Madison Square Garden Co. officials discussed plans Tuesday for the new arena, to be built in East London. (Courtesy Madison Square Garden Co.)
The Madison Square Garden Co. is pushing technological boundaries with plans for its new venue, the Sphere. One of the most exciting features of the immersive experience will be its audio system, which delivers the same audio quality irrespective of seat location.
“In current venues, the sound is unevenly distributed,” said MSG Ventures CEO David Dibble at the venue’s unveiling Tuesday in London’s Copper Box Arena.
“We use a modular, steerable audio system that delivers the optimal audio mix for every seat in the house simultaneously, putting every guest in the sweet spot,” Dibble explained. “Using state-of-the-art beam-forming technology, audio is directed to specific sections of the venue, at near constant sound pressure levels from point of origin to destination.”
Wave field synthesis, plane waves, infrasound, near-field steerable arrays and delay vector systems are just some of the technologies that are slated to be deployed in the Sphere. Dibble said the audience would be enveloped in sound.
He wasn’t joking, and guests were able to see for themselves. MSG (which also has a joint venture with Irving Azoff, co-founder of Oak View Group, VenuesNow’s parent company) had flown in an entire Sphere science lab, demonstrating some of the future venue’s features. MSG Ventures’ principal for audio systems and acoustics, Erik Hockman, was on site to demonstrate some of the audio capabilities. He said that, because of the ability to control the speakers individually, “I can make every kind of waveform known to mankind—and some that actually aren’t.”
The ability to direct audio beams, for example, could come in handy at events where keynotes are translated for an international audience. Listeners no longer need headsets; they simply need to take a seat in a row allocated to their language. Artists could potentially get rid of in-ear monitor systems. Dibble said: “In-ears go away. The system will identify you, and your beam will follow you around as you perform.” It’s the audio version of a spotlight.
James Dolan, MSG chairman and CEO, said the venue was inspired by “The Veldt,” a science fiction short story written by Ray Bradbury in 1951 about a home in the distant future in which the walls of a room have the ability to display real places from the outside world, including the sounds and smells associated with them.
Whether the Sphere is going to simulate smells remains to be, well, smelled, but there was much else to be experienced with one’s remaining senses: Demos included a virtual reality tour of the future auditorium, infrasound demonstrations and a mini Sphere, which guests could enter to get a sense of the real thing.
The actual Sphere will have a seating capacity of just more than 18,000 and a total capacity of about 22,000, said Jayne McGivern, MSG’s executive vice president for development and construction. The site in London will encompass 4.7 acres, compared will 18.9 acres for MSG’s Las Vegas Sphere project. The building’s convenience to public transportation at its location in the East London district of Stratford will result in a reduced need for new parking.
McGivern, who also developed the O2, explained that some aspects of the building have never been done. The immersive surface, for example, has to be “absolutely perfect” noting that the total construction time “from when we start on site to opening will be probably about 30 months.”
MSG is still going through the design and construction phases aiming to submit its planning application by the end of the year. Once those have been approved, construction can begin.
The vaulted screen within the Sphere will be capable of displaying a resolution of about 16,000 by 16,000 pixels. Said Dolan: “No longer will the audience be looking through a rectangular window. Instead they will be immersed in an environment that can be as large as the cosmos, or as small as the inside of a wristwatch.”
“And as your focus moves from one side of the visual plane to the other, so will the sound. You will not only hear the sound, you will feel it. And not just the big sounds, but the sound made by two gears meshing inside your watch. As you travel through the desert, the heat will bake you and emanate from the sun, the rainforest will be humid and the snowstorm cool.”
One of the Sphere’s major design specifications was to get as close to a VR experience as possible without having to wear goggles. The high resolution allows for a true sense of depth without being disorientated.
Dibble added that “the vast majority of the technology we’re putting in the Sphere when it’s built does not truly exist today,” at least not at concert venues. “I met with an Italian partner today.They’ve custom-designed a floor actuator for us for the vibrating floors,” he said.
Audience members will be also able to interact with one another as well as with the artists through the MSG Sphere app: finding friends in the venue, voting on set lists in real time or engaging in gaming events are just some examples.
MSG President Andrew Lustgarten thinks having more venues in a city increases the market size, pointing to New York City, which has a population nearly the same as London’s but seven large-scale venues rather than London’s two. “In 2012, when New York added its seventh venue (Barclays Center), we saw a 52 percent growth in the concert market,” he said. “The same happened in Los Angeles when we opened the Forum in 2014. The market grew 65 percent. We expect the same thing to happen here.”
“We have more than two times as many events in New York, a city of the same size,” Lustgarten said. “O2 is going to continue to be extremely busy. It’s a fabulous venue. We just think this market’s going to grow up.”
Lustgarten emphasized that MSG Sphere London will be “an open venue,” and would work with all promoters. He believes the theater-style circular seating, with all seats facing forward, will offer “better views, better experiences than any other venue in the world.”