The so-called Kugelauditorium was a spherical concert hall built by architect Fritz Bornemann after a musical concept from electronic composer Karlheinz Stockhausen for the West German pavilion at the astonishing Osaka 1970 world fair. It charmed half a million people in its brief existence, but has not been re-attempted since.
The basic idea of the ‘Kugelauditorium’ was, in Stockhausen’s own words, to create “a spherical chamber, with a platform, transparent to both light and sound, hung for the listeners. They could hear music coming from above, from below and from all directions.”
Concretely, this was accomplished with a huge spherical Buckminster Fuller Dome, in which a raised platform, transparent to sound, sat up to 500 people roughly in the middle of the sphere. A total of fifty sets of loudspeakers arranged in 7 rings allowed sound to be played from any point in 3-Dimensional space.
Karlheinz mixing 3-D sound in the Kugelauditorium
Stockhausen is pictured above standing at the sound desk, where he could control the position and trajectories of up to ten individual sound channels, using either a ten-channel rotation mill made to Stockhausen’s spec or instead a spherical controller designed by Fritz Winckel of the Electronic Music Studio at the Technical University of Berlin .
The Kugelauditorium was something between a concert hall and a new musical instrument, and enabled the invention of a new, completely 3-Dimensional form of audiovisual music, one in which the content of the musical sounds and their spatial paths, accompanied by light trails, were composed together, to produce dynamic structured murmurations of enshrouding audiovisual sound.
Though we haven’t been able to learn so much about the visual component of the Kugelauditorium, it’s clear that the visual environment was as much a part of the music as the auditory one. Below you can see the auditorium in a state of darkness. Just imagine all the different motifs of lights-sounds flying around the interior. Just imagine how much easier and better this could be done with today’s electronics and software!
An illuminated view of the Genesis Kugel
Work over more than a century in multisensory integration in humans has detailed the many ways in which sight and sound interact, and their different specialities for perception. For example, sound has much high temporal resolution than vision. Three bleeps played simultaneously with two flashes of light can lead to a visual experience of three flashes, as sound dominates vision in matters of time. Spatially, though, vision is more precise than hearing, so when you see a flash in space played at the same time as a bleep, the perceived position of the bleep will be pulled towards the sound in experience.
This suggests that an experience of location in space much more precise than the spatial resolution of human sound perception can be accomplished by addition of correlated light- an extraordinary possibility.
Here is an inscrutable, yet magnificent, Kugelauditoirum score from Stockhausen.
Vastly ambitious for 1970, Stockhausen’s Kugelauditorium rocked the Osaka world fair, and enjoyed more than half a million visitors.
The project was however beset by technical, social and financial issues, and never made it back to Germany, where it had been constructed; instead, it fell into ruin, and in the fifty years since its heyday no further attempts have been made to create such a spherical concert hall.
Overall, it seems to us to be a first attempt at a potentially outstanding genre of musical experience. Is there any town or festival in the world that wouldn’t appreciate the play of a contemporary version of this instrument? Is there a composer who wouldn’t light up at the chance of creating for this medium (assuming the right tools). Is there a festival goer who wouldn’t love to chill to whatever, say, Nils Frahm or Jean-Michel Jarre could cook up? It seems unlikely.