldn’t have been more incomprehensible to Feldman’s Ice Age austerity.

Despite Sonic Sphere’s increased spiciness, Saturday’s program was more interesting when Shed’s artistic director Alex Poots introduced it while on duty at Uptown’s Park Avenue Armory. It felt like a revival of an old artist.

There, in 2014, The xx held a famous (live) residency in front of just a few dozen people at each performance. The following year, Levitt played Bach as part of a glamorous practice session conducted by Marina Abramović. (Will Perelman, now a fixture in New York’s unconventional spaces, hang upside down at a piano when his Performing Arts Center opens this fall?)

These armory shows were more memorable than any shack set. Both times on Saturday he was under 40 minutes, but found himself getting frustrated well before the time was up. Perhaps the Burning Man audience, the techno-hippie hedonist bonanza of the Nevada desert where Sonic Spheres were built last year, experienced it on a harder drug than the Coke Zero I drank at dinner, and was more hooked. It must have been

To put it bluntly, no music was more interesting, effective, or luminous in this space than elsewhere. When the curtain opened, everyone’s phones came out, and everyone was ready to post images of the big, glamorous thing on social media, it was clear that the big deal was that initial reveal.

I mean, Instagram bait costs millions of dollars, but if its creators didn’t tout it as an “experimental, experiential, communal” and “vehicle of unlimited empathy,” it would be No problem. In fact, I felt farther from the rest of the audience in Sonic Sphere, even those lying next to me, than in any conventional concert hall.

This sphere is the same as another one currently offered by Shed. It’s a bizarre virtual reality simulation that recreates his solo piano concert by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who passed away in March.

sympathy? Joint experience? No, the hologram-like ghost of Sakamoto is more vivid and present than the other people I was watching with, who faded into something like a transparent ghost while wearing VR glasses. rice field.

Sonic Sphere’s holding room mural acknowledges that technology can isolate us from each other, but adds that it doesn’t have to. provoke action. “

But like many ambitious, mindless, overwhelming, and ultimately depressing technologies, the action elicited by this expensive spectacle is merely an ‘oops’ ephemeral. .

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