In the summer of 2021, as the long tentacles of Covid finally started to loosen their grip and life seemed possible again, I met up with an old school friend of one of my long-time collaborators and best friends Henrietta Williams. Henri had told me about Ed Cooke, a renaissance man, memory champion and founder of Memrise, who had just started his second company Sparkle. More importantly though, Ed had an obsession with a madly ambitious spatial light and sound installation built by the enigmatic avant-garde composer Karl-Heinz Stockhausen for the Osaka world fair in 1970, called Kugelauditorium (ball-auditorium).
Incidentally, I had just finished my PhD which took as its central premise the idea that particular combined experiences of sound, light and space may hold the key to altered states of perception, and here was someone who was obsessed with a 1970 precursor which had aimed to do exactly that, but somehow had been lost in time.
In the course of our short first conversation over coffee in a cafe on Islington Green, Ed told me of his plans to re-create, re-imagine and develop Kugelauditorium. I listened, wide eyed and with growing excitement, I was game, of course. This was exactly the project I had been wanting to sink my teeth in, but hadn’t been able to during the locked down surreality that had immediately followed my Viva. There were so many things that coalesced; it wasn’t just the finding of someone this like minded, like obsessed and like energetic, it was also the finding all this in someone who had come to similar conclusions via an entirely different web of trajectories, and had similar obsessions forged in wildly different furnaces. My background is in music, art and architecture and my obsession with reality and altered states of consciousness were ignited on the dancefloors of 90s Rotterdam. In contrast, Ed is an entrepreneur, who has worked on the nature of consciousness in a deeply scientific context. The full extent of this meeting of minds so same and yet so different is something I could not fully grasp back then, but has proved itself an incredibly potent explosive time and again over the past 2 years.
To get from zero to where we are today, Ed had a plan, and a very clear vision; a vision I would never have been able to see myself because of the biases of my background. In the arts, or at least in my practice, things tend to move in spurts, a glacial pace might be followed by a flurry of creative outputs, an erratic set of energetic bursts. Ed gave those bursts a point in time, a schedule and timeline I’d never thought would work. Our remit was to build a new kugelauditorium every month, without much worry about whether that new iteration would be any good; the only condition was that each kugelauditorium would add something new or improve aspects of the previous version. That simple vision has led us from the most ramshackle of DIY kugelauditoriums (KAs) to an astounding 20m suspended sphere of light and sound in New York City a mere 2 years after meeting each other.
This philosophy of rapid iterations was crucial, but it was also the can-do and never-say-no attitude that led us to where we are today. Every possible opportunity to build a public facing KA was fully embraced, and even those first KAs, (3/4/5/6), small and ugly though they might have been, appeared in London’s Chinatown, Hackney and the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford, the next one always that bit more sophisticated than the one before.
Size was first increased from the pitiful 2.5m diameter to 7m diameter for our near-disastrous San Pancho Mexico KA7, and the still-standing-proud KA7 at Chateau du Fey near Paris. KA9 was our breakthrough kugelauditorium though; a 12.5m diameter behemoth designed from the ground up in 8 weeks and built against all odds in one of the harshest environments on the planet, the Nevada Desert.
Ever since making the impossible possible at Burning Man 2022, we have been intoxicated with the seemingly unfailing truth of Ed’s favourite one liner: ‘jump-and-the-net-will-appear’. The net has indeed always appeared (although sometimes falling over us with our noses in the dust instead of catching us) and KA10 at Miami Loveburn but even more so KA11 have been missions utterly impossible but somehow completed.
Alongside the insane evolutions of the KAs themselves, a collective of brilliant minds and bodies has been snowballing itself into an avalanche. Where Ed and myself were the sole misunderstood mad professors until KA7 almost killed our dream and some punters, we now have a brilliant team of performers, musicians, artists, engineers and philosophers most projects can only dream of. The simple fact that all those touched by Kugelauditorium are instant converts is confirmation of its incredible potential and forward falling energy. It is a collective that spans continents and cultures, is growing faster every day and shows all the signs of a revolution, a creative wave that will carry each next iteration to shores unknown.