Is Immersive Sound Tech The Biggest Thing In Sound In 2020?
Polygon Live and L-Acoustics are promising a revolution in live sound, by taking the surround sound that people are used to experiencing in cinemas, adding a vertical dimension, and delivering it onto the dance floor.
L-Acoustics founder and president Dr. Christian Heil has already revolutionized the live music industry once, when he and his team pioneered the line source speaker array system, which is now used at every major live event production worldwide. Now he may be on the verge of doing it again, by creating his company’s patented L-ISA Immersive Sound technology. Polygon live are now using this technology, alongside their own, to create an immersive 360 sound stage.
What that translates to in the real world is 12 equidistant speaker arrays positioned on a 12-sided Polygon and a number of speaker points hanging directly above, allowing sounds to travel through a three-dimensional space. Sonic objects can be placed anywhere within the 3D soundscape as every speaker position is individually addressable.
Pollstar was on site at Polygon’s London studio (Delta Live) to find out what that might sound like in reality and the experience was quite stunning. A bass drum chasing around a circle, an eerie laugh approaching listeners from one end of the room, ambient jungle sounds that transported anyone standing amidst the circle of speakers into a rainforest.
– The Polygon Live setup by day
12 equidistant speaker arrays positioned on a 12-sided Polygon and a number of speaker points hanging directly above
Polygon Live is not just the name of the stage, which made its debut at Wonderfruit festival (Thailand) in 2017. Polygon are also developing their own software alongside L-Acoustics flagship technology L-ISA. DJs and producers are able to re-imagine existing music and create new music that can be spatialized: melodies, sounds, rhythms, vocals – any part of the song can be programmed to move through space in various ways. “You give us the individual parts that you want to spatialize, we give you the patterns or spatial sequences,” Polygon Director, DJ Hugo Heathcote explained.
He said creating spatialized sound had been a dream of his and fellow directors for the past ten years. Having discussed the concept at length, founding directors Archie Keswick, Nico Elliott, Adam Nicholas and Heathcote decided to go for it in 2017 at Wonderfruit festival. “It’s been an emotional journey. We’ve had people along the way telling us it wouldn’t work. Our argument was always: if you can do it in a cinema, you can do it on a dance floor,” Heathcote recalls.
It’s all about experience in the day and age of technology, and Polygon delivers just that: a never heard before listening-experience. “We want people to feel totally blown away by the power and beauty of truly immersive audio. Combined and synchronized with spectacular lighting design and scent dispersion amongst other sensorial technologies, we can create new worlds,” Heathcote said, adding, “we’re saturated right now. We have amazing lighting shows and sound systems, don’t get me wrong, what’s being done in terms of show production is incredible. But it feels like it needs to move forward. Sound needs to move center stage.”
Literally. Standing in the middle of the circle of speakers, everyone is experiencing the same thing. “
You don’t have to be at the front of the stage to get it. It’s inclusive in that way. There is no sweet spot. The entire stage is a sweet spot,” Heathcote explained, “there’s nothing that interferes, it’s pure. The setup creates a cocoon of sound. Walking up to the circle, you’re still bombarded by the festival noise around you. As soon as you step into the Polygon, you’re totally immersed.”
The technology will unfold its full potential once DJs start producing entire tracks crafted for the Polygon Live stage, Heathcote’s eyes light up when contemplating the possibilities: “You can transport people into any sonic environment. We can take you to the seaside or into a jungle. There are no limits, just the artists imagination. DJs and producers can incorporate real story telling into their sets.
“And also, from a branded event perspective, if you want to launch a product, we can transmit their story through sound and light. Combine that with a scent, like eucalyptus, lavender, Christmas or whatever… and the term immersive will take on new meaning.”
The Polygon Live stage is currently designed to deliver to a capacity of anything between 50 & 10,000 people. In other words, it is totally scalable to a point. The sonic landscape isn’t restricted to circular structures either, the technology allows a variety of venue designs to be successfully deployed.
From a sound point of view, Heathcote said L-Acoustics were the only partners that Polygon were totally confident in being able to turn their concept into reality. Together with Polygon’s inhouse sound team, headed up by Davey Williamson, Polygon feels ready to inspire artists and audiences globally. L-Acoustics founder and president Dr. Christian Heil said: “Sound is by definition a spatialized medium. It’s how the human species naturally experiences sound: detailed, multidimensional, and localized. Today at concerts we should instead be asking, ‘Why is the sound not spatialized?’
“Until recently, the answer to this question was: ‘Because we didn’t have a user-friendly and cost-effective ecosystem to reproduce natural, 3D sound.'”
Heil continued: “EDM is a thrilling application for L-ISA because the genre does not tie the physical localization of sound to a known and recognizable instrument such as a violin or a drum kit.
“This opens up tremendous freedom to have sound travel, shapeshift and ricochet, independently of where the sound is made. L-ISA becomes a kind of instrument, enveloping fans in entirely new sensations and perceptions. It’s exciting and Polygon is at the forefront of a sonic and creative revolution that is only just beginning to unfold.”
Both companies believe that they’re onto something, maybe even the biggest leap forward since the mainstream introduction of stereo sound in the 1970s.