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TiMax leads the Waggle Dance at Milan Expo 2015

Sound designer Mike Bedford from consulting engineers Hoare Lea called upon Out Board’s Robin Whittaker and TiMax SoundHub for immersive live 3D audio spatialisation and playback for the UK Pavilion at this year’s Milan World Expo. Running until October31st, Milan’s Expo is focussed on sustainability, technology and food, with its theme entitled “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”. The UK pavilion is designed to resemble a giant beehive at the centre of a wildflower meadow created by Nottingham-based artist Wolfgang Buttress with engineer Tristan Simmonds.

Visitors traverse the meadow via sunken pathways so that they experience the bees’ natural environment at head-height, and end up in the 14 metre high abstract beehive structure which hosts a multi-sensory immersive experience. TiMax propels a constantly changing composition of music and bee sounds around the various spaces as visitors "follow the dance of a bee" through the varying landscapes and into the hive itself, learning about how pollination is vital to global food supply.

The sounds within the hive are a primary aspect of Wolfgang Buttress’ overall concept. A composition entitled ‘The Journey’, which intertwines live bee broadcasts, multi-channel bee recordings and a mix of multitrack music stems, features musicians who have recorded with artists including Spiritualized, Sigur Ros, Soulsavers, The Orb, Youth and Spring Heel Jack. The latter comprise drifting layers of both classical and electronic instrumentation, as well as human singing voices.

To capture the activity of a real beehive in Nottingham, movement-sensing accelerometers were installed in a real bee hive in Nottingham as part of a scientific research project by Nottingham Trent University’s Martin Bencsik. The derived real time data is streamed from the UK live to the UK Pavilion in Milan, where it controls the volume and composition of the soundscape experienced by visitors.

Programmer Andy Coates 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 controlled multi-element LED arrays distributed within the hive structure to sync both light and sound to the real-time bee activity in Nottingham.

A total of 30 compact Meyer Sound MM4 loudspeakers were planted 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.

Mike Bedford, Principal, Hoare Lea Intelligent Buildings explains: ‘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.’

Commenting on the successful realisation of his design for the UK Pavilion, Wolfgang Buttress said: ‘I wanted a simple metaphor to express the importance of what pollinators do. Pollinators are responsible for 30 per cent 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.’