Ask an expert
Sound to Create Immersive Experiences

Sound and music can make or break an attraction, so how do we make sure guests reach maximum aural pleasure? We asked a panel of experts


Sound has just as much influence on the way we interpret and feel the world around us as the things we see and touch. Some argue it’s an even more visceral sense, yet sound designers are too often the unsung heroes of a winning exhibition or theme park experience.

As audiovisual technology continues to advance, guests are able to be more deeply immersed in experiences than ever before. With the rise of VR has come the rise of 3D sound, a binaural technique that creates a sound environment that’s like the real world. Binaural sound needs to be fed through headphones and – like VR – can be considered too isolating for most attractions. However, with clever sound design and cutting-edge sound systems, ultra-realistic sound is being used in projects like You Say You Want a Revolution? – Records and Rebels 1966-1970, which is currently showing at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Here, Sennheiser used sounds from Woodstock festival in 1969 to create an authentic, historical experience (page 48).

But operators don’t have to invest in top-end equipment to create an immersive soundscape for their attraction, ride or exhibit. Planning how and when to use sound, building in suspense and considering how to make the most of the available technology are all vital ingredients that can make a real, emotional difference on any scale.



Dan Savage Founder Dan Savage Design & Sound

 

Dan Savage uses soundscapes to enhance visitors’ emotional experience
 

To create a cutting-edge aural experience in an attraction, I visually map out the sound experience on paper first and pinpoint where the moments of surprise, emotion, tension and break, peaks and troughs and drama should occur. All of this is invisible to the visitor, but they will feel it – if only subconsciously. My aim is always to create something that the visitor will recall later: an earworm melody, a mood, a surprise or reveal. Sometimes, silence is as powerful as noise.

If I’m making sound to synchronise with moving images, there will be moments where the two can combine with impact. Some of the tricks employed in the cinema can be used in attractions, but in a more three-dimensional way; for example, physically moving the sound around the space and using ultra-low-frequency sound, which is not necessarily heard, but can unsettle people.

A suitable sound system is essential, but it doesn’t have to be technically complex or prohibitively expensive to be a success, it just has to be deployed in the right way. As a 3D designer, I’m always thinking about sound in 3D – where it should be and how it could be used to maximum effect. One of the most important processes is the on-site mix. You could have the best sound system in the world, but if you don’t sit in the space and “design” the sound to work in it, you will never get the best results.

In summer 2016, with Centrescreen Productions, I designed my most immersive piece of work yet: a 30-minute walk-through experience at the Rio Olympics, which followed the journey of an athlete. At certain points, you heard the narrator talking directly to you and at others you’d be visually and aurally submerged in water, standing in a field of corn or experiencing the rush of entering the Olympic stadium. There were surprises around every corner. Musical refrains came in and out of focus and each scene enveloped visitors in sound at different intensities. In some places the rhythm would play a key role: the sound of running steps formed part of the rhythm track; using sub-bass and volume swells to hit hard at certain points.

In the last scene, I created a natural high by resolving the musical refrains heard throughout and combining them with the final uplifting speech. The whole experience was an emotional rollercoaster.


"I visually map out where the moments of emotion, tension and drama should occur"



Joel Beckerman Founder Man Made Music

 

Joel Beckerman
 

The most important elements are immersion, contrast, surprise and white space.

Immersive sound, where the sound and music pulls audiences “in”, is vital. If we constant pushing sound “out” at people, it can get wearing.

Contrast is key to creating a soundtrack story. Surprise after surprise raises the heart rate, but there are no effective surprises without contrast. It’s like a horror movie soundtrack, where the set-up before the scare is everything. It’s tricking the mind into thinking it knows what’s coming next and then breaking that expectation.

White space, or perceived silence, is more important as attractions become more complex. We simply need a break from the action. The trick isn’t to try to create “silence” but create ambiences that mask sound. These ambiences can be quite specific in terms of their emotional takeaway. They can make you feel a sense of calm, anticipation, magic, wide open space. It’s an incredibly powerful tool.

When we start a project, the first thing we want to understand is what audiences should feel at every moment. Thinking equally about foreground, mid-ground and background sound, we find opportunities where sound can make a big difference – and where it can’t. We’re looking at where sound can complete the picture, and thinking about what sound exactly that might be.

A tremendous amount of the work is done iteratively through trial and error. We set up a 20 channel sound system in our facility and we’ll run the soundtrack for long periods of time, thinking about guests and employees. We explore, experiment, add and subtract.

