A few months back, with Mann Made Media, I had the privilege to work on a great project for BMW. BMW was announcing their sponsorship of the South African rugby team – the Springboks. Our brief was to simulate the feeling a rugby player would experience as they walk onto a packed stadium. It was well received and we were finalists at the Loerie Awards 2011.

general overview

Participants enter the event through a dark 30m long tunnel. As they walk, the sound builds from a distant stadium stomping their feet in unison, to the South African anthem being sung. As they go deeper into the tunnel, the sound keeps developing and getting more exciting, loud, and present. Around the bend, a motion detection system picks them up and the whole “stadium” erupts sonically and visually. We had six LCD wall panels displaying a stadium full of animated people standing up and cheering. We also hacked the flashes of disposable cameras to augment the experience.

Check out this video to get a feel for the installation as a whole:

sound design

The goal was to quickly and effectively give participants a feeling of excitement and pride. I was going for an army-like collective – a stadium is the perfect venue for this. There’s nothing quite like the unison of a packed stadium cheering and singing an anthem to unify a country. Fortunately the Soccer World Cup happened recently, so I had lots of material. Also, for a commercial I had gotten a small crowd of 20 to sing the anthem and also had them stomp their feet together, which is the sound stomping you here in the first two mixes below (with lots of processing). All and all, each loop is made up of a gazillion layers!

I used a combination of sounds I recorded specifically for this, sounds from my personal library (mentioned above), and I crowd sourced a little on Social Sound Design to fill up the stadium crowd stuff. These sounds were donated by Rene Conorado and Kurt Human – Thanks so much guys! I also found some really useful sounds in the blastwave FX library.

For general rugby crowd sounds (eruptions, claps, screams, singing, etc.), I did a recording trip to a rugby match. My gear consisted of an MKH 418s, a stereo pair of DPA 4060s, and a Zoom H4n (which turned out useless). I have to say, those little DPAs sounded amazing with crowds – beautiful spatiality and clarity! I have two Sound Devices 702, which is handy to split up perspective. Thanks to Wesley Mace for helping me record!

Below are two pics from the session. We got media passes so we were right there by the pitch – awesome!

Here are the loops. They really don’t give any justice to the experience, as they were mixed specifically for the space and to the system in the venue. There’s some serious low end going on, which massive subwoofers were dealing with. When listening in the venue, the loops sound a lot more accurate to how it would actually sound.

Distant South African anthem. At the entrance of the tunnel. As you’re waiting in the reception area, you can here this sound very distantly.

More present South African anthem. From one third into the tunnel. Synced to first loop.

Picking up the pace and excitement with this loop. Close to the exit of the tunnel.

The climax as you step out of the tunnel and “onto” the pitch. This loop is triggered by a motion detection system.

This transition allows the loop to reset itself and go back to the idle “excited” state.

Software

I programmed the software to control the loops in Max/MSP. Each section controls several speakers lining the tunnel. Below is a screen grab of the programme. The tricky bit was to have all the loops work rhythmically and sonically together, transition smoothly, and not be too obnoxious so that people already inside don’t go crazy from the repetition. I also had to create a basic dynamic mixing system to avoid all the sound just piling up on top of one another and creating a wall of noise.

Our control room, I’m on the left, Stephen Buchanan (realtime graphics programmer) on the right:

sound in the venue

I sent to the sound engineer six channels, and we distributed it to a total of 12 speakers and two subwoofers lining the tunnel. The tunnel was made of material that diffused the sound and made the speakers sound way less directional – handy! Once out of the tunnel, when the stadium erupts, we had a speaker array right above them. Sadly, because of the position and huge cost of the LCD panels, we could only safely fit one set of speaker arrays, so we didn’t get that big and wide surround feel I wanted. It still sounded alright.

It was tricky getting all the levels and frequencies right, as each section had to not conflict with the next, and not be too loud for the people that have either already experienced the tunnel or waiting in the entrance.

and more…

This blog post focuses on the sound design, but it was only part of my responsibility, I was also in charge of the augmented camera flashes. For this, I hired Dino Fizzotti, a super electrical engineer. You can check out the (very) brief writeup on my portfolio site.


13 Responses to “Sound Design for the BMW Tunnel Experience {+ interactive}”  

  1. 1 Chris

    Rad!

  2. 2 Michael O'Connor

    Wow, what an incredible and unique project to be a part of. I really appreciate you going into the details of how you built the sounds of the whole event, especially the dynamics that you had to consider with the presentation layout. Can’t wait to work on an audio/visual piece like this in the future, it must be great seeing people react to this stimulating work.
    Time to go make some sounds,
    Mike

  3. 3 Andrew Spitz

    Thanks Michael for the kind words!

  4. 4 Gianpaolo D'Amico

    great work Andrew and very useful explanation of your activities, this is the way, thank you very much!!

  5. 5 Andrew Spitz

    Thanks a lot Gianpaolo :-)

  6. 6 Bob

    Awesome project, best I have seen in a while.
    I like the combination of sounddesign/hardware/software/visuals.
    Have you guys also included some sort of stadium smell? (Wet grass,…)
    Cheers

  7. 7 Andrew Spitz

    Thanks so much @Bob! Adding an olfactory dimension would have been awesome! Great idea. We didn’t even think about that. We were just trying to get it done, it’s already big enough. Next time!

  8. 8 Erin Patrick O'Connor

    This is so cool. I love the idea of integrating sound design with an instillation piece. Are you working on any new projects employing this same technique?

  9. 9 Andrew Spitz

    Thanks, Erin. Not at the moment. I actually decided to go back to school and study Interaction Design properly. So there will be more to come!

  10. 10 Chris

    I am not that familiar with Max/MSP but if I had to figure out how to do this, wouldn’t fmod do the trick perhaps a bit easier? Just curious, I’m not that familiar with fmod either, just wondering if there are any reasons behind your choice besides, idk, preference I guess.

  11. 11 Andrew Spitz

    Hey Chris,

    Not sure about FMOD, I just assumed it was just a middleware for game audio. Well regardless, Max/MSP really shines for this kinda stuff. Especially that looping the audio is one small aspect of it. Had to deal with synching several systems together (through OSC), and lots of little things like that.

  1. 1 Designing Sound for the BMW Tunnel Experience
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