A TECH ENHANCED MUSIC EXPERIENCE
To give you an idea of the scale of the Sphere, it cost $2.3bn, has 18,000 capacity, 167,000 intricate speakers (designed by German sound systems specialists, Holoplot) and a HUGE (imagine something even *bigger than what’s in your head right now) 90 meter circular wraparound LED screen that envelops the dome. The Sphere offers arguably the most technologically advanced atmosphere for fans, and stage performance for artists - which is what we witnessed for its premier with U2.
From the perspective of fans at the gig and watching content on social media, the screens really do seem to be the star of the show at a 12K resolution…each frame of video used for the screens reportedly took approximately 15 minutes to render…260 million video pixels! There were also sensor tracking stage lights .
“I’ve mixed feelings! Obviously, hugely innovative, exciting and impressive and all the natural reactions. But from a show running perspective I thought it was distracting from the performance. All the POV's seemed to be from a height and no-one at ground level…so I'm unsure of the fan experience. I know it's early days and most visuals were partnerships with artists, but, I thought 80% underutilized what was available to them. The sensor tracking stage lights were the most impressive to me.” Dave McCabe, Production Manager, THINKHOUSE
While we’re still at the early stages of technology synchronizing with musical performance, there’s plenty of other examples of these trends taking off - take the holographic performance of the ground-breaking ABBA Voyage as an example… Many artists are also integrating 3D creators and things like 4D sound into live performances. The Sphere signals that tech integration will continue to transform the live experience - it is significant that an entire venue’s capabilities have been designed to enhance the live performance and music of an artist in such an immersive, visual-first way.
COLLABORATIONS ON A CANVAS LIKE NO OTHER
The Sphere’s U2 immersive tech experience is centered around artist collaborations. The gig felt more like an exhibition of a handful of the world's most talented artists than an actual band focused performance. One of the artists that U2 collaborated with to make the visuals for their Sphere performance was Marco Bambilla. He created a piece called ‘King Size’ for their performance as a tribute to Elvis in Las Vegas. He had used Stable Diffusion, an AI application as part of his process, training a model with 12,000 film samples of Elvis.
“From the Brian Eno Turntable stage to the number of creative directors that provided visuals such as Es Devlin, John Gerrard and Marco Bambrilla who all provided otherworldly experiences for the fans lucky enough to attend. One thing we can take away from it is that it will continue to break barriers in terms of how to experience a live performance.” Andy Mynes, Production, THINKHOUSE
In an interview with Willie Williams, Bambilla mention’s that simple graphics on the screen are impressive, but they had an opportunity to shapeshift the entire room, and transport the audience to another world: “The building is a canvas we’ve been given, so we have to use it.”
FANS ACROSS THE WORLD REACT
We spoke to one member of the Love Network who was at the very first show in Las Vegas: “...the visuals transported you into another world that felt futuristic, the immersive sound technology meant the music could be heard 360 degrees and the sound and the energy in the room was magic.” Clarissa, 27, The Love Network
It’s no wonder then, that the performance had every social media platform absolutely flooded with breathtaking videos of the mind blowing visuals. Many videos are being shared across all social platforms but particularly TikTok - #spherelasvegas currently has 115.2m views on the platform. The reaction online has been overwhelmingly positive, with fans imagining future possible experiences:
“Awesome, bet you couldn't count all the goose bumps in there..” - @wirelesstechsupplies on Instagram
“coldplay a sky full of stars performance here would be enough to make a grown man like me cry” - @cj20, on TikTok
@whatyounburpingabout - “Frank Ocean singing “Self Control” would feel like you’re in heaven” on TikTok
A very small number of those in the industry weren't impressed. One musician commented on ‘X’: “What is this rubbish? Half the world is burning and there's more energy and resources being poured in to bringing cheap shit like this into existence. We should be screaming to stop this stuff. If you want to see 'incredible visuals' have a look at the stars up in the sky.” Martin Leahy. However most social media users who weren’t talking about the awe-inspiring visuals used the opportunity to make jokes about U2’s habit of experimenting at the cutting edge of music technology, negatively referencing U2’s infamous 2014 Apple partnership (which saw the Songs of Innocence album loaded onto iPhone user’s devices automatically, without their consent): “I’ll never forgive U2 for what they did to my iPod” claimed one TikTok user in a comment.
In fact, Apple facilitated part of the conversation, by bringing Zane Lowe, Bono and the Edge together to showcase the journey to the Sphere on YouTube, a little over 5 months ago. This is an important role for social media to play - to highlight the behind the scenes and act as a teaser / hype-builder for what was to come. But it also showed a lot of humanity behind the project - from highlighting the construction crew working on the project to the band’s own motivation and previous stresses centering around noise quality at their shows.
The Best Immersive Experiences Value Collaborators - To create immersive experiences that fans will value, collaborations with visual artists and creative technologists bring added value over and above music artists. As well as bringing something new and unexpected to the table when it comes to visuals, sound or set, they expand the scope for spokespeople in earned PR communications.
Innovation Gets Fans Talking - Anything new and immersive in the world of fan experiences gets people talking - especially when it’s super shareable online. Our Creative Technology and Innovation team are constantly experimenting with new ways for brands to show up using the latest tech. Check out some of our recent work with Lynx here and Heineken here.