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Audio Technology Transforms Museums

Jun 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Integrating sound into modern displays calls for innovative solutions.

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Choosing loudspeakers is also a function of how large and tight a perimeter you need to establish. Polly says the highly concentrated beams from the Audio Spotlight and American Technology's HSS loudspeaker are best if only one viewer at a time is interacting with an exhibit. If the space can accommodate more, he'll use the Dakota's cardioid (heart-shaped) reproduction pattern or the pancake pattern of the Brown Innovations SonicBeam 24, which covers a larger area, but drops off dramatically within a very short throw from the point source.

"We've even made our own focused-beam speaker solutions," Polly says. "The point is, there are a number of solutions available that you can use to fit each situation as perfectly as possible."

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Great Wide Open

Not all museums are indoors. The Springs Preserve in Las Vegas is a 180-acre park that commemorates the city's dynamic history and looks forward to a sustainable future. The site is named for provided water to ancient Native Americans and later to settlers traveling west. BBI Engineering of San Francisco was asked to create a soundscape inside a large faux canyon.

"The real challenge here was the sheer scale of it," says Phil Bailey, a principal of BBI. "There was an enormous amount of cabling to run to cover a wide area, about a half an acre in total. We ran very heavy Belden 12-gauge wire in conduit underground from the control room in the museum building to various distribution points on the canyon grounds, then ran Belden 16-gauge wire from there to over 60 speakers scattered around the property."

Bogen Near A6T loudspeakers were chosen for their weather-resistance in what is a hot, dry, and occasionally turbulent meteorological environment. The audio program—eight discrete tracks playing continuously from a BBI 4MP3-MSC MP3 player through a pair of QSC CX602V 70V amplifiers—was created from actual recordings of the type of wildlife found in the region, which includes buzzards and coyotes. The loud¬¨speakers are distributed in such a way that a visitor will hear between four and six of the eight discrete audio programs at a time. Rather than camouflaging the loud¬¨speakers to look like rocks, BBI chose to hide them within the landscape, behind real rocks and with carefully cut openings to port the sound.

The audio program is by definition hypernatural; it would be odd for all of the sound sources to occur simultaneously in the wild because some animals are nocturnal and others are diurnal. But to achieve a comprehensive aural effect, the programs run together to keep it interesting for the visitor, but they are also positioned according to the type of sound they'll be used for.

"If the program calls for bird sounds, the speakers will be located off the ground on a boulder or an outcropping," Bailey says. "If the sounds are ground-dwelling critters, the speakers are hidden on the ground among the rocks."

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