We were commissioned to create an immersive 24 speaker soundscape for the latest Imperial War Museum London exhibition People Power: Fighting For Peace. Each zone of the exhibition is dedicated to a different era of the anti-war movement, spanning from WW1 to the present day, and our brief was to recreate the sounds of protest particular to each period. It was great to return to the IWM after working on their permanent First World War galleries, which opened 2015.

“I can’t wait to work with them again. They really took our gallery to a new level with their high quality work.” – Philip Clevberger, Digital Media Developer, IWM London
“they did a brilliant job with the soundscape. It works perfectly within the space and achieves everything we wanted it to in complimenting the exhibition content and enhancing the visitor experience” – Rawiya Jenkins, Exhibitions Manager, IWM London
★★★★ – “there’s an infinite number of very real stories to be told – and that’s where the IWM really get things right… the human dimension to this exhibition is what lends it such power”. – Time Out
★★★★ ‘A moving, nuanced look at the anti-war movement across the decades’ – Telegraph

With little to no audio available from the 1900s, we had do extensive research to emulate what it would have sounded like and for this. Thanks to The BFI who were a great resource in this process.

We found a lot of inspiration and even some source material from films such as ‘March To Aldermaston’ and ‘Carry Greenham Home’ which are both excellent documentaries, as well as revisiting the 2003 ‘Stop The War’ march via clips on Youtube and the subsequent 10 year protest staged by Brian Haw in Parliament Square; events we remember well.

Still from March to Aldermaston (1959) courtesy of Contemporary Films.

Still from Carry Greenham Home (1983) courtesy of Contemporary Films.

“The key challenge with a multi-channel / multi-zone soundscape of this kind is handling sound bleed and making the different zones work on their own and together” – Will, Acoustic Engineer Coda to Coda

There are no walls dividing the sections up, so it was really important that the sound for each zone doesn’t clash and be overpowering or intrusive to the visitor’s experience. We had to work out a way of balancing all the zones across the entire space, so that they stay distinct and work together seamlessly at the same time.

We tackled this two ways..

Choreography

For each of the five eras or zones, we created a soundscape which evolves through three distinct states:

  • Idle, murmuring / processional: the sense that you are in a crowd but without any specific chanting or agitation; indistinct voices, and footsteps surround you, the occasional isolated chant or whistle etc. in the distance. The soundscape imparts a sense of enthusiasm, growing consensus, momentum and solidarity.

  • Agitated: giving the sense of animated protest all around you in the form of chanting, banging of drums/other items/stomping etc. These crescendos in the soundscape give a sense of the determination and power of protest.

  • Speech/rally: the sense of being in a crowd listening to one speaker rousing the protest, the speaker is in the middle distance, they can be heard clearly, but we retain the sense of being some distance from them, the cheering and agreement etc. by the crowd surrounds us and engages the listener through this sense of immediacy. The aim of this episode in the soundscape is to reinforce for the listener the role oratory and manifesto in protest.

These modes have been programmed to alternate between spaces, forming subtle patterns which thread together to give the impression of one overall crowd across time, to create one cohesive balanced soundscape across the whole exhibition for the visitor. 

IWM: People Power Soundscape choreography

 

Direction of Sound

 

The direction and placement of speakers within each zone had to be calibrated to ensure that the sound is correctly distributed in the space, that calculation is based on the specifications of the speakers and the acoustics of the space. We’re great believers in a good hand-drawn diagram, here’s a little sketch we gave to the Technical team at IWM:

Speaker plan of the Gallery.

It was great to work with the team at IWM London on this, they were involved and enthusiastic collaborators at every stage. The exhibition is on until 28 August at Imperial War Museum, London.

Cold War Gallery, photo courtesy of The Imperial War Museum, 2017.

21st Century / Stop the War Movement section, photo courtesy of The Imperial War Museum, 2017.