“Trading Traditions: California’s New Cultures is a multimedia exhibition at the Oakland Museum of California. Vivid photograph displays are augmented with evocative audio to immerse the visitors in the rich cultural diversity brought to the Bay Area by recent immigrants. Voices from family celebrations and festivals fill the gallery, along with a multiplicity of musical styles and environmental sounds ranging from tinkling bells to the basso profundo of foghorns. Created by veteran sound designer James LeBrecht of Berkeley Sound Artists and photojournalist Lonny Shavelson, the dynamic soundscape is reproduced through a discreetly placed sound system of 16 new, self-powered MM-4XP miniature loudspeakers from Meyer Sound.
The exhibition is the brainchild of Shavelson and Fred Setterberg, who decided to incorporate an audio component to enhance the experience of the visitor by providing the relevant context for the exhibited photos and creating a sense of reality that engages the visitors with the offerings of the exhibition. To achieve all of this in the reverberant exhibition hall is no simple task.
“I’ve been doing sound for over 30 years and it’s been one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had. The sound from the MM-4XPs has transformed the whole experience. The photographs suddenly gained more life, as if there was something alive behind them.”
– Jim LeBrecht
Sound Designer, Trading Traditions Exhibit
The resulting audio component enhances the visitor’s experience successfully. According to Shavelson, the effects sound so real that an attendee hearing a track of children laughing and playing turned around to look for the running children, but realize there were no children in the room. “When you hear the ambient sound in the background, people look around for the reality to confirm it,” says Shavelson. “The sound in this exhibit really changed the visual. Suddenly there’s a whole new emotional content.”
Principal sound designer LeBrecht, who collaborated with assistant sound designer Alex Wilmer on the project, readily gives credit to the palm-sized MM-4XP. “I’ve been doing sound for over 30 years and it’s been one of the most extraordinary experiences I’ve had,” says LeBrecht. “The sound from the MM-4XPs has transformed the whole experience. The photographs suddenly gained more life, as if there was something alive behind them.”
CEO and founder of Meyer Sound, John Meyer points out that such reality in the reverberant space can only be achieved with highly intelligible audio equipment. “The MM-4XP is the self-powered version of a miniature loudspeaker we developed specifically for situations like this,” comments Meyer. “The original MM-4 was designed for sound sculptures at a train station in Lyon, France, where practically invisible speakers had to carry both highly intelligible train announcements and the subtle mix of ambient sounds.”
Shavelson is also delighted with the way the MM-4XPs infused life into the exhibition while remaining unobtrusive. “I was initially worried that the loudspeakers would interfere with the photographs,” he remarks. “But when I saw how small they were, I realized it wouldn’t be a problem at all.”
In addition to the MM-4XPs, five UMS-1P subwoofers provide low frequency support. A Galileo loudspeaker management system provides all signal processing, routing and level control. LeBrecht, who has never used the Galileo before, rejoices to have discovered the Meyer Sound tool: “I was amazed by what you could do with the Galileo and its Compass interface on a tablet PC. No longer do you have to shout out from across the room, ‘Hey, raise this speaker by two dB!’ And it works on my Mac laptop too!”
The curators are extremely pleased with the results of the Trading Traditions exhibition and anticipate seeing increasing multimedia presentations in the future. “They are becoming more and more popular as museums attempt to reach a broader audience,” says Shavelson.
Sporting a four-inch square faceplate and weighing in at barely over four pounds, the palm-sized MM-4XP nevertheless produces a peak SPL of 113 dB SPL over an operating frequency range of 120 Hz to 18 kHz. The MM-4XP is ideal for a wide range of installation and theatrical sound applications, including stage lip and under balcony fill, concealment in architectural features, and installation in confined spaces such as chancel steps in houses of worship. Custom color finishes are available.” – Taken from Meyer Sound News