The music and entertainment industry showed up in force Thursday morning at the Fabulous L.A. Forum, where The Madison Square Garden Company’s Executive Chairman/CEO Jim Dolan and partner Irving Azoff turned the venue’s bowels into a self-dubbed Science Fair. The occasion: the official introduction of their high-concept take on the modern-day arena, MSG Sphere.
Boasting a futuristic look halfway between the 1964 New York World’s Fair Unisphere and Buckminster Fuller’s fabled geodesic dome, 18,000-seat MSG Spheres are currently planned for both Las Vegas and London, where it will presumably present an alternative to rival AEG’s The O2 Arena.
“The whole thing is the brainchild and life’s work of Mr. James Dolan,” stated Azoff before introducing his partner, who pointed out how the pair’s remodeling of The Forum into a performance-only venue gave them the inspiration for MSG Sphere.
Insisting MSG Sphere is “a new way to tell stories,” Dolan cited a short one: “The Veldt,” from one of his favorite sci-fi writers, Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man,” in which a children’s playroom could be transformed into any environment by the kids’ imagination, in the tome’s case, the grasslands of southern Africa. What Bradbury dubbed “the liquid crystal room,” Dolan reconfigures as 350-foot round dome, completely covered on the outside and inside by programmable, wraparound LED screens, with a 170,000 square foot display plane within the arena itself. It’s “the largest and highest resolution on earth,” capable of displaying 250 million pixels, more than 100 times clearer than today’s available HD TV technology. The outside wrap of the Sphere can be turned into any number of visuals, from a giant tennis ball to a world globe, from displaying a performance going on inside or even making Sphere blend in with the surrounding skyline.
Ticking across multiple senses, Dolan promises not only innovations in sight, but also sound, with a revolutionary acoustic system which uses a technology dubbed beam-forming that customizes the sound to each individual in the audience, as if they were wearing 360-degree surround headphones that place each sound in physical space.
In addition, an “infrasound haptic” flooring system will convey bass sounds through the floor, meaning guests can now “feel” the experience, as well as taking the old concept of “Smell-a-vision” and filling the room with scents such as “baking cookies, newly-mowed grass or fresh flowers,” to enhance ongoing developments in Augmented and Mixed Reality.
“It’s time to build a venue for our time,” chimed the narrator on the short film about MSG Sphere. “A venue whose technology, culture and society can converge, to create experiences that haven’t been imagined, let alone seen.”
A section of the auditorium was set aside for demonstrations of the various advances, including a super resolution camera for motion capture and a modular, steerable audio system that allows every single ticket-holder to share the “sweet spot” which directs sound to specific locations in the bowl at a near-constant volume from point of origin to destination.
As for internet connectivity, Dolan revealed a new “architecture,” that will deliver 20 megabits per second for every guest, allowing for greater interaction and the ability to download large video files.
Dolan went on to describe the three types of entertainment he is planning for MSG Sphere, including large-scale multimedia narratives with immersive, wraparound environments to create a library, calling on Hollywood’s story-tellers, artists and performers to create spectacles for the space, using new tools like “The Palette,” a capture system that will transport you to filmed environments. Second will be musical performances, with fantasy possibilities like The Beatles playing on the roof of the Apple building, Pink Floyd recreating their concert at Pompeii or Sting performing in a simulated Amazon rainforest. The third application will be for “education and product demonstrations… where it can be a powerful teacher and communicator by elevating our understanding of history, physical and social sciences.”
The Spheres are not so much built as assembled like Legos, with groundbreaking for the Las Vegas venue (on Sands Avenue between Manhattan Street and Koval Lane, with a pedestrian bridge connecting it to Las Vegas Sands Venetian and Palazzo complex) set for later this summer. A 2020 New Year’s Eve opening is the goal.
The MSG Sphere London will occupy five acres of land in Stratford, London, directly east of the Westfield Stratford City shopping center, with a goal of submitting its planning application by the end of 2018.
Comparing it to the Roman Colosseum, the Greek amphitheater or Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Dolan promises “a virtual simulation of the senses that takes you to other worlds to create new memories.”