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HOLOPLOT X1 goes into orbit with The Moonwalkers, Lightroom’s brand new immersive experience


HOLOPLOT X1 goes into orbit with The Moonwalkers, Lightroom’s brand new immersive experience

It is a year since Lightroom, a performance space in the heart of London’s King’s Cross, opened its doors. The Moonwalkers is the latest experience at the London venue, following the highly successful David Hockney show, ‘Bigger and Closer’ (not smaller and further away). 

Recreating the awe and majesty of space travel for The Moonwalkers takes a special team of creatives with some excellent technology at their fingertips. The HOLOPLOT X1 Matrix Array is just the system to transport audiences ‘out of this world’, showcasing the impact of its powerful software toolset on the creative workflow and audio quality. 

This new production is narrated and co-written by Tom Hanks, and includes original NASA audio. The score is composed by Anne Nitkin and was recorded at Abbey Road Studios with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. When your source material is this exquisite you need a sound system that can do every single part of it justice, to create “a different kind of acoustic feeling,” as Tom Hanks said in a recent interview.

“There’s 1,000s of speakers here, and when the music begins, it’s not coming from a particular source, it’s coming from everywhere around you. And that too, ends up being this one of a kind physical experience that very quickly becomes an emotional experience.”

– Tom Hanks, Co-writer and narrator, The Moonwalkers

Ensuring an immersive and engaging experience for all audience members within the reverberant concrete space that is Lightroom is no small task. Sound designer Tom Hackley explains his excitement at using Lightroom’s HOLOPLOT X1 system and why nothing else could have done the job.

Creating a truly immersive experience for the audience requires innovative and seamlessly integrated technology. X1 in Lightroom is permanently installed and completely invisible, blending into the existing infrastructure of the building. The system’s software capabilities make it highly flexible and nothing in its physical configuration needs to be changed to design the audio for a new show. So, when The Moonwalkers took over residency, the hardware remained, whilst the sound design changed dramatically, using the HOLOPLOT software ecosystem.

“If this were a point source system, you would physically have to move the speakers,” Hackley reveals.  “It would take much more time and you could be fighting for space to hang them. With the Holoplot systems, everything is done in the software, it’s instant and once rehearsals started, it was a huge help to brainstorm when Tom [Hanks] wanted to try out ideas in the space. 

“When I first got involved with Lightroom I had thought, 'please don't make me use a system that I've never experienced!'. I was also concerned that we wouldn't be able to deliver the same experience to every position in the room, that there would have to be compromises. But actually, you hear everything everywhere. It wasn’t long before I was thinking, ‘thank goodness we’ve got Holoplot, because I couldn’t have done it with anything else’.”

Hackley discovered enormous benefits, not only in the dynamic capabilities of the system, but also the creative possibilities.

“X1 is hugely impressive, both in terms of volume and definition. We go from a rocket taking off, the loudest sound known to man, to a complete lack of sound in the silence of deep space. The frequencies X1 has to deal with are vast; there’s infrasound, not only when the rocket takes off, but when we have boots on the moon, and then you add the symphony of the orchestra playing at the same time; it’s gigantic and dynamic.”

– Tom Hackley, Sound Designer

Unlike traditional techniques, the 3D Audio-Beamforming technology employed by HOLOPLOT allows sound designers much more control over the sound and the freedom to experiment, as Hackley found.

“I can move sound within the space, but also send sound back beyond it,” he explains. “In terms of an immersive sound experience, Holoplot is at the forefront; you aren’t only putting the audience within the sound, you've got the facility to push sound beyond the audience, which feels kind of alien. I haven't experienced that dramatic effect in other systems, especially when it comes to audio image placement, and we would never have been able to do some of the spot effects with traditional line array or point source boxes.

A show as exciting and high profile as The Moonwalkers is destined for more venues. Lightroom’s creators, 59 Productions, have recently opened a new Lightroom in Seoul, South Korea, and there are plans for more. How does a show like this transfer?

“We’ve already been out to prepare the show for Seoul,” Hackley says. “The interior of the venue is very similar to London, but it’s purpose built so we have more positions for speakers and there have been some additions. We’ve upgraded to two MD80-S with two MD96 arrays in the equivalent north and south sections, together with four arrays fixed as single pairs within the East and West walls, so it isn’t a case of transferring it exactly, there are tweaks. Even so, it sounded great straight out of the box, but with Holoplot’s Plan software, I could already make any changes I needed to before I arrived.”

This has been a journey of discovery and one that Hackley is very glad he made.

“Holoplot X1 is completely different from anything I've used before. I think I'm going to really struggle using anything else for a project like this.”

–Tom Hackley, Sound Designer


Photo credit: Justin Sutcliffe