Sound as Art. Vietnamese artist Phạm Minh Hiếu pushes the boundaries of d&b Soundscape in new Exhibition.

Today, sound is itself a dimension of a performance, one that connects directly with the audience and enhances their perception of art. For contemporary artist Phạm Minh Hiếu, d&b Soundscape became a vessel for his artistic expression.

Through a collaboration representing the awakening of Vietnamese contemporary art culture, Phạm was commissioned to create an installation for the unveiling of a new art space based in Hanoi called The Outpost. The installation, which runs from 29 Nov 2022 to 28 Feb 2023, seeks to respect the past of Vietnam, recognize the present, and dream of the future by bringing together six Vietnamese contemporary artists of all ages and demographics.

Phạm Minh Hiếu’s work titled "The Contemporary" is a “total installation” that takes audiences on a journey through the history of artistic expression in his home country, with the audience guided by footsteps of “wanderers”, helping them picture the Vietnamese contemporary art landscape. The installation uses d&b Soundscape to bring the sound of these invisible wanderers alive as they roam the exhibit, evoking their presence and superimposing their realms onto the physical site of the exhibition.

Born in Hanoi, Vietnam, Phạm is known for his work exploring “contemporary conditions”. His art aims to question the concept of temporality in the world and begins with the assumption that art’s ability to investigate the present and make meaning from it can lead to an understanding of a wider culture and society. Phạm Minh Hiếu does this through “total installations,” dwellings where he “ponders the complexity of contemporaneity and speculates withdrawn realities”.

With traditional sound systems using level panning it would have been impossible to achieve spatialisation so quickly. d&b Soundscape is a great system for this purpose since it supports object-based audio and is easy to use for scenarios where audio needs to be moved around the space seamlessly. In “The Contemporary”, the sound system is placed in different rooms and we have to send contents across these rooms to trigger much bigger sound events to achieve a tsunami of sound. Soundscape’s visualization of sound makes it much easier for everyone involved in this project to understand how sound travels from one room to another room and how we can design the sound to interact with the museum visitors.Ningru (Ning) Guo, Sound Designer

Soundscape is an audio system platform that allows designers to create high resolution sound experiences. Utilising object based mixing, Soundscape enables localisation and imaging of sound objects within the chosen sound design field. Soundscape can also modify or create emulated acoustic signatures, both indoors and outdoors. A d&b Soundscape system comprises: the DS100 Signal Engine, and two software modules, En-Scene, for object-based positioning; and En-Space for room-emulation.

By using En-Scene, a sound object positioning tool, Phạm could work with the individual placement and movement of up to 64 sound objects. As audiences make their way through the non-linear exhibit, these ethereal presences will be heard not seen as Soundscape captivates visitors with this unique sensory experience and guides them through the works of other artists, propelling them to attain multiple perspectives of the exhibition and come up with their own definition of “being contemporary” and “Vietnamese contemporary art”. The installation encompasses the entire exhibit space providing an underlying but critical atmospheric element, equally present and absent at the same time.

To add to the “total installation” concept, there are scenarios in which Guo and Phạm planted triggers around the gallery to increase interactivity and engagement. These triggers were able to respond to the various distances and sounds from the visitors with various predetermined sounds designed using Soundscape to transform the gallery experience into a fully immersive one. In this case, the actions of the visitors would also result in a consequence which is translated aurally.

“Because I wanted my wanderers to move very precisely in different directions, only Soundscape would allow me to do that,” commented Phạm. “I needed a system that lets me move the sound so the audience can recognize the physicality and movements of the sound sources and follow them. Even though my wanderers are invisible, I want their presences to be vividly signaled through sound, and d&b had the capacity to deliver that.”

Complementing Soundscape, the team also utilized d&b’s xS-Series. With their unobtrusive cabinet design the xS loudspeakers are ideally suited for a contemporary art space like The Outpost. For added flexibility, rotatable horns enable the loudspeakers to be deployed in either orientation, while the cardioid subwoofer technology delivers low frequencies exactly where needed and not behind the system. This setup helps the system to hide at the peripheral of the visitors’ attention when they are musing on other artworks, and can easily return to their focus once the sound plays.

This is the first time d&b has worked on an art installation in Vietnam, with this extraordinary exhibition pushing the boundaries of Soundscape, something that the d&b team was very willing and excited to take on.

d&b had faith in me as a young creator, and supported my work. They believed in my vision and wanted the technology to work with me and for me, rather than me being constrained by its limitations. For me that was incredibly motivating and I look forward to continuing to work with d&b and using Soundscape to explore the horizons of creating immersive experiences for my “total installations.”Phạm Minh Hiếu, Artist
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