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The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: The Touch and Feel of Music

Apr 14, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jessaca Gutierrez

The Grammy Museum, Los Angeles

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Design and Production (D&P) of Lorton, Va., created all the exhibits at the Grammy Museum. Much of the museum's audio equipment was donated on behalf of several manufacturers. D&P was faced with the task of adapting that equipment to the demands of museum use.</

Design and Production (D&P) of Lorton, Va., created all the exhibits at the Grammy Museum. Much of the museum's audio equipment was donated on behalf of several manufacturers. D&P was faced with the task of adapting that equipment to the demands of museum use.

However, integrating donated equipment can sometimes prove difficult, either due to timing or suitability of the equipment for a particular exhibit. The donated equipment included Crown amplifiers, JBL loudspeakers, Lexicon surround processors, and Audio-Technica headphones.

Unlike other installations, where materials and equipment only undergo normal use, museum equipment is in constant use by people of all ages and by people who might not be familiar with its proper use. To make the equipment strong enough to withstand constant use and prolong its lifespan, D&P had to ensure that all the equipment would be ready to withstand the force of children and adults alike. For example, all the Audio-Technica headphones were sent to D&P's shop to be hardened.

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"We took them apart and fitted everything with armored cables," says Dale Panning, senior system engineer of media systems at D&P. "All the cords [now have] armored cords and what have you, so it was hardened for the general public."

In the Revolution of Sound exhibit, guests watch a video presentation on audio history in a soundproof booth. The presentation takes them through the generations of sound, starting with an old classical gramophone; moving through the audio quality of a tape deck, CD, and iPod; and finishing with what a proper 5.1 surround-sound system should sound like. To fully realize the audio quality of a 5.1 surround-sound system, D&P installed a complete surround-sound system that was donated by JBL in the booth.

The challenge here again was allowing guests to touch and feel all the technological components without unnecessary damage. But not every part of an exhibit can meet this demand. Initially, JBL wanted one subwoofer in the ceiling, but JBL decided the quality wasn't right and replaced it with two large, custom-tuned subwoofers. JBL wanted to put its best studio—not museum-quality—equipment in the booth, which wasn't conducive to having the public touch and feel it, so these subwoofers were installed out of reach within the walls of the sound booth. "The JBL audio experts felt that the visitor experience could be enhanced by custom-designing a subwoofer, changing its location, and using self-powered studio speakers," says Maurice Morgan, site supervisor. "D&P installed the gear, and JBL came in before opening to tune the room."

Perhaps the most complex and intriguing installation at the museum is the Crossovers area. This exhibit is a 19ft. table that acts as both a projection screen and a touchscreen. The surface of the table is frit-fired glass (frit is ground glass or glaze often used in pottery), which produces a matte-white surface suitable for use as a projection screen for the four Digital Projection iVision 20sx+ XB projectors that are installed in a soffit above the table. Below the table's glass, D&P put multiple capacitive touchscreen foils—made by Visual Planet—that project through and above the glass to make it a touch-sensitive surface. Up to 20 guests at a time can tap an image that's being projected onto the table to listen via headphones to 150 genres of music. Guests interested in one genre of music can use the table to open up photos, songs, and dialogue about that particular genre's importance and history—possibly linking them to other genres and learning about surprising connections between music categories.

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