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

The Grammy Museum, Los Angeles
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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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Four Digital Projection dVision20sx+ XB projectors and a table with capacitive touchscreen foils embedded underneath the glass allow visitors to the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles to explore the sometimes surprising connections between music categories. Guests can access photos, songs, and dialogue.

Modern society is never too far from its music, from cell phone ringtones to music-infused commercials to satellite radios to, of course, our MP3 music players. It's only natural, then, that there should be a high-tech museum devoted to music in all its forms as it evolves alongside technology. The Grammy Museum is a 30,000-square-foot, four-floor labyrinth occupying part of the L.A. Live campus in downtown Los Angeles, nestled among trendy shops, bars, and restaurants. There, museum guests learn about music making and music history from cutting-edge exhibits.

The museum hired Design and Production (D&P) of Lorton, Va., to create all the exhibits. From the ticket window to a theater finale, guests don't just use their ears to learn. Almost every exhibit combines audio, video, and custom mechanics to create a truly interactive and immersive event.

As guests enter the museum, they are met with a sweeping projector installation, dubbed "Grammy: The Greatest Music," which spans the length of the nearly 35ft. hall. There are six Digital ProjectiondVision30sx+ XB projectors shooting synchronized video to two Da-Lite 30ft. projection screens on both sides of the hall. The screens are perforated to allow multichannel audio to flow out into the hall from the eight JBLControl 128W in-wall loudspeakers that are hidden behind the screens.

One limitation of the installation was the physical space of the museum. Because the design and architecture of the museum were set in place before AV was brought in, D&P had to customize many of the exhibits to fit limited spaces. For example, in the same hallway video-projection installation, D&P had to make accommodations for the throw distances. Although this is a common challenge in the industry, it's still a process that can take time and requires lots of patience to attain the alignment that's critical to fill the screens. This is particularly true of the Greatest Music exhibit, where the video is synced together so that, at times, it forms one long image spanning the length of the hallway.

One important aspect of this museum installation was that some of the AV equipment was donated by manufacturers. It isn't unheard of for manufacturers to donate equipment, and museums usually try to attain sponsorships, donations, and gifts to cover the large expense of the technology that's required. At the Grammy Museum, such equipment donations proved crucial to the effectiveness of the exhibits, given they are all about sound.

"A huge advantage was that few museums have a budget for DSP and higher-end audio systems," says L. Sue Lepp, senior vice president of D&P. "This donation was key to the delivery of quality sound."

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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.

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

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

The Grammy Museum, Los Angeles

"[The Crossovers table] just opens up the whole [field]. Instead of just artifacts through glass with a little copy plaque on them, which was the museum quite a few years ago, it's all interactive now—where you can participate, be immersed in the technology. It's actually fun. I'm sure it stops a lot of people and they spend a lot of time there," Panning says.

At the Culture Shock exhibit, guests are once again greeted with technology that goes beyond seeing and hearing. Here, a display is equipped with a custom handle mechanism that guests grasp and slide back and forth to bring up content, such as music by date. The slider has stops that provide guests with different music that they listen to over headphones. When the slider stops at one of these points, a signal is sent over the control system to communicate a video file to play.

"The interface there was pretty clever. We used a Celesco string pot," Panning says. "It's an RS-232 data transducer. It's actually a little blob that, when you pull the string out of it, it counts and it spits out RS-232 serial strings. So there's a physical string that you pull on, and as you pull it out, there's a communication string that it gives to the computer. We tied this to this big handle, so as you move the handle, it's pulling the string in and out of this enclosure and spitting out data to the computer."

The installation went smoothly overall, with the exception of two separate incidents of water damage. "The water incidents were the result of a water fountain installed on the terrace above the fourth-floor control room," Panning says. "On initial energizing of the water [fountain] pumps, the plumbing sprang a leak right above the control room racks as they were just being installed. Several weeks later, during final setup and configuration testing, the 1000-gallon overhead reservoir tank's core-drill drain started leaking and emptying water right onto the racks."

For several hours, until the building contractor could repair the leak, D&P's crew protected the racks with polythene sheeting and blankets. Only four show computers were damaged during the incident, and with a few hours of additional work, the team was able to get everything up and running right on schedule.

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