Concert-goers can expect a considerable leap forward in experiential technology when the MSG Sphere opens in Las Vegas next year, but its highly anticipated Sphere Immersive Sound audio system has already debuted with a high-profile installation at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. Don’t miss Part 1 of our conversation with the team behind the tech, discussing the gear within the system and the intent behind its creation.
New York, NY (August 30, 2022)—Using the Beacon Theatre’s Sphere Immersive Sound in an artistic role—moving beyond merely using it to provide uniform sound quality to every seat—will require not only artists to get onboard with using the system but their audio teams as well. With that in mind, the overall system was designed to help FOH engineers quickly adapt their existing live mixes to the set up, according to Erik Hockman, senior vice president/senior fellow at MSG Entertainment and MSG Ventures.
“[With the Beacon,] there’s two types of shows,” said Hockman. “There are shows that are made for the venue as a residency where you can really get into the weeds and sculpt that [sound] however you like. Then there is the primary-use case for this venue, which is a Roadhouse—a touring act comes in in the morning, they set up, do their show and leave. What we did when we designed the system is we made it incredibly simple [for those shows]. The whole venue is literally just on a little touch screen. You say ‘I have a stereo show,’ so you push the Stereo button, you plug in your two wires, and the system knows exactly what to do with that…. The front of house guy and the system tech don’t have to spend the entire day working on aligning front fills and calibrating and such; all they have to do is push the button. This venue is programmed for anything from mono, just a single jack, all the way up to what we call Advanced, which is the maximum granularity, where you get into every beam, up to 64 channels discrete. Whatever button they push is what they get in the venue.”
That sound, in turn, can be manipulated to underscore key moments, he noted: “It’s much more of an artistic role now because the sound system becomes like a musical instrument. You can play the venue, you can create different pools of sound, do different things in different moments of a show. It’s really a dramatic tool for artistic expression.”
While the system is designed to cover the audience with consistent quality sound, Hockman added that it could potentially be used to cover other people—namely, the performers on stage. Turned around, the system’s beamforming could be used as a localized monitor system. “I can create monitor mixes,” said Hockman, “and I can put tracking pucks on the performers, so that as the saxophone player walks around the stage, the beam actually follows him. It’s basically like having an in-ear mix without the earphones, so wherever you go, your sound is following. That’s within the capabilities of this system.”
With Sphere Immersive Sound now adapted for a more traditional theatre venue, can it be long before the technology migrates to other high-profile MSG venues like the Chicago Theatre and The Theater at Madison Square Garden?
“I think quite possibly we will look at that,” said Rich Claffey, EVP and COO of MSG Sphere. “Of course, Radio City Music Hall is a lot bigger scale than the Beacon, and the Garden itself has more of a sports system permanently installed in there—the bands bring their own systems in—but yes, anything’s possible at this point.”
Ultimately, while the Beacon is already making use of the technology, Sphere Immersive Sound will make its greatest impact when the Las Vegas venue it was initially for designed for opens and puts 164,000 speakers to use nightly. It’s a moment that all involved can’t wait for, even as the Sphere’s construction continues. “It’s going great,” said Claffey. “We’re on schedule, we’re hoping to open in the second half of 2023. We’re putting the most technologically advanced everything in that building—lights, audio, rigging, anything and everything. It’s a massive undertaking, and it’s going to be a tremendous building once we open it. We’re all excited.”