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Sound Advice: Variations on a Theme

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

Combining audio with visual surroundings to create a fulfilling experience in themed environments.

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Paying attention to content pays off. So says Phil Lenger, president, founder, and creative director of Show & Tell Productions — a New York creative production company that consults on and designs audio and video content for many themed spaces, including the massive Toys R Us store in Times Square. The installation took place in 2001 and has remained in the same configuration since then. Scharff Weisberg installed and integrated the system, but Show & Tell designed and continues to operate the system — including audio, video, and software control of lighting, animatronics, and the store's digital display network and exterior LED sign.

Lenger says the content, to a large extent, determined the layout of the audio system. “Laying out the sound system was an integral part of the overall design of the concept,” he says.

The design called for 18 individual audio zones, the program for which changes for each department in the store. It's also updated on a seasonal basis and to support specific product campaigns. For example, during a promotional event for the DVD release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the store incorporated audio of Darth Vader's heavy breathing as an extra effect that could be heard throughout the store.

Certain audio themes are constant, such as the Broadway-style orchestral fanfare that greets customers at the store entrance. Shoppers will then continue to experience various musical themes as they go from Barbie shops to videogame areas and other merchandise-centric departments.

“The balance you need to strike is to direct the customers' attention to where you want them to look at a certain point, such as when they enter a certain zone, but not overwhelm them,” Lenger says.


Whether it's a restaurant, clothing store, or water park, patrons are coming to themed spaces as much for the experience as for the merchandise or service the company sells, so overdesigning a sound system for themed space can't hurt. To that end, Bermann made sure the system for RockSugar could accommodate a DJ system for special events.

“The opening of RockSugar was a major event with lots of celebrities and a very well-known DJ,” he says. “That's typical of this type of space. You want to avoid forcing management to have to rent systems and interface them. Designing in facilities for special events like this allows the space to keep control over its sound, no matter how it's used.”

At least one thing is a little less complicated: Surround audio does not seem to be an issue for this type of installation. “Who knows where front and center are in this kind of environment?” Lenger asks. “You're better off with high-quality mono.”

During times of recession, people want to be distracted. Helping clients of themed-environment facilities get folks to come through the door and forget their troubles for a while can work out well for both the client and the integrator.

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