90 seconds with Cocolab
02 August 2019
Creating the audio for Weaving
The main priority when making an immersive experience is to create a sound that captivates and carries the audience through their journey in a sutil and natural way. “I think we don’t realize this, but audio is 50% of any immersive experience,” says Eugene Toale, one of the three musicians behind the music for Weaving. So, is audio the unsung hero of multimedia experiences? Their creators and artists aim to inspire something that would simply be missed without a sound or music cue. Edi Kistler and Eugene Toale, heads of the sound department in Cocolab, tell us about their experience creating audio and music for immersive experiences and the process of creating the music for Weaving, a light installation created by Cocolab and commissioned by SXSW on March of this year.
In your opinion, what role does audio play in an immersive experience?

Eugene: I don’t think any of us realized this when we started making this kind of work, but audio and sound, and even music is 50% of these experiences. Even after dedicating my life to this business, I feel quite surprised when I realize how off it feels to see just the lighting or whatever we are projecting when we turn off the systems to check things and do tests. And it is visually cool and all, but you know, everyone wants to turn the sound and music back on.
So even early in the process, when I’m still writing, it’s amazing to have so much as an imperfect version of the music or sound effects than nothing at all. Not only is the sound and the music hugely important for the immersive feeling but actually the visuals call for something that anyone would miss if they didn’t hear a musical or sound cue that go with it.

Edi: Audio is a key piece in any immersive experience as it targets a sense that is always attentive, but that is more often than not taken for granted. We are more used to be on the lookout for visual stimuli, but while something amazing is happening in front of your eyes, we use sound and audio to boost the emotion and really convey the whole message.

What are the biggest challenges of creating immersive audio?

Eugene: There’s always a challenge, but we don’t know what it is until we get to the site. Being in the place where the piece will be showcased is very different than being in the studio, everything in the studio is pretty straightforward, but when we get to the site I have to use the room, the acoustics, and speaker placement, so we usually allow time to finish the content in the room that the piece is going to be exhibited in.

Edi: A major challenge when making audio for immersive experiences is not getting caught. If you are walking in the woods and listening to the sounds of nature, becoming entangled in a magical atmosphere, you can’t go like “there’s a speaker there, and another one there.” So, understanding that in terms of space and distance has been one of the coolest and more important challenges and lessons of this because if people catch your tricks, you kill the whole experience.

What was the process of creating the audio for Weaving?

Eugene: For Weaving we did it almost backwards. We got inspired by seeing things here at Cocolab, and by seeing what was ready of the visuals, and then the three of us—we’ve been playing together for a very long time—just improvised the music. That pretty much took one fun day. Then when I got to SXSW in Texas, I actually spent about a week inside the facility really doing a detailed mix and getting all the details right, so Weaving was built upside down in the sense that we played the music and created the content very quickly and then it took a long time to make it perfect and immersive in the space itself. I really enjoyed the process because instead of writing the music and worrying about it here in the studio for eight weeks, we played it in one day and then dedicated a big amount of attention already on site.

Edi: First we had several meetings where they explained to us the idea behind Weaving and where they wanted to take the experience. They said, for example, that it was going to be a huge digital loom and the obvious path for us was to do something very digital, microchips and the like, right? Very Matrix. And really, what we did was the complete opposite, we did a three musicians ensemble, we recorded everything, each musician invented their tools and chose their instruments, we then talked about what we wanted to do for about five hours and recorded it in 10 to 15 minutes. So it was a lot of planing and a lot of strategy, but we let ourselves be carried away by improvisation. The piece is no longer musically attached to a grid and it is not that “tech”, we gave it a twist.

How important is the audio in a light installation like Weaving?

Eugene: In Weaving the audio and the visuals were always together. When Guillaume in the visual department changed things, I had to change things in the audio as well, and I would say that was pretty much what the six days of work in Texas were. So the visual and audio pieces were absolutely integrated, if you had shut off one of them you would have really missed something. They were one and the same by the time we put up the show—what was happening in the music was happening in the visuals and the other way around.

Edi: I think audio enhances the emotion in Weaving and it grabs you by the hand and takes you through the emotional ride. So, the visuals in Weaving are pretty impressive, they are the “eye candy” of the piece, but audio and music put the emotions on top.