You know you’ve entered a unique space when you can’t stop looking up toward the ceiling in an attempt to better appreciate the details of a room. At Octave 9, a new high-tech performance venue that is part of Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, the ceiling invites the eye before what’s delivered to the ear steals the show.
Seattle Symphony‘s Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center was unveiled to outsiders for the first time on Tuesday, ahead of a Sunday grand opening, as representatives from the Symphony and those who helped create the space and its features showed off what’s been happening at the corner of Second Avenue and Union Street for the past eight months.
The 2,500-square-foot, $6.7 million project from LMN Architects brings together cutting-edge technology in sound and visuals to create a venue which Symphony officials said is not replicated anywhere else in the world.
“We really saw an opportunity in this venue to create a place where everyone from Path With Art students to our friends that come to performances can have a place where they can have space for them to experience art,” said project manager Laura Reynolds, Seattle Symphony’s vice president of Education and Community Engagement. She called Octave 9 a home to “invite artists that are working at the most incredible edges of technology and performance together, to imagine what we can create together in the future.”
The immersive environment, which took over space occupied for 16 years by the Soundbridge music education center and classroom, will be home to varying styles of performance. The state-of-the-art Constellation acoustic system from Meyer Sound is what transforms the venue, making it feel like a small club or a concert hall with just the touch of a button.
The honeycomb ceiling, with cells comprised of a felt-like material made from recycled plastic fibers, isn’t very high, but it performs double duty by not only absorbing sound but also concealing a wide array of the tech.
Tim Boot, a representative from Berkeley, Calif.-based Meyer, demonstrated the range of the acoustics as he selected buttons on a touchpad and then moved around the room clapping a set of clave percussion instruments together.
“Let’s raise the roof — and we’re really truly raising the roof,” Boot said as he showed off a selection in Constellation called Sacred Space. “We call it Sacred Space because we’re emulating a cathedral. And essentially what we’ve done here is we’ve raised the ceiling acoustically. You think of a cathedral, it has a very, very high ceiling. And what we’ve done with the loud speakers and microphones is we’ve acoustically raised the ceiling by about 65 feet. This is again the amazing power of the system — without changing the architecture we can change the physical size of the room acoustically. We can make it wider. We can make it taller, we can make it more enveloping.”
The Constellation system relies on 62 overhead loudspeakers; 10 compact subwoofers; four floor box speakers; two PA speakers; 28 miniature overhead microphones; four handheld microphones; and four headset microphones.
“While taking and creating a space that is very much trying to leverage this technology to open new possibilities, the room needed to feel like it could hold its own architectural character, in a way that wasn’t about just coming in and seeing all the gadgets on the ceiling,” said Scott Crawford of LMN Architects.
Designers didn’t just come up with a design and stick speakers and microphones in the holes, Crawford said, but allowed the design to grow around where those systems are located.
Back at eye level, visitors are further immersed inside Octave 9 thanks to visual tech from Belle & Wissell, Co., whose objective was to further extend the palette available to artists and surround the audience in content.
A modular, surround video screen is made up of 13 moveable panels, 10 ultra-short-throw projectors and motion-capture cameras that can create 360-degree visuals inside the room. There are also 61 theatrical LED lights. The visuals respond to sound and motion in the room, and on Tuesday the screens pulsated with waves and bursts of light and color as five members of the Symphony performed three classical pieces in Octave 9.
Gabe Kean with Belle & Wissell said it’s all about enhancing the sensory experience, one that goes beyond the solitary environment a user might partake in while inside a VR headset.
“We got really excited about this project as a way to think about the shared experience that could happen,” Kean said. “It’s a shared experience between audience members, but also it’s one for the composer, the musician, the performer, the educator, to really have a new type of impact, to use the space in a new way.”
The layout of Octave 9 and the visual components can be tailored to different types of performances and varying audience sizes, ranging from about 55 people up to around 125 people.
Seattle Symphony’s artistic programming for the venue will run through June and include five world premieres and music by over 70 contemporary composers. Opening celebrations will feature a 24-hour, nonstop Contemporary Music Marathon with works by over 50 composers and an overnight “sleepover” that begins on March 23 at 5 p.m. and ends at 5 p.m. the next day.