Karen O and Danger Mouse Explore the Immersive in ‘An Encounter With Lux Prima’

This April, Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O and artist/producer Danger Mouse premiered "An Encounter With Lux Prima," an immersive installation that brought the music of their new album, Lux Prima, to life at Los Angeles’ Marciano Art Foundation.

The artists aimed to engage audiences in an environment that transcended the traditional limitations of a stage performance: Participants gathered in a cavernous gallery space, sitting on a grass floor surrounding a massive, irregular stone monolith; dynamic lighting and mapped projections illuminated the monolith and walls while a custom-built Meyer Sound spatial sound system enveloped listeners in music and effects. (Meyer VLFC ultra-low-frequency subwoofers provided bone-shaking, visceral infrasonic punch.)

The installation was created in collaboration with creative director Barnaby Clay, Oscar-nominated sound designer Ren Klyce, lighting designer Tobias Rylander, visual artist Davy Evans, and creative consultant Warren Fu.

immersive installation Lux Prima sound system

In many ways, says Klyce, the experience was a throwback to the days when people got together to listen to their favorite songs together: “Fundamentally, at its roots, it’s getting back to listening to music with a bunch of people.”

Realizing that goal meant making music the hero, says producer Mungo Maclagan. “In today’s multimedia environment, visual image is given prime position in our storytelling culture,” he explains. “Despite the enduring popularity of song, interpretations of music more often than not revolve around literal and narrative visual depictions of the musical content...our main challenge was to create an audiovisual journey for our audience where the visuals didn’t overwhelm the audio, or dictate literal interpretation.” 

Ren Klyce created the immersive soundtrack at his post facility and Skywalker Sound, building a 7.1 mix from multitrack masters augmented by additional object-oriented spatial sound elements. “It was very challenging,” says Klyce,“because we had to find out a way to make it 360 degree soundfield yet have isolation so that each person, no matter where they are in the audience, feels like the music is coming toward them.”

immersive installation Lux Prima sound system

“On a practical level, we had to begin designing all the elements with a lot of imagination, since we didn’t actually get a chance to listen to the dimensional sound mix (at Skywalker Sound) until quite late in the process,” says Maclagan.

Skywalker engineer Brian Long designed the onsite system, working in collaboration with Meyer Sound’s Michael Maxson and Bob McCarthy. Twelve UPQ-1P loudspeakers supplied the full-range LCR program, with an additional UPQ-1P overhead; four surround channels each employed two UPQ-2P loudspeakers, and 900-LFCs and three VLFCs rounded out the low end.

An identical sound system was set up at Skywalker for the final pre-mix with Mungo Maclagan, Karen O and Danger Mouse on hand. “We had listened to some of the other technologies when we’d visited Meyer Sound headquarters earlier,” recalls Maclagan, “but we didn’t hear the VLFCs until Skywalker. That was literally an earth-shaking experience.”

The sound was synced to the video and lighting effects, with spatial sound movements and visual show control managed by a Meyer Sound D-Mitri digital audio platform, programmed by Martin Carrillo of Los Angeles-based Heardrum.

Maclagan says immersive media presents thrilling new opportunities for artists to push the boundaries of the music and sound experience and make a lasting impression on participants.I strongly believe that the combination of cutting-edge immersive technologies, be they audio or visual, combined with emotionally engaged storytelling can yield truly memorable experiences for audiences, that extend the dialog with the work,” he explains.

“These more cutting-edge projects also act as a test bed for what’s to come, since new technologies will continue to embellish and evolve our experience of music and performance. It’s only with the vision of true creatives and artists that we can use these tools to their best effect.”

Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: MixEQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.