Festival of Consciousness
San Pancho, Mexico
  • Dome construction. This was by far the largest KA yet, made from steel struts, and a different geodesic design altogether (3V rather than 2V). The diameter was +/- 7 meters, so 3 times the size of our previous iterations.
  • Speaker Rig. We used the same number of speakers (24) but changed the speaker configuration to 6/12/6. Using the same speakers (Presonus 3.5 active monitors), but a much larger single active subwoofer (although we never actually got the sub to work)
  • Sound card. Same 24 output sound card by Cymatic (Utrack 24)
  • Software. Reaper
  • Sound format. All tracks were played from within Reaper

KA7 was the largest and most ambitious of our Kugelauditorium re-imaginings to date. KA7 was made of steel, and we had enlisted the epic carpenter Rodrigo who had measured and manufactured the parts required with mathematical precision. The colour-coded rods were the struts for a 3v geodesic sphere (3v refers to the specific type of build, which uses three different lengths of strut, more complex than our usual 2v design), roughly 7 meters in diameter, so three times the diameter, and many times the volume of our earlier iterations. For KA7 we had decided to use a slightly tweaked speaker configuration to KA5 and KA6, (24 satellites in 3 rows of 6/12/6 and a sub), and largely the same tech, (Presonus satellites, but a more powerful rented sub). I was anxious the small Presonus monitors would not be powerful enough to feed the much larger structure, but it was all we could carry with us, and it would have been difficult and costly to try and hire out a more powerful rig in San Pancho. KA6’s increased size also meant we had to bring longer power and signal cables, so more weight to carry, but with the added benefit of having 2 sets of wiring for different sized future KAs.

Another first was the spanning of a large custom made net across the mid-section to suspend 20 people in the centre of the sphere. While the netting was easier than expected, and seemed more than strong enough, We were concerned about the stability of the structure if built as a complete sphere, so a decision was made to add only one more row and adding tensor ropes around the bottom to hold the structure’s shape.  

While we were cutting speaker wires, running power cables and perilously wedging ourselves on the Todosphere’s upper rows, a small crew had taken on lighting duties, weaving several sound activated LED strips through the structure, which were switched on just as the the sun dipped into the Pacific 

In the nick of time, we were able to run a quick line check, and thankfully everything was connected correctly and working. However, we didn’t have time to secure all the cables and wiring, so the whole setup was somewhat precarious. I told myself it would all be fine, as long as people would follow our instructions and climb into the structure from a single, marked entry point..

KA7  was now primed and ready, brightly lit against the night sky and watching over two long rows of tables set up during the afternoon on the terrace of the Taj. The Day of The Mind was entering its second phase; a lavish dinner, speeches and incredible aerial dance performance were scheduled before we would begin our collective voyage through the mind-bending sonic vortices of the mega-kugel and into the extended after party.

After all the stress of building and rigging, it was great to sit down and lean back for dinner, drinks and banter. As the evening progressed the terrace became a dreamy scene of exotic smells and sounds, coloured lights and people in togas and turbans, and we finally let go a little, allowing ourselves to be taken up into the gentle flow of the night.

But then, just after dinner, Ed took the stage to introduce KA7 and thank all those who had spent the day building it. It should have dawned on me that this was the speech that would launch a flotilla of kugel-bound souls, but I only realized what was imminent when Ed suddenly invited 20 volunteers to be the structure’s virgin crew.. No time was lost; ignoring any marked entrance or my feebly spluttered instructions, and before Ed had even finished, KA7 was attacked from all sides at once in a race to the centre of this enticing alien world.

Having given up on trying to direct anyone to the intended entrance, I just hoped for the best and hastily made my way to the control centre underneath the now densely populated net inside KA7. But before I had a chance to fire up my Mac and hit the play button, a deafening screeching sound started to my left and worked its way round the base of the structure. Sparks flew between the struts and the terrace’s tiled surface as the Todosphere appeared to spiral in on itself and started to buckle on my far end. The scene above me was one of total mayhem, it was as if watching a film that was suddenly played back in reverse; the race to enter only a few seconds ago became a panicked stampede to get out and back into safety.

As it happened KA7 did not implode. In the mad intensity of building our mega kugel, we had failed to properly stress test the structure’s maximum load, let alone the maximum load when 20 people would excitedly clamber onto it from all sides; A pretty critical oversight, but one that luckily didn’t lead to anything other than a collective adrenaline rush.