One trend we’re seeing is that less is more. The more realistic and exciting experiences are not made up of highly layered sound, but soundtracks that are more sparse and carefully crafted, where every single sound element is perfectly refined, but still very rich.

Sound and music are the glue that holds an attraction together, tying every stage of the experience together to complete the illusion. The vast majority of the time when an attraction is not all that it could be, it has something to do with the soundtrack. You can’t have a great attraction with a mediocre soundtrack.


"Sound is the glue that holds an attraction together. You can’t have a great attraction with a mediocre soundtrack"



Brian Eimer President Images in Sound

 

Brian Eimer
 

To create a thrilling aural experience, there are some key points to remember: keep the sound design as “clean” as possible; move as many elements as you can; wrap the audience in sound; and use all the speaker channels you’ve been given in the venue.

As venues get larger, allowing more guests to experience the attraction at the same time, the challenge is how to maintain this thrilling aural experience for audiences. Attractions are adding more speaker channels to their configurations, filling the ceiling, the side and rear walls, adding additional speakers in headrests and “butt kickers” under seats. Depending on the screen size, there can also be upper and lower rows of speakers behind the screen.

One of the most significant technical challenges is doing the on-site mix. It’s the only way to maximise the audience experience. To do the on-site mix, we need to interface with the on-site technology. The easiest way to do this, for these large speaker configurations, is through the use of MADI. This allows for up to 128 channels through a single light pipe. There are other technologies, but MADI is the most efficient. I tap into the audio chain at the top of the signal flow, to see how the audio is effected all the way from player to speaker.

In China, at Chimelong’s Ocean Kingdom, I did the sound design for Kiki and Kaka’s Big Adventure, a 5D attraction with motion seats for 1,000 guests at a time. The soundtrack’s audio channel configuration was 27.1. The task was to maximise the speaker configuration to create the most immersive sound design possible. I did this by creating “zones”, designing elements specific to those zones, then having other elements move through all the zones.

At Guangzhou Chimelong’s Alien Attack, the system was 27.2. This venue had two 3D screens on either side of a tram. The design of the soundtrack had unique elements for each screen, but then I needed to move elements from one side of the tram to the other to create a fully immersive environment.


"One of the most significant technical challenges is the on-site mix. It’s the only way to maximise the audience experience"

 



Eimer designed the sound for Alien Attack at Guangzhou Chimelong


Peter Key
Sound consultant and producer Peter Key Sound Design

 

Peter Key
 

To create a pleasing aural experience, visitor attractions need to engage the services of a sound professional early in the design process. This ensures the correct equipment is specified and capable of reproducing the required effects, loudspeakers are successfully integrated into the exhibition design and the acoustic properties of the space are recognised and tamed to prevent that unwanted ‘bathroom’ effect.

One of the most important elements of a successful sound experience in open gallery spaces where many sound sources may be playing simultaneously is to ensure narrative is clearly heard and interaction between adjacent sounds is kept to a minimum. That’s easily said but a challenge to achieve!

When it comes to the latest trends in sound in attractions, I particular like the new generation of audioguides where visitors are given specialised “headphones” containing small speakers positioned over the ears, but without touching the ears, to automatically stream soundtracks to them depending on their location in the attraction. This technique ensures critical sounds such as speech and music are heard with clarity and audio spill issues are eliminated. As visitors can still hear everything around them, they don’t feel isolated from their surroundings or companions. Add loudspeakers playing synchronised sound effects and one can create a truly immersive audio experience.

Binaural sound can create a powerfully immersive aural personal space. Unfortunately, this does not work well over loudspeakers so, in its present form, it can only be a one-to-one experience. 3D sound over loudspeakers can provide inspiring spacious soundscapes, but again can only be experienced as the producer intended by small numbers of listeners seated in the “sweet spot”.

In my experience, a fully immersive experience uses a variety of audio techniques depending on the situation and visitor effect required.


"The new generation of audioguides automatically streams soundtracks depending on a visitor’s location"



Uwe Cremering AMBEO 3D Audio co-lead Sennheiser

 

Uwe Cremering
 

For a visitor attraction or museum to have the greatest impact on their visitors, it is of paramount importance to fully immerse them into the experience. Perhaps more than any other, hearing is the sense that makes this possible with the greatest of ease.

