On December 1st, 2017, Funkhaus somewhat quietly unveiled the world’s most technically impressive spatial sound system: MONOM. The elaborate network is comprised of 48 omni-directional speakers, suspended at set intervals, while 9 massive subs rest on the floor. As the name implies, spatial sound involves mapping music across the web of speakers, utilizing the entire space to create a fully immersive sonic experience. Imagine a simple pan from left to right in stereo speakers. Now imagine that sound can move along any axis, using the listener as its epicenter. This is a rough facsimile of the MONOM’s functionality.
Despite these impressive specs, MONOM opened to minimal fanfare, booking mostly anonymous artists for its first 6 months in production. With the exception of a Lotic show in July, the first collaborations with internationally recognized artists were announced in partnership with the Red Bull Music Festival. Both Jlin and Oneohtrix Point Never were slated to play a live show on the system, as well as compose an hour long set specifically for MONOM.
The Gary, Indiana-born musician is one of a handful of footwork artists who are quickly outgrowing the genre and expanding the potential for dance music to delve into abstraction (think Foodman, Cakedog, etc). Her sets are generally high-energy, manic affairs, so I was curious to see how she would mold her sound to match the regal former-orchestral hall in Funkhaus’ Studio One.
Even before the music started, the scene was surreal. The speakers were spread across the capacious room, reaching up two stories to the vaulted ceilings, as smoke machines worked overtime to pack the space with fog. When the first sounds of her symphony began, we were transported to a lively forest, by a burbling brook. As I meandered through the venue, I realized that each speaker had an individual field recording. One speaker was a humming bee, the next a chirping bird, the next a cricket–with a swatch of speakers carrying the sound of a stream through the center of the room. This went on for 15 minutes before the first hint of musicality broke the peace.
A gentle synth and percussion wandered its way through the audience, almost imperceptibly. It grew in stature until piano and bass built to a crescendo, which triggered thunder, lightning and a torrential downpour. As the sound of raindrops punctuated torrents of synth, a massive wave crashed over the audience. When I closed my eyes, my senses gave every indication that I was in the midst of a typhoon. After the climax, the piece mellowed like a sine wave, eventually returning to the cheerful forest, buzzing bees, etc. When the speakers finally went silent, the spell was broken and we all came back to a half-crowded auditorium in East Berlin.
After a short intermission, Jlin appeared on a walkway above the crowd and proceeded to play an energetic half-hour set mostly comprised of material from her much lauded album, Black Origami. The frenetic percussion worked perfectly with MONOM, as each individual drum was mapped to a different speaker, creating a frenzied, disorienting effect. Though I heard some attendees grumbling about the brevity of her set, the experience was pretty stellar. Leaving the venue felt like an exercise in assimilation, rejoining the real world and re-learning its codes and customs.
ONEOHTRIX POINT NEVER
Daniel Lopatin is a continual exception. Though his music flirts with total inaccessibility, he has gained a substantial, dedicated following, not only of the IDM loners you might expect, but also of the more conventional indie crowd. The last time I saw him (aside from backing ANOHNI) was opening with Sigur Ros as a massive stadium in Colorado. Lopatin couldn’t have been more out of place, playing spacey tracks on a laptop to a universally disinterested crowd. The artist that took stage at Funkhaus on Thursday was almost unrecognizable. Now Lopatin was joined by a full live band with mountains of synths and a drum kit. Behind them were a collection of fractalized LED monitors, poised to deliver a series of deep-web, psyched-out visuals.
The band plowed through the latest OPN release, Age of, in its entirety, cycling through prim harpsichords, earth rattling bass and cacophonous static. In general the acoustics were great, but the set didn’t really utilize the full power of the MONOM, with most sounds tracked to a large number of speakers at any given time.
For their encore, OPN launched into “Child of Rage” and “Chrome Country”. It’s hard to imagine an artist like Lopatin having a greatest hit but the opening strains of “Chrome Country” were met with a burst of applause and the final organ movement was nothing short of a revelation.
After clearing the stage, the audience was treated to Lopatin’s four-part composition MYRIAD. The first vignette was similar to Jlin’s, drawing heavily from field recordings. The next was truly frightening, with kettle drums punching the air at unexpected intervals. A droney chanting movement followed, before a final synth movement brought everyone back to earth.
Both Jlin and Oneohtrix Point Never employed MONOM for a unique and mesmerizing effect, but of the two, Jlin created a piece that was better tailored to space. Regardless of my preference, the artists proved that MONOM is a exciting, vital technology with the potential to transform the traditional listening experience as we know it.
Andrew Neely is a Berlin-based writer and musician hailing from Boulder, Colorado in the U.S.
Red Bull Sound Select has made a name for itself by curating and bankrolling thousands of shows over the years. Of the many brands vying to appear hip and in-touch with young consumers (see also this year’s unbearable Bread & Butter festival), Red Bull is one of a select few that actually seems to play the part of tastemaker believably. Over the years we’ve seen numerous shows under the Sound Select umbrella, many of them wonderful experiences.
With that said, Red Bull’s primary stockholder, Austrian Billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, has a bad track record funding conservative causes and regressive political campaigns. While we support the artists who benefit from Red Bull’s promotion, we cannot in good conscience endorse the brand or the festival, which is ultimately nothing more than a marketing tool for an energy drink.