Broadway musical ‘Here Lies Love’ is a spatial audio production

After a preview performance of Here lies love Late last month, Cody Spencer, one of the show’s sound designers, led a group around the spacious Broadway theater in Midtown Manhattan to offer a detailed technical breakdown of the production.

His job was not to explain what we had just seen. This was evident amid the glut of media coverage of the pop-infused Broadway musical, which was written by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, and follows the notorious life of former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos. Much had already been said of the show’s stunning visual breakthroughs, of how set designer David Korins ripped up the seats in the theater’s orchestral section and transformed the front of the house into a pulsating dance club; how reinforcements were built under the floor of the theater to prevent it from bending under the weight of hundreds of participants doing the pogo in unison; how the high-profile staging was itself a tribute to Filipino nightlife and the thriving karaoke culture that fuels it.

Instead, Spencer was on hand after the performance to reveal something less obvious: the hidden technical magic and state-of-the-art hardware behind the musical’s immersive sound, a feat made possible by the latest advances in audio. spatial and “object-based” audio. processing tools,” which gave audience members a sense of being immersed in music from all directions. Imagine a scene in which Imelda Marcos and her bossy husband, Ferdinand, sing songs at opposite ends of the room. Although physics may prevent you from being able to watch them both at the same time, your ears know exactly where their voices are coming from.

To achieve this effect, Spencer pointed out, more than 200 speakers were placed in six different areas of the theater. During that night’s performance, the room was filled with theater critics, influencers and other high-stakes attendees, including a handful of celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and even Byrne himself. even.

It’s a lot of pressure to have the show’s creator in the audience two days before the official press launch, but Spencer didn’t seem nervous as he demonstrated after the performance. He showed complete confidence in audio technology and its ability to power a complex musical live, even in the event of an unforeseen technical glitch.

“There is a plot layoffs,” he observed, not that we can hear anyone complaining about the flawless execution of the mix.

A rendering of the speakers’ positions at the Broadway Theater [Image: L-Acoustics]

Do you hear people singing?

The audio productions in Here lies love were made possible by L-Acoustics, a French sound technology company that has been pushing the boundaries of live concert experiences since 1984. The punchy club music and cast vocals were thrust into lush life at the using a state-of-the-art mixing board and sound system that the company has named L-ISA (pronounced el eesa). The centerpiece is a high-octane processor that can play up to 96 different audio objects as they move or dance brilliantly through an elaborate, ever-changing 360-degree environment.

“Any sound object that is within a range that we have defined – whether very narrow or the entire 360-degree area – can be automatically mixed, essentially, into these various other output formats,” says Jordan. Tani, product and technology marketing engineer at L-Acoustics. “L-ISA sound inputs can be a combination of cast, live instruments, playback tracks, etc., and then you can manipulate them.”

Here lies love was not an easy show to bring to life and, in fact, its intricate stage design was precisely what made L-ISA the perfect fit, adds Tani. In addition to the dance floor, the six areas of the theater included two floor-side seating areas, a VIP seating area, the front mezzanine, the rear mezzanine, and the mixing position, which sits just backstage below the DJ.

“The nature of this show makes it very complex,” says Tani. “Standard proscenium style shows can be much simpler in terms of execution, as we might be dealing with one space instead of six.”

L-ISA started about ten years ago as a project led by L-Acoustics founder Christian Heil, who holds a PhD in particle physics and is known for pioneering line- array which are now an industry standard at live events. Heil had noticed that the sound quality of live shows differed depending on where he was seated in the physical space, so he envisioned a system that could deliver high-quality sound to everyone at a live event. live, whether or not they have the most expensive seats in the house.

“In its simplest form, L-ISA’s mission statement is to connect what you hear with what you see visually,” says Tani. “So it’s about getting that 5% sweet spot that you have in the center of your couch at home, or that 5% sweet spot when you’re the mixer at a live show, and giving this experience to almost every person in the audience.”

The technology, he adds, was developed in a “secret basement” at the company’s headquarters in Marcoussis, France. It made its public debut in 2016 at the Jazz à la Villette festival in Paris, and has since evolved with each new upgrade to be able to handle more complex immersive setups.

louder than words

In a way, the evolution of L-ISA mirrors that of Here lies love, which started as a concept album and was later adapted into a musical, which premiered about a decade ago at the Off-Broadway Public Theater. Spencer, the sound designer, was working on an earlier incarnation of the series around the time L-ISA was in its research and development phase. He discovered the technology through L-Acoustics product manager Scott Sugden, a friend, who invited Spencer to the secret basement to hear what he could do. Spencer thought he had potential for Here lies lovewhich required many technical space setups even during its Off-Broadway incarnations.

Fast forward to July 2023. Here lies love and L-ISA just made their Broadway debut in a location that could pose an almost poetic challenge. The 1,761-seat Broadway Theatre, one of Broadway’s largest houses, has presented some very ambitious, if not commercially successful, works in recent years. These include the 2018 musical King Kongremembered today mostly for his 20-foot puppet, and Ivo van Hove’s multimedia revival of West Side Storywhich closed during the pandemic and never reopened after its lead producer, Scott Rudin, pulled out of the business amid accusations of workplace bullying.

Here lies love experienced its own share of controversy, not least because of its use of pre-recorded music, which a musician’s union claimed was against the venue’s contract. (The show eventually agreed to hire more live musicians.) The subject matter, meanwhile, isn’t everyone’s idea of ​​ideal fodder for a musical, and the show has been accused of glorifying a brutal diet, although the producers said it was “anti-Marcos.

For those willing to ignore the perceived hits against him, they’ll be treated to something truly distinctive, thanks to a talented all-Filipino cast – a first for Broadway – plenty of fun numbers and even some truly touching moments. Sometimes there are almost too many stimuli for a single evening to contain; but if you listen carefully, you will always know where to look.

Which, of course, is the point. “You hear [someone’s voice], then another cast member sings in a different direction, and everyone’s head spins,” Tani recalled. “It’s so mesmerizing to see because it’s not led by lighting or visual cue. It’s just because you’re attracted to sound.

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