13 November 2015

From Liverpool to New York: a journey through sound

To mark the 175th anniversary of the first Cunard Lines transatlantic crossing, the UK retail and leisure complex, Liverpool ONE, asked composer Martyn Ware to create a 3D soundscape celebrating the city’s historical and cultural connections with New York. “From that small beginning,” explained Ware, “I then suggested, why not make the experience a trip there and back. Almost 8,000,000 people emigrated to the United States through Liverpool. That's a strong narrative.” The result was an immersive experience, evoking the port, the people and their voyages to the new world, through music and the spoken word.

Ware and his company Illustrious have an established reputation for 3D sound compositions, often working with specialist company Encore Pro Audio Ltd to realize projects. “They understand what it is we’re trying to achieve and they have a fully road-tested methodology in making installations such as this. We like to use systems from d&b audiotechnik because they’re just the best loudspeakers for us for the kind of beauty and complexity we’re trying to achieve.”

“It’s most important that the technology should be as invisible as possible in a visual and listening sense. Nothing should distract the listener from engaging with the sound. There are many excellent small loudspeakers but quality reproduction is required, coupled with properly defined spatial control, a critical factor if a 3D soundscape is to maintain a coherent form.”

Encore placed more than thirty loudspeakers, mainly d&b E8s, over three vertical levels within the confines of Liverpool’s South John Street. “Naturally the local authority, the landlords, and the store occupiers, all have an interest in how it's going to function and whether it will affect the smooth flow and running of the place. When we revisited some of the store managers many said they didn't even notice the loudspeakers or the cabling. When my technical assistant Asa Bennett and I turned up for the tests we were thrilled; the sound platform established by Encore was already magical.”

“Of course you do have to balance,” added Ware. “We have multiple sources over three vertical layers and to create the proper soundfield requires subtle differences in time and level to each localised position, which we do using the d&b R1 Remote control software. We have to make a nominal decision; you can't optimize for everywhere, but we can create an ideal transit through the sound environment. In that sense the seamless listening experience between any two adjacent d&b cabinets is a significant contribution to making that achievable.”

“The perfect listening position would be midway between the levels. Here we have loaded the sound from the higher level. It's a subjective process; we think it’s more magical and ethereal if it feels like it's coming from above. There’s a feedback loop with sound levels, if you make it too loud locally, people, visitors, will become noisier themselves, so again you have to set an idealised level.”

“Ultimately visitors should be able to close their eyes and not discern from where the sound is coming,” concluded Ware. “Believe me, we have worked with other sound companies and none have been able to achieve the same results with different loudspeaker systems.”

 

Photographs courtesy of Liverpool City Council.