Black Rock Desert, USA
  • Dome construction. Geodesic-inspired, Stockhausen-referencing spiral structure
  • Speaker Rig Powered by JBL/ Harman
  • Sound card. Integrated Dante network
  • Software. Custom, both for light and sound, Reaper
  • Sound format. Recorded, live and mixology
  • Lighting. Beyond your wildest dreams, custom design by Stephane Lee

If KA8, our permanent 7m diameter Kugelauditorium laboratory at Chateau Du Fey felt like a coming home, KA9 was like a maiden voyage to the moon and back. Over the course of a mere 4 months, we went from idea to execution, via a winding road of funding desperation, mental meltdowns, manufacturing and transportation disasters, but mostly incredible generosity from an ever expanding team of next level lighting wizards, sound artists, engineers and project pushers.

We needed to up our game on pretty much every level, sound, light (at last!) and structure. Even though we were still committed to keeping things as cost effective as possible, showcasing our Kugelauditorium at Burning Man 2022 called for a sound and lighting rig that would be positively mind-blowing. The sound system/ speaker rig was designed to be as desert proof as possible without compromising on listening experience. With the invaluable help of Ben Todd at JBL in the UK, Emily Sanderson at Harman US, and last but not least the team at JK Sound in San Francisco we were able to design and source a rig of 52 AWC82 speakers, 2 dual 18inch SRX828 subwoofers, and Dante capable amps (Crown DCi4|300 DA) to drive the AWC82s. At the scale of KA9, a networked audio solution was critical but would have involved a crippling expense if it hadn’t been for JBL/ Harman’s incredibly generous help.  

As for structure, our structural engineer-in-chief Nicholas Christie worked through a dazzling number of different designs to make sure KA9 was strong enough to weather the conditions of Burning Man as well as accommodate the largest possible number of people who could experience KA9 at any one time. The end result was an elegant, highly symmetrical design which was not strictly a geodesic sphere any longer, but rather a spherical architecture made up of diagonally placed  spirals held together by horizontal rings. (a real game changer for our long desired symmetry of speaker rig) We decided to go with a net structure, as we had for KA8, but this time, a much finer gauge net was chosen, and the net was held in place by 2 suspended circular trusses. This design was still not a dance-able surface, but a definite upgrade from the net we used for KA8, and the dual truss design made for a very comfortable central listening space as well as a close-to-centre ring for about 60-70 people to congregate.

The lighting rig was finally going to be a reality, and we knew it would be a hyper-reality as soon as Stephane Lee came on board, a friend-of-a-friend who quickly became the best loved team member by all, and crucially, proved himself the ultimate lighting wizard. Stephane had a impressive record of designing intricate LED artcars and Burning Man installations, and as an expert coder, he had already written a sound-to-light capable bit of software perfect for KA needs. 

Aided by Nicholas and a dream team of electrical engineers (meet: Alex Bondarenko, Robert Rowland, Liam Chaffey) from self-flying aviation unicorn Joby, a highly cost-effective, deeply complex, and utterly captivating LED rig was designed and assembled which would address all 270! nodes of KA9. A fabric based diffusion screen was created that resembled a spider’s web. It could be stretched over a tube holding a spiral of LEDs, and then pulled tight along the struts projecting from a node. The result lent a striking pitted-ness to KA9, beautifully dappling sunlight during the day, and becoming an exploding star beaming out over Deep Playa at night.

After a nail-biting series of unfortunate events in the final days of loading everything up in the Bay Area, our motley crew of two unregistered Nightmare On Elm street school buses, and an overloaded trailer captained by the inimitable Mike Pez finally set off for Reno and beyond.

When we arrived at Burning Man on Monday afternoon (it should have been Sunday night) little time was lost staking out our spot. We hastily knocked together some tents and drove out to Playa where Nicholas was already impatiently waiting for his rag-tag team of extremely highly skilled and disgustingly unskilled, but equally keen, worker bees. 

The trials and tribulations of build week call for a book one day, but for now it might suffice to say that it took three all-nighters, buckets of sweat, Marie Fawn’s incredible parenting skills, Alex’s gentle but piercing expressions of exasperation with our stupidity, a variable reach forklift truck crashing into a car, Lyra and Rob’s acrobatic duo act and Nicholas’s alter ego as ‘Raging Bull’, but we actually managed to build something that looked so much better even than the already exquisite drawings we’d hunched over in the previous months. It exceeded all our expectations, blew away anyone who collided with it, and made everything we’d done before feel distinctly lo-fi and amateur.

The structure was up by Wednesday, after which it was Stephane’s and my turn to make sense of a jumble of hundreds of wires; signal and power cables all cut to different (and often desperately wrong) lengths that needed to be punched into a mighty stack of amplifiers, unwieldy distribution boards and decoders. We had a luxurious air conditioned hexayurt as our headquarters, which would become a favourite hang-out for obvious reasons during Burning Man proper, but for now was a shack that did an OK job at keeping out the heat, but was hopeless at keeping out the dust. (As Alex dryly noted, that might have had something to do with the grotesquely oversized holes we cut to feed the wires into the yurt without bothering to plug leftover gaps after..)

Anyway, the dust was a distraction as we were engaged in a far more important race against the clock to have everything up and running by Saturday, and we did, sort of. Amazingly, by friday afternoon I was all plugged in, and only one speaker wire had become undone, so with that fixed we had a working sound system. My feeble attempts to run some more tests, and perhaps even have a go at tuning the system were met with blank stares and angry looks from a now nearing the end of their tether team who were still frantically trying to install a lighting rig that was far more complex and intricate than my sound system. I decided it was perhaps best to wait. And my god was it worth the wait! We had already had some tasters as the lights went up in batches. Stephane had occasionally lit up parts of KA9 to check everything was indeed connected as planned, and even then it had looked incredible. But now, with the full system in place, the first proper switch-on had us all gasp for air, this was just so good! Stephane and Pez had prepped a number of different patterns that wrapped themselves dynamically around the structure, hugging and enveloping it while simultaneously exploding the sky around it. Words fall short here, but for those who were there, you know, and those who couldn’t make it, Jeremy Guillory’s (our dedicated documentarian) amazing photography and drone footage included on this page may help to spark your imagination.

By the time everything was set up, it was too late for me to run any more sound tests, Black Rock City had awoken, and had KA9 in its sight. Luckily, even without any meaningful tuning, and despite the amplifiers having already sat through a number of dust storms, the system sounded great. The rig sounded crisp and detailed, carried by plenty of low end from our two thunderous subwoofers. As an opening salvo I had spliced together hundreds of recordings from NASA rocket launches to build our own KA launch, morphing into a slow moving landscape of twisting and stretching sounds distilled from the late Dave Smith’s Prophet 6. It seemed a fitting soundtrack to the desert, this year and what we had just done, we were off…