Whether you want to create complete soundscapes or use music to subtly evoke a certain atmosphere, 3D audio is able to transport visitors to other realms. Sennheiser’s AMBEO 3D audio program has been used in several high-profile exhibitions and forms the sonic heart of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s new show, You Say You Want a Revolution? – Records and Rebels 1966-1970. You can hear it in action in the Woodstock area, where the curators have expertly and lovingly recreated the sound and feel of the original concert. As the exhibition’s audio partner, Sennheiser enabled the creation of this experience with a 14.1 AMBEO installation.

For this, high-quality stereo audio files (24 bit, 192 kHz) of the original analogue Woodstock filmtapes were converted to 3D using an AMBEO upmix algorithm – the very same algorithm that was also used for producing the 3D audio installations for a previous V&A exhibition, David Bowie is. As the original Woodstock tapes had only little atmosphere, careful attention was paid in post-production to add effects that would restore the “live” feeling – to make visitors feel as though they’re in the Woodstock audience.

In the exhibition, the AMBEO 3D sound is played back via 14 Neumann KH 420 loudspeakers for an increased impact, with the LFE being played back by four KH 870 subwoofers. As is usual for such high-quality installations, the subwoofers reproduce all bass frequencies below 80 Hz, so that the 14 KH 420 can ensure the highest reproduction quality for the mids and the treble.


"Effects were added to restore the ‘live’ feeling – to make visitors feel like they’re in the Woodstock audience"

 



You Say You Want a Revolution? explores the music and the political issues of the late 1960s
About

Sennheiser supports the sound experience for the V&A’s You Say You Want a Revolution? exhibition, where AMBEO 3D audio technology helps to immerse visitors in the music and ambience of the time. The 3D sound installations evoke the political issues and anti-establishment protests of the late 1960s and the Woodstock festival using authentic audio material.
 



You Say You Want a Revolution? explores the music and the political issues of the late 1960s
 


You Say You Want a Revolution? explores the music and the political issues of the late 1960s
 
 


You Say You Want a Revolution? explores the music and the political issues of the late 1960s
 
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2016 issue 4

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Leisure Management - Sound to Create Immersive Experiences

Ask an expert

Sound to Create Immersive Experiences


Sound and music can make or break an attraction, so how do we make sure guests reach maximum aural pleasure? We asked a panel of experts

Visitors enter the immersive world of Woodstock at the V&A’s new exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution? IMAGE: VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM

Sound has just as much influence on the way we interpret and feel the world around us as the things we see and touch. Some argue it’s an even more visceral sense, yet sound designers are too often the unsung heroes of a winning exhibition or theme park experience.

As audiovisual technology continues to advance, guests are able to be more deeply immersed in experiences than ever before. With the rise of VR has come the rise of 3D sound, a binaural technique that creates a sound environment that’s like the real world. Binaural sound needs to be fed through headphones and – like VR – can be considered too isolating for most attractions. However, with clever sound design and cutting-edge sound systems, ultra-realistic sound is being used in projects like You Say You Want a Revolution? – Records and Rebels 1966-1970, which is currently showing at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

Here, Sennheiser used sounds from Woodstock festival in 1969 to create an authentic, historical experience (page 48).

But operators don’t have to invest in top-end equipment to create an immersive soundscape for their attraction, ride or exhibit. Planning how and when to use sound, building in suspense and considering how to make the most of the available technology are all vital ingredients that can make a real, emotional difference on any scale.



Dan Savage Founder Dan Savage Design & Sound

 

Dan Savage uses soundscapes to enhance visitors’ emotional experience
 

To create a cutting-edge aural experience in an attraction, I visually map out the sound experience on paper first and pinpoint where the moments of surprise, emotion, tension and break, peaks and troughs and drama should occur. All of this is invisible to the visitor, but they will feel it – if only subconsciously. My aim is always to create something that the visitor will recall later: an earworm melody, a mood, a surprise or reveal. Sometimes, silence is as powerful as noise.

If I’m making sound to synchronise with moving images, there will be moments where the two can combine with impact. Some of the tricks employed in the cinema can be used in attractions, but in a more three-dimensional way; for example, physically moving the sound around the space and using ultra-low-frequency sound, which is not necessarily heard, but can unsettle people.

