Music History Meets Experiential AV:
Music changes. And, because it does, so, too, must the GRAMMY Museum, the Recording Academy's 30,000-square-foot combined gallery, repository and salon on the L.A. Live campus in downtown Los Angeles CA. Opened in December 2008, the venue has undergone periodic updates that reflect the relentless and ever-faster cycle of pop music and the other genres it represents. Its most recent renovation, though, costing $2 million, underscores just how much museum AV — and the larger museum experience — has changed as a result of technology. It's not dissimilar to how music production has mutated and evolved in the digital era.
'Mono To Immersive'
The previous incarnation of the exhibit showed the visitor a
panel with four buttons, an LCD video display and various sets of speakers. You
could watch and listen to several GRAMMY performances by artists like Beyoncé,
hearing what they would have sounded like on an Edison cylinder or a 78rpm disc.
"The museum asked us to reenvision the experience and modernize it," David Glicksman, Creative Technologist at Gensler, the technology creative brought on for the project, said. "We not only added speakers for the addition of immersive sound, but we also traded the single video display for an immersive projection experience that spills out onto the walls and that abstractly, rather than literally, visualizes the music. It's more like a "Fantasia"-type experience, visually. We started with the idea of animating the audio's EQ, but we wanted to go one step further with animation that represents waveforms. These start out as four scratchy lines that wiggle erratically during the Edison cylinder playbacks, and, as you move along the timeline to gramophone, the spacing of the lines widen and you see more visual fidelity. By the time you get to stereo, you're up to 40 or so lines, smoother waves, all dancing in perfect sync to the music. And it keeps progressing from there." Panasonic's Geometry Manager Pro software is used to create a curved projection with a standard Panasonic lens.
In the "Mono to Immersive" exhibit, visitors use an interactive kiosk to select from a list of GRAMMY performances. The selected performance plays through a progression of formats — from an Edison wax cylinder to immersive audio. Meanwhile, graphic projections respond to the performance's colors and sound waves.
Four Panasonic PT-RZ120BU 12,000-lumen WUXGA projectors were chosen for the wide range of lenses available, their keystoning flexibility and their laser light source for easier maintenance. They are hidden in the exhibit's ceiling, and they're ported through concealed windows. They illuminate Da-Lite HD Progressive 1.1 perforated cinema screens with a custom clip system for installation.
With respect to audio, the 9.1.4 sound system (L-C-R, five-speaker rear and side arrays, four overhead channels and a subwoofer) is composed of 13 JBL 705i passive studio monitors and an LSR6312SP subwoofer, all powered by two Crown eight-channel DCi 8|300N amplifiers. The 14 speakers are located behind the screens on all sides with a custom LED trim-ring outline. The projectors inhabit an 18-inch-high space, fitted with its own heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) unit, above the 12' x 12′ exhibit space. It was designed by IPR Services to contain noise and heat emitted by the four projectors.
The great irony of the evolution of music to a multichannel environment is that most consumers still hear their music through earbuds — often, those of questionable sonic quality. But the GRAMMY Museum wanted the "Mono to Immersive" exhibit to be as acoustically perfect as the music productions themselves were. Chips Davis, of Chips Davis Acoustical Designs, was brought in to fashion the exhibit's interior space to sonically accommodate the wide range of format types it's intended to illustrate. Each of the JBL 705i speakers was soffit-mounted within the installation, and Davis measured not only the space itself but also the acoustical characteristics of those soffit cavities using SysTune software. That measures the sound spatially with a number of microphones, in real time, over the listening area.
Those efforts enabled him to tune and time each speaker individually, both in its own enclosure and in relation to each of the other speakers. That latter function was done by first tuning the center speaker in the L-C-R array and then using it as the central reference source for the rest of the array.
Although there's plenty of audio and video technology to befit a museum dedicated to sound, the venue also boasts lots of physical artifacts. These include the vinyl and cassette formats on display at the entrance to the "Mono to Immersive" exhibit, as well as the guitars that line several of the walls.
EQ'd And Mixed Onsite
Davis continued, "Once the equalization anomalies were taken care of, I timed all the speakers so that the sound from all the speakers arrives at the center of the listening area at same time. [IPR Services' Senior Design Consultant] Dennis Kornegay did the setup and network control. All the control of the entire room, including the surround video projection systems, was seamless with his setup."
The tracks were mixed — notably, in the room itself — by GRAMMY-winning engineers Glenn Lorbecki (Green Day, Ray Charles, Kelly Clarkson) and Eric Schilling (Gloria Estefan, Elton John, Natalie Cole). They worked with Davis, who brought in surround reference sources that ranged from symphonic, big-band recordings to Steely Dan tracks to evaluate the finished mixing environment. "They did their mix on a Pro Tools system in the room, and we took the output of that directly into the Alcorn McBride binloop," Kornegay said, after he did a per-track file-format conversion from Pro Tools' .wav format to the stereo Broadcast Wave Format (BWF) used in the exhibit.
The world-famous GRAMMY, universally recognized as the symbol of outstanding music, demands a museum space that's as electric as the artists' musical creations are.
