The 3D sound technology usomo makes even silence audible
Kristina von Bülow
The current exhibition Sounds of Silence at the Museum of Communication Bern displays silence. How can silence possibly be displayed or made audible? With usomo!
The interactive 3D audio system usomo offers visitors a completely new reception form for bodiless content. Without any objects being necessary in the space, usomo can convey entire exhibition concepts on the audible plane. An absolutely innovative way of media-enhanced scenography: The visitors experience fully individual, immersive soundscapes that they become interactive parts of.
In the exhibition space of about 600 m2, there are no classic exhibits, no touch screen stations, no explanation films, no texts, and no info boards. The exhibition is designed almost entirely by means of sound. Sounds of Silence has been conceptualised as a three-dimensional soundscape, in which acoustics have centre stage, by the Museum of Communication supported by idee und klang and ZMIK. Image follows sound, not vice versa.
Equipped with the usomo system, consisting of headphones with the usomo tracking module and a smartphone, the visitors move intuitively through the space. Guidance takes place primarily by acoustic triggers that are being sent to each visitor in real time according to individual movements, which allows the visitors to move through the space at free impulse. The sounds – programmed sound design in the shape of soundscapes, music and voices – follow each visitor with precise tracking and fade in and out fluidly, depending on which areas of the space are being moved through.
With the immersive sound technology by usomo, one gains the impression of hearing the digitally created sounds as if they were real, enabling full immersion in them. The sound is no longer a separate, static layer between the human and the space, but it permeates them, blends them, seemingly gaining a life of its own. The usomo sound technology is tantalising and convincing in its precision and clarity. It is so lifelike as if the sound sources were not of digital but of real nature. Some may be reminded of the multimedia exhibition about David Bowie at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and at the Gropius Bau in Berlin – however, the two audio systems are actually lightyears apart. What makes usomo unique is the real-time tracking of every single person, individually calculated and sent to the headphones with utmost exactitude and speed.
Thanks to the intuitive freedom of movement with usomo, it seems as if one were drifting through the open space like in a dream. This effect is further intensified because perception detaches from material objects and shifts completely to the hearing. An almost meditative state develops in which observation shifts from the outside to the inside. Not coincidentally, a discourse of a zen master from the Valais mountains about the topic of silence is part of the soundscape. Visual and haptic triggers are reduced to the absolute essentials. The space contains no objects except for some film projections that show, amongst others, a calm and soothing snow landscape, and for semi-transparent dividers made from filigree threads and some freely distributed seats. It is designed primarily in minimalistic black-and-white, reminiscent of Op Art, interrupted only by a few colourful spots. Thereby, the audible elements consistently maintain their presence on the journey through the space. The atmosphere that arises mirrors the core of the exhibition concept: the reflection on silence in full concentration on it. How is silence defined? What makes it so very valuable and desirable? Why is it so hard to find and concurrently so hard to stand?
With the 3D audio system usomo by FRAMED immersive projects (Berlin), the curator Kurt Stadelmann conceptualised the exhibition Sounds of Silenceat the Museum of Communication (Bern) supported by the sound designers of idee und klang (Basel) and the scenographers of ZMIK (Basel). The Museum of Communication Bern is known for its passion for experiment and innovation. It is the first to introduce to Switzerland the interactive and immersive 3D audio system usomo as a completely new and yet to be discovered technology. Sounds of Silence is the first temporary exhibition since the reopening of the museum in August 2017, having created quite a stir in the media. It can be seen – ah no, heard – until July 7th, 2019.