A/D/O by MINI | MONOM’s Sound Sculptures

Journal

Performance

MONOM’s Sound Sculptures

At MONOM in Berlin, artists can create “sound holograms” that move around, above and beneath the audience, giving listeners a new sensory experience.

Despite the rise of surround sound systems and advanced tools to produce music, most live performances still consist of an audience that hears sound or music coming mostly from one direction. At an experimental performance arts space and sound studio in Berlin, however, sounds fall from the ceiling, ebb and flow in particular pockets of space, and fly out from beneath you. Located in a former GDR broadcasting station built in the 1950s, MONOM houses an advanced spatial sound system that enables sounds to feel like a physical entity moving among – and through – the audience.

“In our culture, I think audio often takes a back seat to our visual sense,” William Russell, creative director at MONOM, told The Journal. “I was getting bored of going to see artists play at music venues that didn’t consider the acoustics of the space, so I started looking for a new way to produce that would be immersive enough to bring people back into the state of considering sound.”

Photo by Becca Crawford.

Russell, a sound designer who comes from a classical music background, went on to attend a number of music festivals around the world until he came across the 4DSOUND system at the TodaysArt festival in The Hague. “Within two seconds of walking into the installation, I knew I had found the perfect system,” he said. 

Founded in 2007, 4DSOUND is a studio that researches, develops and experiments with spatial sound technology. Its 4DSOUND system is a “spatial instrument” that creates an omnidirectional sound environment in which listeners can have a rich and coherent experience regardless of where they are in the space. For artists, the instrument allows them to factor in the three-dimensional positioning of sound in space as a parameter when composing a piece.

In December 2017, MONOM opened at Funkhaus Berlin, the historic broadcasting complex where Russell had a studio for several years while working as a music producer and director. The venue holds up to 400 people and this particular 4DSOUND system is equipped with 48 omnidirectional speakers arranged in a grid-like formation throughout the space. 

“The sound system creates audio holograms, which means that we can work with sound and space to transform our perception of reality. I’m interested in how we can harness this compositional tool to bring people into different states through sound,” explained Russell, who is at the helm of MONOM alongside Gratia Napier and Zak Khutoretsky (AKA DVS1).

In addition to the complexity of composing on the state of the art sound system, Russell said that one of the biggest challenges of working on a new medium like spatial sound is how difficult it is to predict how things will pan out with a piece or how long it will take to complete one. Not only that, a large part of MONOM becoming successful will rely “on educating the public on how to listen again,” according to 4DSOUND creative director John Connell.

Earlier this year, MONOM presented a new series dubbed ‘Sonic Cinema,’ which explores how its 4DSOUND system can be a tool to create, tell and experience stories in a way that we’re not always used to. One of the events consisted of an eight-hour overnight “lucid dream experiment” where the ticket price included a pillow, blanket, mattress and breakfast.

“Normally, you don't hear sound coming at you from a flat plane, you hear it from everywhere, and around you. There’s an incredibly complex array of reflections, refractions and resonances that occur before it then enters your body,” he said.

“That's what’s missing in the kind of polarizing, digital landscape that we live in. These flat screens and stereo headphones we have created a kind of separation between us and our environment… whereas this system allows you to have a communal experience of sound like you do in the real world.”

Photo by Becca Crawford.

Russell sees the 4DSOUND system enabling sound to move throughout a space, similar to how technologies enabled the image to move in cinema. In this way, he believes that spatial sound systems give us the ability to create sonic worlds that more accurately represented and reflect the human experience, offering new possibilities to use sound in storytelling.

Looking ahead, Russell said that the MONOM team will be working on developing strategies to make the spatial sound system a tool that can be sustainably adopted by venues and artists alike. He added: “I truly believe this way of composing and experiencing sound is going to greatly help the music industry shift into something that is more embodied, more human.”

This article forms part of a series on After Dark, one of four curatorial themes that A/D/O is exploring in 2020.

Text by Charmaine Li.

Photography by Robin Kater, unless stated otherwise.