Science Museum Information Age Exhibition

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On Friday 24th October 2014 the Science Museum opened their biggest and most ambitious gallery to date; Information Age: Six Networks That Changed Our World. The exhibit explores more than 200 years of innovation in communication and information technologies from the worldwide telegraph network to mobile phone and internet communication.

Following a successful 3D scanning project for the now-expired Naval Gallery, Box Of Toys Audio was honoured with the task of creating an audio toolkit for permanent use in the new exhibition. The toolkit would entail the design of sounds for various informative animations, interactive models and perhaps more importantly the imagining of sounds for the networks themselves.

As the intellectual framework of the exhibit, the Science Museum wanted to bolster information surrounding the networks with a logical sonic descriptor. The aim was to reinforce the various narratives and experiences within the gallery with sounds that assisted the understanding of how the technology works.

In collaboration with the Science Museum staff we established a concept for the network audio centred around a frequency spectrum. From electric current to visible light, all communication technologies in principle harness some part of what is largely the electromagnetic spectrum to transfer information. As a common ground for the technologies in question we were able to design interpretive audio that shared the same genesis (i.e. the spectrum) yet audibly illustrated variables such as frequency, wavelength and modulation.

The initial development of the network audio saw elements of more tangible, real-world sounds such as line noise, TV hum and even recordings from induction coil pick-up microphones (mics that pick up electromagnetic activity). However the consensus was that the network sounds should be abstract in nature so as to not confuse the target audience in the sense that these sounds could be misconstrued as a literal representation of the spectrum. The purpose was to assist the understanding and not give body to the visuals.

After some experimentation, the final network audio was founded on a combination of patches in the software synth/sampler, Native Instrument’s Kontakt 5. The general idea behind the timbre of the sound was a more pleasant, musical version of a sine wave, perhaps the simplest means of understanding waves and frequency. With the correct application of pitch and tremolo we were able to represent changes in the spectrum frequency and wavelength – the higher the pitch and faster the pulse, the higher the frequency and shorter the wavelength. This formed the basic signal of the spectrum yet we were also tasked with designing modulated signals, or in other words, versions of the signal that carried information on both an analogue and digital level. This was achieved by introducing audio artefacts via ring modulation. Given the attributes of digital and analogue technology, a more rounder succession of high frequency pips was used to illustrate analogue modulation whilst a harsher, more granular approach was taken with the digital.

On completion Box Of Toys Audio had the honour of attending the grand opening of the exhibition where Her Royal Majesty the Queen attended and sent her very first tweet: “It is a pleasure to open the Information Age exhibition today at the @ScienceMuseum and I hope people will enjoy visiting. Elizabeth R.”

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