When Bon Iver’s eponymous sophomore album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, dropped ten years ago, it was widely praised by music critics, debuting at the number two spot on the Billboard 200 US chart and earning the group Grammy Awards for both Best Alternative Music Album and Best New Artist. To properly celebrate the anniversary of this milestone release, frontman Justin Vernon and his band brought the album to life in its entirety, plus additional material, with a pair of immersive live shows dubbed “Sincerely Grateful” at the new YouTube Theater at Hollywood Park using L-ISA technology.
Not only did this exclusive two-day event mark the first concerts that the group had performed in more than a year and a half, but it also represented the first official worldwide deployment of the new L-Acoustics L-ISA Processor II. Using this next-generation 3D audio processing engine, FOH engineer Xandy Whitesel mixed two shows that garnered huge praise from both patrons and press alike for their ultra-high-resolution, panoramic sound.
“My goal with this band is always to enhance the music and connect with the audience, not distract them with the sound,” Whitesel shares. “When it comes to immersive audio, there’s a fine line between glitz and gold, but the intimacy that L-ISA can bring to even a big venue like the YouTube Theater is amazing. I equate it to what it must have been like going from listening to mono recordings in the ’50s to first hearing stereo in the ’60s. Suddenly there’s a whole new world out there, and it’s much more sonically interesting and engaging.”
He adds that the L-Acoustics immersive audio platform allows him to “more easily make my mix sound huge and beautiful, and I can use spatial panning in ways that I’d previously feel guilty for,” he laughs. “That can radically change how one mixes because normally we make so many choices and compromises based on building a clean and big-sounding ‘mono-ish’ left-right mix. With L-ISA, the mix from my FOH position translates consistently to almost the entire venue—not just to a narrow strip of audience standing in the middle of the room. I heard someone describe these YouTube Theater shows as a ‘visceral, communal explosion of emotion,’ which perfectly sums up the ideal Bon Iver concert experience that L-ISA helps create.”
Whitesel is no stranger to L-ISA. Not only did he use the technology for the second leg of the band’s i,i tour in early 2020, but he also first explored it with a still-legendary one-off concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl two years prior. The recent availability of L-ISA Processor II, he says, makes an already great thing even better.
“The new spatial front-fill is an uber-cool improvement,” he enthuses. “Before now, front-fill was mono, and so this new ability finally brings a full spatially immersive experience to the very front rows. L-Acoustics has also developed a new reverb that’s remarkable. The ones that I normally use are stereo, whereas the onboard L-ISA reverb spreads out the ‘verb tail amongst the whole L-ISA configuration, and it sounds fantastic.
“The new Controller software adds several new features that greatly enhance usability as well. There is a feature for tying solo on the desk—in my case, a DiGiCo Quantum7 feeding out to all of L-ISA’s 96 available objects—to focus on the correct object in the L-ISA Controller software. And they added compatibility with stereo channels and groups, which also helped me easily translate my left-right session and left-right brain to the L-ISA Scene/Extension setup. Even though it does take some training and practice to optimally use object-based audio, I don’t think it’s possible to have a bad mix with L-ISA.”
Although it would be easy to assume that transitioning a 6,000-seat venue’s fixed stereo loudspeaker system into a 7.1 L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal spatial audio design might require a significant investment in additional gear and time, these two shows quickly disproved that. YouTube Theater’s stage PA primarily features 57 L-Acoustics K2 and 30 Kara II enclosures that make up the LCR main arrays and out-fill hangs. For Bon Iver’s shows, local Certified Provider 3G Productions brought in only 11 more K2, plus two dozen extra Kara II for the panoramic system’s Extension arrays. Furthermore, the switchover time to lower, reconfigure, and re-fly the entire loudspeaker system to match the L-ISA design required only five hours from start to finish.
For these shows, five Scene arrays spread out and flown over the width of the stage, all featured ten K2 over four Kara II down-fills, paired with far left and right Extension arrays, both composed of a dozen Kara II. Nine K2 over six Kara II per side served as out-fill hangs, while six Kara II per side functioned as over-balcony out-fills. Two arrays of eight KS28 subwoofers each were hung behind the center array in a cardioid configuration, with a further 12 KS28 positioned on the floor across the full arc of the stage. A dozen Kiva II spread out across the stage lip delivered spatial front-fill for the first several rows of seating. LA12X amplified controllers fully powered the entire system, which was driven by an L-ISA Processor II and three P1 digital audio processors, all on redundant Milan-AVB networking.
L-Acoustics Head of Product and Technology Marketing Scott Sugden describes the end result of what more than 180 loudspeakers combined with object-based mixing delivered: “Although most fans walking into these shows didn’t know what to expect, what they heard was much more clear, detailed, and nuanced than they had ever experienced before. Even if they were seated all the way at the back of the venue, it felt like Justin was ten feet in front of them. The effects of his voice engulfed the entire theater and enveloped each patron with sound, giving the shows the intimacy of listening to the band on headphones. But it also very much had the dynamic raw power of a live performance and the ability to connect the fans with the artists on stage.
“L-Acoustics has spent the last 30 years developing technologies to ensure that everyone in the audience has an amazing experience, and L-ISA is the absolute culmination of those efforts. It will be hard for those fans who were at one of these shows to go back to a ‘regular’ concert again after experiencing this.”
The array of post-event press buzz is enough to convince even the most casual music lovers that Sugden is spot-on. “Watching the show in the dazzling immersive soundscape got me thinking about other albums that should be given the immersive L-ISA treatment,” says Steve Baltin of Forbes.
“Called L-ISA Hyperreal Sound, Bon Iver’s ‘Sincerely Grateful’ celebratory shows feature ultra-high resolution spatial audio that would make any audiophile grin,” remarked Billboard correspondent Kristin Robinson.
Rebecca Aaron of Cultured states, “What made these live shows particularly special, however, was the quality of their sound… L-Acoustics’ L-ISA Hyperreal Sound, a new immersive technology that takes live music to its most elevated sonic experience yet.”
Whitesel agrees that these shows were indeed transcendent. “It was a cathartic experience for myself, the band, and the audience,” he says. “From a personal perspective, to be mixing my favorite band in a wonderful, huge, brand new venue on an insanely good PA is amazing. I feel very lucky for the opportunity. This show felt, in many ways, like the ideal version of a live Bon Iver show. I’m very proud of the band for pulling their performance together after having been away from each other for so long. Pros! They had the time of their lives up there, and so did I using L-ISA again.”
“Bon Iver Returns to Live in L-ISA Immersive,” a video on these two shows at the YouTube Theater, can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7kwn6ZoVKM