The UK Pavilion at the World Expo 2015 in Milan features an immersive live 3D audio experience, shaped by the real-time movements of bees in a hive hundreds of miles away.
With the title ‘Grown in Britain & Northern Ireland’, the UK’s Pavilion is designed by award-winning British artist Wolfgang Buttress. Inspired by scientific research into the health of beehives, the UK Pavilion highlights the crucial role of pollination in our food supply, drawing attention to issues such as food security and biodiversity.
The Pavilion has been developed around the concept of the beehive, with visitors following the dance of the honey bee through a series of landscapes. This experience starts with a journey through an orchard, followed by a wildflower meadow and on to a giant abstract aluminium sculpture known as ‘the Hive’. This 14m-high, 50-tonne sculpture, with over 169,000 individual structural elements, uses light and sound to connect the visitor to the activity of a real beehive and immerse them in an interwoven, meditative musical composition – a constantly changing ambience representing dialogue between human and honey bee.
Engineering consultancy Hoare Lea carried out the design of audiovisual systems for the Pavilion, working with Wolfgang Buttress, architects BDP, structural engineers Simmonds Studio, manufacture and production partner Stage One, Dr Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University, and programmers Robin Whittaker (from OutBoard – TiMax show control) and Andy Coates (feature lighting).
The soundscape is designed to move sound around the listeners using bespoke programmed multi-channel space-panning techniques, driven by an advanced show controller. The programming follows the time of day to reflect changes in bee activity, creating a range of listening experiences in the Pavilion.
To capture the bee activity, movement-sensing accelerometers were installed in a real beehive in Nottingham as part of a scientific research project by Dr Bencsik. This real-time data is streamed to the Pavilion in Milan, where it controls the volume and composition of the audio content – creating a self-authoring soundscape and a connection between listeners and the bees.
Programmer Andy Coates has created custom control data algorithms to provide interactive control and custom MIDI-triggering software to TiMax Soundhub, which in turn responded with a live 3D audio surround mix and spatial panning events in the Hive. Coates’ software also controls 890 multi-element LED arrays distributed within the Hive structure to sync both light and sound to the real-time bee activity in Nottingham.
Sound designer Mike Bedford – principal of Hoare Lea Intelligent Buildings – explained: “The listening experience has been designed with interaction of sound between zones. As the listener approaches the Hive from the Meadow, for example, low-frequency bass sound energy emanating from the Hive floor builds within the meadow soundscape, adding to the visitor’s sense of anticipation.’
A total of 30 compact Meyer Sound MM4 loudspeakers were carefully placed around the meadow and within the four-storey high hive structure, augmented by six Meyer Sound sub bass cabinets. One 48 channel/track TiMax SoundHub audio show control matrix handles the multitrack playback and scheduling, processing, zone level management and multichannel distribution for all areas, as well as the synchronised 3D audio spatialisation.
Bedford added: “We decided to work with the TiMax processor as it offered a broad palette of functionality in a compact single unit, which could be quickly programmed and easily experimented with in situ. The TiMax provided sequenced and live multi-channel playback; 3D spatialisation; flexible inputs and outputs; and various show control and interfacing to other systems. This control flexibility, combined with the Meyer Sound system design and Robin Whittaker’s show control programming experience, meant that we were able to exceed the soundscape design aspirations.”
The Expo takes place in Milan from 1 May to 31 October 2015. With more than 140 countries represented and the theme of ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’, the event is a platform for the exchange of ideas about food, stimulating creativity and promoting innovation for a sustainable future.
Commenting on the success of the UK Pavilion, Wolfgang Buttress said: “I wanted a simple metaphor to express the importance of what pollinators do. Pollinators are responsible for 30% of the food we eat and the bee is one of the most important of the pollinators. The quality of the listening experiences produced by the audio systems designed by Hoare Lea is crucial in revealing this metaphor, helping to create a space within the hive in which to think and feel. The speakers sound fantastic – the result has surpassed my expectations. The experience is truly immersive.”