institution: Auckland War Memorial Museum
category: Exhibition Media or Experience
Hands-on and ears-on, Volume is the first major exhibition of New Zealand popular music. What sets Volume apart is participation – we really wanted visitors to put themselves in the exhibition and have a go at making music themselves.
We developed four major digital interactive experiences to explore different aspects of the music industry, demonstrating the range of creative roles and skills in the sector – beyond being a rock star. Extensive prototyping and user-testing ensured we would have a well-crafted and accessible visitor experience.
On top of the interactive experiences, the Spark All Access Pass uses tagging technology to provide a highly personalised experience of Volume (see Partnership).
Recording Studio is the first interactive visitors encounter and we wanted a welcoming personality to guide them through the experience. Video footage of a well-known local DJ verbally communicates how to mix a song using a real engineering desk. A flexible script means clear instructions from our DJ and specific feedback.
We modified an old-school analogue desk by adding custom electronics and software – an Arduino prototyping board and motorised potentiometer – which allows the sliders to be controlled via local software or over the internet. This incorporates cutting-edge digital technology into classic recording hardware.
The DJ/VJ interactives show visitors how to synch beats, mix songs and drop in samples and filters, or mix visuals to music. Each interactive has been simplified for inexperienced users but still emulates what a real DJ or VJ does – which is technically very tricky! Custom-coded interactive software and interfaces replicate existing DJ and VJ hardware and software. Touchscreens allow the interactives to be used in a fun way without visitors having to master complicated hardware. Music tracks and audio design were edited and looped in ProTools. Small touches made the experience as authentic as possible such as real-time temporal shifts built into the beat-synching interactive to imitate the lag of a record spin. Simple onscreen instructions walk visitors through each task.
For Live Band we transport visitors onto the stage of a 1970s bar. Real 70s instruments were modified so visitors could learn to play a classic New Zealand rock anthem. They are shown how to play chords, hit keys, and play the drums by watching lights on the instruments. For the bass and guitars we started with Fretlight guitars which have LED lights embedded into the guitar necks. We then tapped directly into these lights using our own control system made up of TouchDesigner software and Arduino’s controllers so the fret lights corresponded to the notes from the song. Casio light-up keys and circuitry were placed in a synthesiser, with the Casio circuitry hacked to send our own signals to the lights. The drums use Roland V-drum sensors, and the skins were replaced by mesh heads which are silent. The drums are lit up with LED lights, and a focused spotlight is aimed at the cymbal.
Instructions are displayed on a monitor mounted inside a box built to look like a 1970s foldback speaker, and are activated by tapping your foot on custom-built guitar pedals. Each performance is converted into MIDI-notes and compared with the original to give visitors a score.
While you can’t hear the other instruments, we create the effect of jamming onstage with stage lights synched to the song and video footage filmed to look like a real crowd is dancing in front of you. The experience feels low-tech but technology plays a huge part – making Live Band about being on stage as well as available to people with all levels of music-making experience.
Finally, TV Studio recreates the actual set of a 1960s music television show. This low-demand nostalgic space replicates the groovy visuals and dance routines of the show. We created a portion of the set from the live TV show, then filmed a recreation of the show, complete with dancers, musicians and TV crew. We worked with a choreographer and dancers to reverse engineer a performance of two songs from the show, and replicated the original dancers and musicians as closely as possible. A projection-mapped set allows visitors to enjoy watching the dancers or shake and shimmy themselves on the dancefloor.
We partnered with Spark (a telecommunications company like AT&T) to enrich Volume with a digital layer. Spark devised an All Access Pass which allows visitors to take centre stage by tagging content they’ve created themselves. Other content includes Spotify playlists created by well-loved New Zealand musicians, and documentary films.
To give each visitor a highly personalised experience of Volume, they can pick up a pass as they enter which they tag throughout the exhibition. At the exit, they register their details and get sent a link to their content. Over 72% of tagholders register to receive their content – high according to anecdotal industry feedback. Visitors can share the content with friends, family, or on social media.
The tagging stations work on near-field communications, with each pass containing an NFC chip, and each station an NFC reader so visitors can tag in at points of interest and we can record those points. On registering their details, they are sent a link to a microsite that houses all their tagged content.
Self-created content includes the song mix and a photo with the DJ in the Recording Studio, a photo of themselves in the DJ booth, and footage of themselves on the set of the TV Studio. In addition, at separate kiosks, visitors can snap themselves striking a pose on the red carpet, put themselves on a music magazine cover, and design their own tour poster.
Take a tour of Volume. Hit play to fly through or explore yourself with the Google Streetview-type arrows.
The link to your take-home Volume moments and content, collected on the Spark All Access Pass: https://www.sparkallaccesspass.co.nz/my/108665425402
Go on a tour of Volume with exhibition developer Esther Tobin, taking in Lorde’s Grammy, the handwritten lyrics to Crowded House’s hit song ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, and alternative music influencer Chris Knox, broadcast on Radio New Zealand (the Kiwi version of NPR): Radio New Zealand, New Zealand national public radio. Review, 28 October 2016.