With KA7 still standing, (if a little bent and shaken), and after we’d secured it doubly with more tensor ropes, we felt it was safe to stand inside but with all our feet firmly on the ground. Luckily the net suspended in the centre had a sufficiently wide mesh-gauge to poke your head through. For KA7’s christening, I had remixed two Karlheinz Stockhausen (the Kugelauditorium’s original inventor) compositions, and a host of other material; some upmixed 5.1 and quadrophonic albums by Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Bjork and others, and some of my own work. The amazing composer Rolfe Kent had created two specific kugel-dedicated compositions but these had yet to be mixed which Rolfe and I finally had a chance to do the following evening.

For that first evening though, with everyone still reeling from the dramatic near miss of moments before, we listened to the Stockhausen’s Stimmung, and Oktophonie. What was immediately evident is that my fear of our technical rider not being powerful enough for this large-scale version was unfounded. Even without the subwoofer, the levels were entirely adequate for the work. The spatialization of sounds was far more dramatic than with our previous iterations, which was great, although it also revealed some occasional sonic blind spots (a slightly stepped movement of sound when dynamically panned), something that will be important to take into account when rendering work for future larger scale KAs.

Working with Rolfe and laying out the various stems spatially was a real ear-opener and masterclass in less-is-more. Most of the work I had thus far made, or mixed, for the various iterations of the Kugelauditorium was complex, dense and spatially restless. This was partly because I was experimenting with the panning possibilities of a multi channel speaker setup, but also partly because I felt it was important to squeeze out as much sonic movement as possible to make the most of the rig. It had become quite clear early on that it was easy to overdo things, and that too many simultaneous movements could render the whole experience confused and paradoxically inert, but I hadn’t yet found the golden ratio between movement and placement.

Rolfe’s approach was minimal in the extreme but proved incredibly powerful. No single stem was dynamic; each track had its own place somewhere in the Todosphere, but none would do any active panning. There was still a real sense of spatial movement, but this was a movement implied by the interaction between parts. This virtual way of dynamic panning worked very well and ensured that the experience never became overwhelming. Keeping things this simple also meant it took less than 30 minutes to mix two 7 minute tracks, a new record. Rolfe’s compositions were created with the Todosphere in mind, and the tracks were skilfully produced to work spatially, but it was nonetheless striking to realize such a disciplined approached could yield such a powerful experience.

Tree Voices consisted of a spatialized nexus of voices singing to each other, punctuated by a cello. The distinctly separate tracks then slowly grew denser and started to overlap and superimpose into harmonies.  Everyone was transfixed. Was this how our KAs should be experienced I wondered? There was a distinctly meditative feel to the collective listening session, a stillness that made complete sense, and was radically different from the night before. It was of course in no small part because of Rolfe’s gentle touch, which contrasted sharply with Stockhausen’s uncompromisingly raw and often atonal work, and this was the third night of a relentless 3 day party, but still..

Rolfe’s second track SenseZen was a more overtly rhythmic, but equally slowly building and deeply cinematic piece whose spatial architecture instantly enveloped everyone. By the end of SensZen, it was as if we all were snapped out of a shared hypnosis. The experience was too short but powerful. For that alone, our Kugelauditorium’s Mexico adventure had proven its worth beyond doubt.

With every iteration, the number of creative ideas and possibilities increases exponentially, while the amount of possible mistakes grows smaller, which is why it is so important to keep making kugels, at different scales, and in different contexts. We know now what is needed to make our next Kugelauditorium able to weather a crowd, (stiffer struts and a proper base) We know that at this scale, a 3V version works best, and will need a speaker configuration that works with odd numbers. We also found out that at this scale the relatively large differential between the centre row of speakers (12) and the upper/ lower rows (6) tended to diminish periphonic (vertical) sonic experience. So for a future iteration we should aim for a full set of 15 speakers per row. And finally, it has become clear that while it is entirely possible to erect a Kugelauditorium of this scale in a day, it will require at least 3 dedicated crews, one for the geodesic build, one for the sound rigging, and one for the lighting rigging.

On the topic of lighting, this is an as yet unresolved area. We feel we haven’t even scratched the surface of what may be possible, especially when considered as an integral and inter-active element to the overall audio-visual experience. The next iteration will have to focus intently on how to integrate a lighting rig that is both experientially rich in its own right, but crucially, will work with the sound design to create hyper-real architectural experiences of sound and light.

And lastly, Ed and I have discussed the various ways in which future Kugelauditoriums may be experienced. It is true that the collective experiences inside the KA7 were most transformative when they were meditative and passive, but this is absolutely not the only way to engage with a kugelauditorium. 2022 will see extensive experiments with kugelauditoriums on the dancefloors of iconic clubs, mind-bending live performances and immersive films as well as Burning Man.