Kornegay continued, "And we chose to go with discrete individual tracks versus using a pre-encoded format that requires de-encoding, such as Dolby, DTS or others. [That] gives the museum more options in the future for more and different tracks, and [it] meant we didn't need an Atmos decoder for the installation." Kornegay added that the team did use Dolby's 7.4.1 immersive-audio room specifications as a template for the speaker layout and positioning.
As part of a larger upgrade of the museum's infrastructure, a Dante network was integrated into the venue's existing BSS Soundweb London system by IPR Services, which also interfaced an existing Pro Tools system, via Dante, into the museum's infrastructure. (Originally, it had been designed around, and integrated using, CobraNet.) By adding an additional BLU-806DA signal processor and BLU-320 I/O expander, IPR Services was able to bridge the Dante signals over the network on the CobraNet system via the BLU link system on the new devices.
The "Timeline" exhibit's displays comprise four groups of three Samsung monitors: two 49-inch Samsung 4K LCDs in portrait mode flanking an 85-inch Samsung 4K LCD screen in landscape mode in the center.
The interactive "Timeline" exhibit allows guests to look back at moments throughout the history of the GRAMMYs. Content is viewed through monitors in a display configured to fit the existing curved wall. All displays are fed via Cat5 cables, using HDBaseT transport, from a central server room.
"The visitor controls the experience through a Microsoft Surface tablet on a podium, which has a much richer interface and [better] animated graphics in this iteration of the exhibit," Glicksman remarked. "And, instead of a single video display on a wall, the visuals start off looking like a television screen, but then the projections expand to cover the entire room, which is wrapped in acoustical fabric. By the time you get to the immersive-sound format, you really do feel surrounded by sound and picture."
Glicksman added that the decision to go with projection was compelled by the space itself. The exhibit can comfortably hold two or three visitors, but as many as a half-dozen people can squeeze in when they arrive in groups (for example, during school outings). As such, LED screens would have required an extremely tight pixel pitch. "That could have made it more of a showcase for the video, instead of the music," he observed. "And the way the projection animation unfolds, it's a nice reveal."
The exhibit's user interface was designed by Gensler. The displays aren't touchscreens because, according to Glicksman, tablets ably serve that function in interactive exhibits like this.
Industrial-art studio Greenmeme created the four powder-coated metal podiums that hold the video displays and their embedded K-array KZ14 mini line-array elements, each less than four inches long and one inch wide. The speakers are remarkably high fidelity, but their low-frequency response is substantially limited by their form factor. For that reason, IPR Services turned to the Brown Innovations SB-40 SonicBeam directional speaker as what Kornegay called "a mini subwoofer."
The speakers are small and integrated into the podiums to keep the sound contained within each viewing area. And, whereas Gensler devised the software and the animated graphics at each station, the music is drawn from the museum's own cache of digital-content assets.
The show control represents its own sort of historic melding, Glicksman offered. "[IPR Services' Principal, Bob Patrick] and Dennis come from a background of themed entertainment—one that relies heavily on hardware like the Alcorn McBride digital binloops," he explained. "We tend to come from a more PC- and software-based approach. So, the show control for the new installations is really a hybrid of the two." As an example, he shared, "Our software is sending UDP [User Datagram Protocol] packages to the Alcorn show controller based on the choices the visitors make through the tablets."
Elsewhere On The Third Floor
The Latin Gallery was also expanded, growing from a 370-square-foot space dedicated to exhibits focused on the Latin GRAMMYs (which last year celebrated 20 years) to a full-scale, 3,000-square-foot showpiece. Created in collaboration with the Latin Recording Academy, it now takes up the majority of the GRAMMY Museum's third floor. Its AV update included the installation of JBL Control 65P/T pendant speakers, powered by Crown amplifiers; that audio complement enables the gallery to be used as an event space. IPR Services also installed a Soundcraft UI16 mixer with an iPad interface. The console can be controlled via a BSS BLU-8v2 interface and connected to a Melodex music server that was chosen because it allows staff members to update program material using Spotify and Apple Music playlists. "The interface lets them switch between the mixer, the Melodex and the exhibit audio for content," Kornegay added.
Although the GRAMMY Museum is fully AV-infused, its collection of physical music artifacts is second to none (as pictured above and below).
Music-themed museums have become plentiful in recent years. Indeed, the GRAMMY Museum even has a few clones, with outposts at the Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville TN, the Prudential Center in Newark NJ and in Cleveland MS. But even as the GRAMMY Museum helps preserve music's past, its own capabilities have to keep improving.
"As a cultural institution aiming to educate and inspire, it's important for us to make sure there are easy-to-use, but innovative, interactive exhibits," declared the GRAMMY Museum's President, Michael Sticka, who relied heavily on key project participant Kelsey Balch, Production Design Manager for the GRAMMY Museum. "Over the last six months, we have spent $2 million on completely renovating the GRAMMY Museum's third floor, most of which went to cutting-edge interactive experiences." He continued, with evident pride, "We look forward to our visitors and students experiencing these exciting upgrades."