Audio from Sennheiser is playing a key role in the ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
Re-tracing David Bowie’s creativity and influences from all areas of art over his nearly 50-year career, the exhibition shows a wealth of material, including videos, stage costumes, album covers, stage sets, photographs and of course music.
Putting music at the heart of the visitor experience are audio guides, powered by Sennheiser’s guidePORT system. These automatically provide the music and soundtrack when visitors approach the exhibits and screens, and seamlessly integrate all sound material into the tour. The exhibition uses 550 bodypack receivers with Sennheiser stereo headphones, offering a simple solution that lets the visitor explore Bowie’s music, art, and style with all their senses.
Two audio events are directly stored on the visitors’ bodypacks – a welcome message when entering the exhibition and an “extro” when leaving, but all other music and video sound is transmitted as real-time, lip-sync stereo audio from eleven twin-cell transmitters. These rack-mount units are located in two control rooms that also accommodate the guidePORT system’s control PC. The visitors’ receivers automatically download the audio when they pass by the corresponding guidePORT antenna units, and ‘know’ which track to play when they approach so-called identifiers, small trigger units placed near the exhibits – just like an indoor GPS.
“This is a fully automated yet entirely personal tour, as the exhibition can be explored in whatever order and at any pace whatsoever. The audio is always played at the right time for each visitor,” explains Norbert Hilbich, Sennheiser Application Engineering, who assisted in the set-up of the guidePORT system. Tours with a tour- guide are possible too. For this, the museum uses a convenient bodypack transmitter with a headset microphone, enabling the guides to both make tailor-made commentary for their guests and trigger any of the pre-recorded exhibition material as they like.
The audio voyage through the exhibition culminates in two 3D audio experiences. Viewing footage of David Bowie perform live concerts and recordings filmed for TV, visitors are enveloped within a fantastically spatial performance of his music delivered by hidden Neumann and Klein+Hummel loudspeakers. This 3D sound experience is also used during Tony Visconti’s evocative ‘mash-up’ of Bowie songs, created specially for the exhibition by Bowie’s long-term producer. ‘David Bowie is’ runs from 23 March to 11 August at the V&A, after which time it is expected to tour internationally.