d&b Soundscape goes Beyond The Road at the Saatchi Gallery.

© Julian Abrams

A maze of interconnected, eerily lit spaces filled with bizarre, beautiful or nightmarish art and exhibits, Beyond the Road presented visitors to London’s Saatchi Gallery with a unique visual and aural environment which invited them to explore, experience and enjoy in their own way, and at their own pace. With them every step of the way was the d&b Soundscape.

Presented by Beyond Projects in collaboration with the Saatchi Gallery, Beyond The Road was described by the NME as “an art gallery that’s not an art gallery, a listening experience that’s a feast for all of the senses, and a space that takes you out of the real world for as long as you care to stay inside it . . .”

In the words of Beyond Projects, this was “a multi-sensory world led by sound”. The seamless, enveloping sound field, delivering UNKLE’s The Road: Part I and The Road: Part II / Lost Highway, was at the heart of the entire experience.As visitors roamed freely from space to space, through doorways and corridors, the ethereal musical accompaniment was everywhere and ever-present.

Wayne Powell led the sound design project on behalf of d&b, working closely with the creative team. In their work with Punchdrunk, Colin Nightingale and Stephen Dobbie have long been at the forefront of creating immersive experiences.

From the start of the project, flexibility was key. The plan was to create a blank canvas, in which nothing would inhibit the team’s creativity or workflow. By making key design and product decisions in advance, Powell and his team were able to speed up the installation process, allowing more time for creativity. Once onsite, the flexibility of the technology allowed many artistic decisions to be left open to the creative team. The Dante network, R1 software, control network and DS100 meant that processing and Soundscape technology could be moved easily to any point in the exhibit.

On the face of it, delivering a seamless, immersive sound field through seventeen separate but interconnected spaces, presented a challenging task. However, thanks to Soundscape’s now well-established integration within the familiar d&b workflow, the challenges were minimal. The entire system was drawn in d&b ArrayCalc software, meaning that loudspeaker positions, processing, DS100 sound object control and Dante patch, plus integrated amplifier control via the d&b R1 software, was all complete before the team arrived onsite. With the amplifiers in place and the loudspeakers connected, the R1 file was loaded and the system was running.

It was a great way of applying our experience gained from touring to complement a speedy installation.Wayne Powell, d&b GB
© Julian Abrams
© Julian Abrams

The DS100’s numerous plug-ins, allowing for easy DAW software integration, were another advantage. Audio and control existed on an Ethernet network using Dante, OSC and OCA protocols, with switching and network traffic managed by d&b DS10 Audio network bridges. The network was the foundation of the ‘blank canvas’ required to deliver the utmost flexibility to the creative team; although the source material, control and DS100 were physically located in racks, the creative ideas could be applied anywhere.

The DS100 matrix outputs were fed via DS10 Dante-to-AES3 audio network bridges to D20 amplifiers powering a selection of loudspeakers including E4, E8, E12X-SUB and B6-SUB. The design and configuration of the loudspeaker layout, the DS100 early reflection planes and positioning views, the amplifier patch and the Dante preset file, were all achieved within ArrayCalc V10. The sound designers used a combination of R1V3, QLab and Reaper to achieve the desired soundscape for the space.

Using the DS100 matrix and the object positioning software revolutionized how sounds could be manoeuvred around the space.

Soundscape sped up aspects of our creative process, and its intuitive interface disguised an extremely complex tool for creation, allowing for a far more efficient workflow. In the past when we have experimented with spatial sound design, there have been effects that required a lot of manual manipulation – for example, if we want a sound to move around a room, speaker to speaker, we had to manually program fades up and down on individual channels. But once the Soundscape system was set up, these types of effects could be achieved almost instantaneously, allowing more time for experimentation.Stephen Dobbie, Creative Director, Punchdrunk

Along dark passages and through doorways and dog-legged corners, the unbroken sound field accompanies the visitor; multiple loudspeaker systems appear as one, from space to space. Occasionally a sound effect is located at a specific point – at a ghostly piano in one room, for example – but the overall effect is of a constant, diffuse, enveloping sound field. 

From the beginning the team felt it was important that visitors didn’t feel that the journey was starting and stopping, and having ArrayCalc to inform them of how each space would ‘feel’, was a great advantage in this, giving a solid foundation to allow ideas and sounds to flow between spaces.

The technology clearly has implications for the future of immersive experiential and theatrical environments. The speed at which sound can be manipulated with Soundscape means that more considered and precise choices can be made to enhance the overall experience for audiences. Colin Nightingale, Creative Producer, Punchdrunk Using Soundscape for Beyond The Road at Saatchi Gallery definitely allowed us to achieve more in the limited time we had. In our experience, the time available to create in situ is often the factor that ultimately has the biggest impact on the quality of this type of immersive/experiential work. Anything that can potentially allow more creative ideas to be explored quickly is hugely exciting for the future. Colin Nightingale, Creative Producer, Punchdrunk

Beyond The Road was a project with a difference for d&b, and its success is a testament to the d&b workflow, robust enough to transcend any application.

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