A suitable sound system is essential, but it doesn’t have to be technically complex or prohibitively expensive to be a success, it just has to be deployed in the right way. As a 3D designer, I’m always thinking about sound in 3D – where it should be and how it could be used to maximum effect. One of the most important processes is the on-site mix. You could have the best sound system in the world, but if you don’t sit in the space and “design” the sound to work in it, you will never get the best results.

In summer 2016, with Centrescreen Productions, I designed my most immersive piece of work yet: a 30-minute walk-through experience at the Rio Olympics, which followed the journey of an athlete. At certain points, you heard the narrator talking directly to you and at others you’d be visually and aurally submerged in water, standing in a field of corn or experiencing the rush of entering the Olympic stadium. There were surprises around every corner. Musical refrains came in and out of focus and each scene enveloped visitors in sound at different intensities. In some places the rhythm would play a key role: the sound of running steps formed part of the rhythm track; using sub-bass and volume swells to hit hard at certain points.

In the last scene, I created a natural high by resolving the musical refrains heard throughout and combining them with the final uplifting speech. The whole experience was an emotional rollercoaster.


"I visually map out where the moments of emotion, tension and drama should occur"



Joel Beckerman Founder Man Made Music

 

Joel Beckerman
 

The most important elements are immersion, contrast, surprise and white space.

Immersive sound, where the sound and music pulls audiences “in”, is vital. If we constant pushing sound “out” at people, it can get wearing.

Contrast is key to creating a soundtrack story. Surprise after surprise raises the heart rate, but there are no effective surprises without contrast. It’s like a horror movie soundtrack, where the set-up before the scare is everything. It’s tricking the mind into thinking it knows what’s coming next and then breaking that expectation.

White space, or perceived silence, is more important as attractions become more complex. We simply need a break from the action. The trick isn’t to try to create “silence” but create ambiences that mask sound. These ambiences can be quite specific in terms of their emotional takeaway. They can make you feel a sense of calm, anticipation, magic, wide open space. It’s an incredibly powerful tool.

When we start a project, the first thing we want to understand is what audiences should feel at every moment. Thinking equally about foreground, mid-ground and background sound, we find opportunities where sound can make a big difference – and where it can’t. We’re looking at where sound can complete the picture, and thinking about what sound exactly that might be.

A tremendous amount of the work is done iteratively through trial and error. We set up a 20 channel sound system in our facility and we’ll run the soundtrack for long periods of time, thinking about guests and employees. We explore, experiment, add and subtract.

One trend we’re seeing is that less is more. The more realistic and exciting experiences are not made up of highly layered sound, but soundtracks that are more sparse and carefully crafted, where every single sound element is perfectly refined, but still very rich.

Sound and music are the glue that holds an attraction together, tying every stage of the experience together to complete the illusion. The vast majority of the time when an attraction is not all that it could be, it has something to do with the soundtrack. You can’t have a great attraction with a mediocre soundtrack.


"Sound is the glue that holds an attraction together. You can’t have a great attraction with a mediocre soundtrack"



Brian Eimer President Images in Sound

 

Brian Eimer
 

To create a thrilling aural experience, there are some key points to remember: keep the sound design as “clean” as possible; move as many elements as you can; wrap the audience in sound; and use all the speaker channels you’ve been given in the venue.

As venues get larger, allowing more guests to experience the attraction at the same time, the challenge is how to maintain this thrilling aural experience for audiences. Attractions are adding more speaker channels to their configurations, filling the ceiling, the side and rear walls, adding additional speakers in headrests and “butt kickers” under seats. Depending on the screen size, there can also be upper and lower rows of speakers behind the screen.

One of the most significant technical challenges is doing the on-site mix. It’s the only way to maximise the audience experience. To do the on-site mix, we need to interface with the on-site technology. The easiest way to do this, for these large speaker configurations, is through the use of MADI. This allows for up to 128 channels through a single light pipe. There are other technologies, but MADI is the most efficient. I tap into the audio chain at the top of the signal flow, to see how the audio is effected all the way from player to speaker.

In China, at Chimelong’s Ocean Kingdom, I did the sound design for Kiki and Kaka’s Big Adventure, a 5D attraction with motion seats for 1,000 guests at a time. The soundtrack’s audio channel configuration was 27.1. The task was to maximise the speaker configuration to create the most immersive sound design possible. I did this by creating “zones”, designing elements specific to those zones, then having other elements move through all the zones.

