Approaching the Sonic Sphere, a one-of-a-kind concert hall now installed at The Shed in the Hudson Yards, one feels like you’re entering the future, or possibly a previously unknown planet.
Cinematic in its scope, the 65 foot diameter sphere floats suspended in the air — 34 feet off the the ground — and is accessed by a 50 step climb (a lift is available for those with accessibility needs). It wouldn’t be surprising to suddenly hear the “Star Wars” theme as you near the structure (in your head, at least).
Once inside, the musical programs — which range from Carl Craig’s ambient techno to Steve Reich’s groundbreaking minimalism — surround you from everywhere as the 124 speakers and 6 double sub-woofers play mixes that have been created just for the venue. The whole sphere pulsates with light as well, again perfectly designed to complement the music.
Chances are, however, that the audience of 250 people immersed in the experience have no idea that the whole thing began in a bedroom in London with a spark of inspiration from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Kugelauditorium, a spherical concert hall created in 1970.
Ed Cooke, described as the “impresario” of the team responsible for this iteration of the project, first created a version of the sphere in April of 2021. Having been inspired by Stockhausen’s construct — which was actually 2/3 of a sphere — Cooke set out to fill a void, as he found it ridiculous that no one had expanded on the idea since.
“I’ve always loved the magical richness of the different shapes that the human mind can take on,” he expounds. “Whether through the perception of nature, through music, imagination or storytelling. I think of cultural spaces as the essence of human life.”
“The heart of this project is community,” he further explains. The collaborative team includes Merijn Royaards (creative director) Nicholas Christie (engineering director) and Polina Zakh (lighting design), among others.
Cooke sold his bitcoin to finance the project and began a program of rapid iteration, striving to create a better version of the sphere every two months. As a result, the current version (the 11th) is four times larger than the previous one. It’s also the first one to be suspended rather than on legs.
The specific combination of light and sound, Cooke explains, “creates a hyper-sensory object. The thing about spacialized sound is that it can be combined with spacialized light to achieve a thrilling experience where you can see the shape of the sound. Experimenting is the core of this project and the whole thing is about transformation.”
While there will be live performances as well as the pre-recorded pieces, attendees of the taped sounds have mentioned to Cooke that the experience has been revelatory even to fans who thought they were familiar with their favorite music. “One person who had listened hundreds of times told me that he heard things that he had never heard before.”
Music is not only a part of his creation, it is part of the inspiration.
“Music is about the interior architecture and dynamics of the human spirit,” Cooke muses. “My dream for this project is that this becomes a launch party for the concept and that there will be more commissions for this sort of thing.”