The size of KA8 was going to be the same as KA7, appr. 7m diameter, but full spherical this time round, with a better netting system and crucially fully weatherproof, so KA8 could be a semi-permanent resident of the Chateau Du Fey
After the near implosion disaster of KA7, we thought it was probably wise to get a bona fide structural engineer on board, and we found the (probably) best one there is on this planet in Nicholas Christie. In large part due to Nicholas’s input, the entire operation felt altogether much more professional than KA6, and it felt very little was left to chance. The many zoom calls and group chats led to a very tight integration between structure and sound rig; we knew the strut diameter required for maximum strength and stability, we spec’d the speakers to seamlessly fit onto the structure and Nicholas even produced an insanely detailed blow by blow set up guide for the entire thing.
Our speaker rig was very different from all our previous KAs. As everything needed to be fully weatherproof, Jeremy Guillory (KA8/9 project commander, KA7 veteran) suggested so-called wakeboard speakers. I’d never even heard of these, but they are marine speakers with a solid clamp on top that seemed perfect for our needs. Rather than live on a node, these speakers could be securely connected to a strut without any additional mounting requirements.
There were the inevitable setbacks of course, the French steelworker Ed had found appeared unfussed by our tight deadlines, (the struts had to be manufactured and delivered by the beginning of March, as there was only a 2 week window for us to work on it full time) so we had to scramble for another source, which led us to the incredible Dan Bragg in Stoke-On-Trent. Right guy, wrong country, but even that was overcome by our amazing courier (thanks Pawel) who managed to get the struts over the brexitline unscathed and customs free!
They are a passive design, so need a battery of amps at ground level to drive them. Going the passive way made a lot of sense, less wiring up the structure, and the less-than-weather proof amplifiers could be cased up and housed separately.
My search for a weatherproof subwoofer proved less successful, they exist but are weird things designed to be buried with only a little mushroom type chimney poking out of the ground, and mostly were very expensive for not so much oompf. In the end we went with a more traditional PA powered sub, with the idea to either wheel it out whenever the KA was being used, or build a simple tarpaulin tent for it. The speaker config was different too from our previous set ups, and by far the best to date. The geodesic design we used has an odd number of nodes/ struts for each row (15) so our only option was to go for the full 15 speakers per row, 5 speakers, or do some crazy maths to space things out evenly. In the event we opted for 6 vertical rows of 5. I was a little anxious about the reduced planar resolution and much higher vertical resolution, but as it turns out this was exactly what was missing from previous KAs. As we tend to be less well equipped to locate sound vertically, the increased emphasis actually helped to balance planar and periphonic (vertical) sound elements. Perhaps the only slight let down was the quality of the speakers we used. They were very low cost, (£95 a pair), though still more expensive than our previously used (and nicer) powered monitors; the wakeboard speakers had a rather overegged yet boxy low end and fatiguing top end with not much definition in between. It is by no means terrible, totally serviceable, but the next rig will have to be of better fidelity/ specs.
The actual build of KA8 was a military operation. We had rented a variable reach forklift, had gravel deposited to act as a solid base for KA8, had a custom designed net shipped over from Mexico and most importantly, a team of incredibly committed and talented people. Jeremy and Ed made sure all necessary tools were at hand, and they assembled small daily crews dedicated to specific tasks. All in all, it felt that we had landed, we knew how to build a KA, both its structure and sound rig; as I said to Ed after our opening test run, it was the first time I felt we got this, well, apart from the lights that is.
In terms of sounds kugelified, KA8 has really expanded our horizon on what might be possible. I’d written a track specifically for KA8, which was really an attempt to squeeze the maximum out of the rig in terms of impact and hyperspatiality, and while there’s plenty I’d do differently, a lot of it worked really, really well. I was lucky to have stems of a few tracks by two of my favourite, totally next level musicians/ improvisors/ producers, Dee Byrne and Thom Hosken. Dee shared the raw stems of the latest album by her modern jazz outfit Entropi, and Thom generously shared some of his otherworldly ambient productions, as well as a couple. of vaporwave tracks by Donor Lens. It was great to experiment with kugelifications of such great music, and also ear-opening how each track naturally led to very different spatializing approaches and choices. Another new experiment we ran, informed by the aforementioned higher vertical resolution, was to spatialise simple stereo tracks by way of a band splitter; left side to left hemisphere, right to right, but different frequency bands per row. This was a really simple way of listening back to 2 channel audio, but still with an exponentially increased spatiality. And finally, using the same method, we plugged in a DJ set up, and thus this was the first KA-as-dancefloor, which I always thought it should be and we now know has to be. We then got thinking about how incredible it would be for a DJ to mix spatially as well as tracks, and I’m running some initial tests currently that are increasingly tantalizingly close to realizing that. There’s in a fact a whole list of things we began to imagine, from using an xyz chaos oscillator to automate itself spatially, (your inside the very waveform you’re listening to), to a meriad of live and inter-active creative uses.
Perhaps the most important aspect to properly address, the lighting rig, was still a terra incognita. The amazing Iannis Bardakos had joined us to work on it, and we had a plan for a DMX rig and touch designer or MAX patch to send OSC directly from dedicated Reaper tracks to LED strips attached to each speaker. When I arrived at Fey on the 5th of March, not all the lighting equipment had arrived, and we were still waiting on some of it by the time I had to go back to London. I did manage to spend another long weekend at Fey the following week, but over the course of a few 15 hour days trying to get it all to work, it became clear that more time was needed. We managed to establish a proof of concept, sort of, but a lot more work has to go into this. Our concept isn’t particularly complex; we want an integrated lighting source for each speaker, and for the lights to follow (through dimming and/or colour changes) the changing sound level at each speaker. The idea is that the already hyperspatial nature of the various sound works is further amplified by a lighting rig that follows sound’s trajectory through the KA. We’ve got some superbrains on this, and with KA8 set up permanently at Fey we’ll get there, but as of this writing, we haven’t cracked it yet.