At Guangzhou Chimelong’s Alien Attack, the system was 27.2. This venue had two 3D screens on either side of a tram. The design of the soundtrack had unique elements for each screen, but then I needed to move elements from one side of the tram to the other to create a fully immersive environment.


"One of the most significant technical challenges is the on-site mix. It’s the only way to maximise the audience experience"

 



Eimer designed the sound for Alien Attack at Guangzhou Chimelong


Peter Key
Sound consultant and producer Peter Key Sound Design

 

Peter Key
 

To create a pleasing aural experience, visitor attractions need to engage the services of a sound professional early in the design process. This ensures the correct equipment is specified and capable of reproducing the required effects, loudspeakers are successfully integrated into the exhibition design and the acoustic properties of the space are recognised and tamed to prevent that unwanted ‘bathroom’ effect.

One of the most important elements of a successful sound experience in open gallery spaces where many sound sources may be playing simultaneously is to ensure narrative is clearly heard and interaction between adjacent sounds is kept to a minimum. That’s easily said but a challenge to achieve!

When it comes to the latest trends in sound in attractions, I particular like the new generation of audioguides where visitors are given specialised “headphones” containing small speakers positioned over the ears, but without touching the ears, to automatically stream soundtracks to them depending on their location in the attraction. This technique ensures critical sounds such as speech and music are heard with clarity and audio spill issues are eliminated. As visitors can still hear everything around them, they don’t feel isolated from their surroundings or companions. Add loudspeakers playing synchronised sound effects and one can create a truly immersive audio experience.

Binaural sound can create a powerfully immersive aural personal space. Unfortunately, this does not work well over loudspeakers so, in its present form, it can only be a one-to-one experience. 3D sound over loudspeakers can provide inspiring spacious soundscapes, but again can only be experienced as the producer intended by small numbers of listeners seated in the “sweet spot”.

In my experience, a fully immersive experience uses a variety of audio techniques depending on the situation and visitor effect required.


"The new generation of audioguides automatically streams soundtracks depending on a visitor’s location"



Uwe Cremering AMBEO 3D Audio co-lead Sennheiser

 

Uwe Cremering
 

For a visitor attraction or museum to have the greatest impact on their visitors, it is of paramount importance to fully immerse them into the experience. Perhaps more than any other, hearing is the sense that makes this possible with the greatest of ease.

Whether you want to create complete soundscapes or use music to subtly evoke a certain atmosphere, 3D audio is able to transport visitors to other realms. Sennheiser’s AMBEO 3D audio program has been used in several high-profile exhibitions and forms the sonic heart of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s new show, You Say You Want a Revolution? – Records and Rebels 1966-1970. You can hear it in action in the Woodstock area, where the curators have expertly and lovingly recreated the sound and feel of the original concert. As the exhibition’s audio partner, Sennheiser enabled the creation of this experience with a 14.1 AMBEO installation.

For this, high-quality stereo audio files (24 bit, 192 kHz) of the original analogue Woodstock filmtapes were converted to 3D using an AMBEO upmix algorithm – the very same algorithm that was also used for producing the 3D audio installations for a previous V&A exhibition, David Bowie is. As the original Woodstock tapes had only little atmosphere, careful attention was paid in post-production to add effects that would restore the “live” feeling – to make visitors feel as though they’re in the Woodstock audience.

In the exhibition, the AMBEO 3D sound is played back via 14 Neumann KH 420 loudspeakers for an increased impact, with the LFE being played back by four KH 870 subwoofers. As is usual for such high-quality installations, the subwoofers reproduce all bass frequencies below 80 Hz, so that the 14 KH 420 can ensure the highest reproduction quality for the mids and the treble.


"Effects were added to restore the ‘live’ feeling – to make visitors feel like they’re in the Woodstock audience"

 



You Say You Want a Revolution? explores the music and the political issues of the late 1960s
About

Sennheiser supports the sound experience for the V&A’s You Say You Want a Revolution? exhibition, where AMBEO 3D audio technology helps to immerse visitors in the music and ambience of the time. The 3D sound installations evoke the political issues and anti-establishment protests of the late 1960s and the Woodstock festival using authentic audio material.
 



You Say You Want a Revolution? explores the music and the political issues of the late 1960s
 


You Say You Want a Revolution? explores the music and the political issues of the late 1960s
 
 


You Say You Want a Revolution? explores the music and the political issues of the late 1960s
 

Originally published in Attractions Management 2016 issue 4

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