Discovery Zone – Library Copy Do Not Remove
Over the last 5 months the Spatial Media Lab worked with Berlin-based audiovisual artist Discovery Zone (JJ Weihl) to help her create a brand new work titled “Library Copy Do Not Remove” which was performed live in the Zeiss-Großplanetarium in Berlin, Germany on Tuesday, the 26th of June, 2023. Through this process we helped her learn the ins and outs of ambisonics, Reaper, and the IEM Plugin Suite. Over those 5 months she composed ca. 45 minutes of new material with the help of Lucas Chantre aka World Brain, plus an upmixed version of “Supernatural,” a track from her forthcoming album which will be coming out later this year.
JJ typically uses Logic to compose her music, and as of yet there’s still no good solution we’ve found for working in 5th order Ambisonics and above in Logic. Therefore, we once again used the Reaper Templates that we have created (updates coming soon!) for all of the backing tracks. JJ ultimately settled on using 7th order Ambisonics for her set and, as our template relies heavily on the IEM Plugin Suite, she used those for the encoding/decoding. JJ then spent several months composing the music in her standard way for most of the tracks, then exporting the stems into Reaper. However, for one track titled “Habitat” she used extensively the Røde Ambisonic Sound Library as an ambient basis for the track.
Live, JJ played a blue Arp 2600, a Behringer Vocoder CS340, an Roland SP404, and an sE8 Microphone used for live percussion. All of this was routed, and mixed, through the Yamaha QL1 Digital Mixer before arriving in the XI-Machines X2 audio server, which played back both the pre-rendered 7th order backing track as well as spatializing the live tracks. The live tracks were spatialized in realtime during the show using the Monogram Creative Console MIDI controller.
During mixing, we discovered a really cool technique of using the JS: Ping Pong Pan plugin that comes with Reaper, and tempo syncing the frequency (in Hz) to 16th notes for the song and the width at 100%, then into the IEM StereoEncoder to split the signal using the Width control. This created a really compelling, tempo-synced pulsing effect that worked great in the dome.
The concert was a delight. The sound was spectacular and bright and the lighting team at the planetarium did an excellent job creating a excellent vibe. The music was synth driven ambient music with ambisonic samples interspersed throughout. JJ did an excellent job of playing with the contrast of dense music compositions and spare minimal ambiance.
What we learned from this performance is that we would not suggest creating a 50 minute set using 7th order Ambisonics, as by the end of the project there were circa 150 audio tracks in the Reaper project, leading to approximately 10,000 channels of audio. While this was manageable by JJ’s Apple M1 Macbook Pro using headphones, the audio server routing the audio to the planetarium speakers, as well as to a separate computer for recording, and all of the additional audio effects, began to struggle and create pops and clicks. We resolved this by pre-rendering all of the backing tracks and putting them on the same audio track in reaper. To solve this for the future, we will be creating 4th and 6th order Reaper templates to provide some other options for artists that are not so processor intense.
Additionally, we learned that we need to get some programmable device, like a Stream Deck, that can be used to start and stop the recording without the need of a mouse. To properly record everything for this performance, we needed to press record at the beginning of each song, stop the recording at the end, trigger the next song, then start recording again. All of this with the mouse was quite cumbersome and a separate, programmable, device would’ve made this a much smoother process for us.
It was a joy working with JJ on this project and we plan to make a Dolby Atmos mix of the entire live performance in the coming months.