As part of the 10th Anniversary of London Design Festival 2012, BE OPEN, a creative think tank explored the possibilities of what can be achieved with innovative sound technology. Designed by Arup, the sound portal was a working experimental laboratory put to the test in one of London’s busiest and noisiest squares from the 19th to the 23rd September. The project consisted of 5 composers; Ivan Pavlov (Coh), Nathaniel Robin Mann, Jo Thomas, Tom Jenkinson (squarepusher) and Jana Winderen.
Arup’s acoustic technicians, engineers and designers were challenged to test their expertise in a larger than life social environment notorious for protests, street performances and heavy traffic. The surround sound speakers placed in the walls, ceiling and, judging by the rumbling bass- the floor, employed state of the art speaker and sound design technology. On Saturday 22nd September I experienced Tom Jenkinson’s contribution; a composition of similar cool timbres; a lute, a harp and a guitar bounced off the walls from speaker to speaker, creating an immersive yet soothing aura within the brilliant white walls of the portal. Depending on the pitch of the sound, the higher or lower the tone to emit from the speaker was relative to the pitch of the tone coming from the walls of the enclosed space.
The Portal designers prioritised acoustic above the aesthetic qualities of the installation, employing previous research used to change the social experience of airports, stadiums and urban road planning. The marriage of the ‘alien’ black rubber outer casing with preconceptions of mysterious and other worldly objects compliments the eclectic commotion of Trafalgar square. Blending smoothly the brightness of the outside world, a short dark tunnel leads into a large, pristine white and naturally lit circular room stacked from floor to ceiling in speakers, and in the centre, directly underneath the sky light, which afforded glimpses of Nelsons column and the national gallery, was a padded white bench for listeners to enjoy the surround sound in the round, away from the hectic city centre.
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For more information and hyper links to the compositions in the Sound Portal Trafalgar square visit: