Kraftwerk 3D tours Europe in Soundscape.

© Peter Boettcher 1/4
© Peter Boettcher 2/4
© Peter Boettcher 3/4
© Peter Boettcher 4/4

With a little help from electronic music legends Kraftwerk, the d&b audiotechnik Soundscape platform has rapidly been proven as tour-friendly…

It’s hard to overstate the influence of Kraftwerk on popular music. Some will put them in the same bracket as Elvis Presley and The Beatles, such is their long reach across the decades into every form of electronic pop and dance production. For this and many other reasons their concerts are held in reverence by a large and devoted army of cognoscenti, and it would be no exaggeration to suggest that in many ways the music world continues to follow where they lead.

One cornerstone of their appeal in concert is the astonishing quality of sound reproduction, so crucial in delivering the complex and absorbing textures of the music. Kraftwerk has been delivering their most recent concerts accompanied by 3D visuals, requiring the audience to be kitted out with glasses that have them ducking flying saucers, computers and an autobahn of Volkswagens as the music throbs and shimmers. The union of these standards with a workable solution for 3D sound would be a marriage made in heaven – which is exactly what transpired when the electro pioneers toured Europe, covering over 30 dates in venues ranging from two thousand indoor theatres to fifteen thousand outdoor venues, to three sold out shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall with the d&b Soundscape.

A journey in Soundscape

The relationship between Kraftwerk and Soundscape’s system design, network programming and a variety of often difficult venues took several years to perfect. Felix Einsiedel and Ralf Zuleeg – d&b’s Soundscape software and application experts– made various proposals, but the band itself played a huge part. “Kraftwerk did a lot of work in optimizing the system through the development stage,” Einsiedel says, “and as the partnership continued they did more and more. Eventually they did this tour of Eastern Europe on their own, deploying the 180° Soundscape system with no need of support from us at all. And this was on a daily basis, with back-to-back shows in the traditional way.”

The band and crew became very well practised at rigging and de-rigging a PA system that used Soundscape every night. In other venues, such as the Albert Hall, the so-called ‘Catalogue’ shows provided opportunities to install the more complex 360° system for full immersivity. For these ground breaking shows – which inspired 5-star press reviews using phrases like “majestic visualizations of sound” and “multi-sensory magnificence” – Einsiedel and Zuleeg were in attendance. “Even here I got the feeling they can now do a lot of this independently,” Einsiedel reflects, “such is their understanding of how the speakers should be placed and how the whole show should be programmed.”

The Workflow

Programming a complex sequence like a Kraftwerk concert has been made much simpler by the integration of the Soundscape workflow into the rest of the production. “The tools necessary now include our simulation software ArrayCalc and R1 remote control software,” explains Einsiedel, “which are basically so well integrated that the guys on tour with Kraftwerk don’t need me much any more.”

It goes much deeper than that too. The four members of the band operate virtual synthesizers on stage, with direct access to the spatial renderings of the PA system in a way that effectively makes their sound engineer Serge Gräfe a fifth member of the band. Or to put it the other way round, you could say that Kraftwerk themselves represent a second, third, fourth and fifth sound engineer – a description they would no doubt embrace with enthusiasm.

It was Einsiedel who perfected the original MIDI link between them that made all of this possible. “Serge has his iPads,” he continues, “and he really uses the PA system as another instrument. With the integrated Open Sound Control network protocol and Figure 53’s QLab show control software with the DS100 processor’s control options, they can use this powerful workflow to take their multimedia shows to a whole new level. It’s still evolving, but the key thing is that it’s evolving during real tour dates, in different venues, night after night. It’s not an experiment in some laboratory somewhere – nor is it a fixed installation.”

Two more important tools have been cemented into the plug-and-play workflow of the Soundscape solution on the market today. These are the object-positioning software module En-Scene, which Gräfe typically uses to place audio stems within the 180° or 360° field, and the complementary En-Space module, used by Kraftwerk for dedicated effects but capable of comprehensive room enhancement or even the reproduction of entirely synthetic acoustic environments.

© Peter Boettcher

The proof is in the touring

Touring has proven the worth of Soundscape’s designed scalability. Kraftwerk will encounter a venue, determine the best possible configuration for it and proceed accordingly. In other words, graduating to at least 180° immersive audio has done nothing to alter the habit of smart, quick-thinking fixes on which top PA crews pride themselves. “There’s a maximum number of speakers on the truck,” Einsiedel agrees, “but the amount used can change from one night to another for the usual reasons of weight or coverage – you have to, of course. That’s why the integration of workflow into R1 and ArrayCalc is so useful; it’s what makes the whole solution tourable.”

Having a band like Kraftwerk as a de facto development partner in a whole new generation of sound reinforcement technology sets Soundscape apart – just as if Jimi Hendrix had helped in the design of a guitar. While artists as demanding as the authors of Trans-Europe Express explore Soundscape’s possibilities, its techniques are being refined – and its uses perfected – in some very safe hands.

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