Written by Mel Lambert in October 2000
is no exaggeration to state that the Experience Music Project (EMP) is a unique
environment. EMP was conceived by co-founders Paul G. Allen and Jody Allen
Patton, his sister. Located in downtown Seattle, EMP, which opened on June 23,
2000, combines a number of interactive and interpretive exhibits with an
extensive collection of memorabilia housed in an imaginative building designed
by architect Frank O. Gehry. Gehry's other works include the Guggenheim Museum
in Bilbao, Spain, and the Fredrick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN.
says that EMP is dedicated to capturing and reflecting the essence of rock and
roll and places a strong emphasis on high-quality sound and accompanying
visuals, both static and moving, inviting visitors to participate in a total
sensory experience. EMP's permanent collection includes musical instruments, a
large recorded sound archive, film, photographs and handwritten song lyrics.
140,000 square foot (13,000 m2) building houses a number of interactive
exhibits that allow visitors to create their own music, see and learn about rare
memorabilia from the museum's collection, explore musical milestones within
unique interpretive exhibits and enjoy music in all its forms.
the story goes, the project started life as a modest, 10,000 square foot (930 m2) floor museum dedicated to the memory of Seattle alumni Jimi Hendrix.
Reported costs of the final complex are in the region of $250 million, including
$140 million for installed equipment.
Zumwalt, director of design and construction with Vulcan Northwest (Allen's
development company) said, "We have been working on EMP since 1996. Once we
had received a floor plan from Frank Gehry and input from the other eight
members of our interior design team, we began to develop an overview of the
various audio and video environments required to complement the theme of this
unique building. To ensure that our visitors enjoy the exhibits, we have
stretched the envelope in terms of state-of-the-art sound and video
The interconnected space is divided into a number of performance and
interactive areas. The largest is Sky Church, a spacious, high-ceilinged
assembly arena with a gigantic video wall onto which are displayed
live-performance movies, concert videos and related media. Other areas within
EMP include Guitar Gallery (a collection of milestone instruments); Hendrix
Gallery (a homage to the city-born guitar genius), Artist's Journey (a
multimedia theme ride), JBL Theater (for special events and concerts), Learning
Lab and Compaq Digital Lab, Milestones (an A-V history of modern music),
Lab (where visitors can play musical instruments and experience music-making
first hand), and On Stage (where visitors participate in a live concert
terms of sound equipment, Zumwalt acknowledged that the delivery of high-quality
sound in such a complex environment is an acoustics nightmare. Many spaces are
finished in raw concrete, and there are large amounts of glass, polished steel
and other reflective surface to consider. Zumwalt said that the key was the use
of absorbent material to contain the sound and structural isolation to prevent
low frequencies, in particular, from traveling among discrete environments.
ensure sonic consistency and deal with a single vendor EMP selected Harman
International and its component brands to supply the majority of sound
equipment. Coordinated by the Harman Professional Projects Group (HPPG),
providing large project factory support service for Harman Professional product
lines, the museum development team was provided with a single point of contact.
JBL Professional, for example, was selected as exclusive provider of
loudspeakers throughout the entire facility, including live performance and
interactive museum areas. The 200-seat JBL Theatre includes a JBL Professional
ScreenArray cinema sound playback system and is used for live performance,
seminars and screenings of in-house EMP productions. Other applications include
the utilization of stock product lines, modified stock products and the creation
of entirely new products using JBL drivers augmented with custom crossover
networks and DSPs.
foundation of all the speaker systems throughout the project," said Rod
Falconer, HPPG marketing manager, "is the gene pool of JBL drivers we are
able to draw from. These proven components allowed us to specifically tailor
each system to its individual requirements. The systems include high-level live
performance and playback systems, unusual applications for stock products like
the LE8T-H and ScreenArray systems, weather-resistant treatments of stock
speakers for outdoor use, and complete custom loudspeaker systems like the
line-arrays. We wanted the performance of each system to reflect the legacy of
JBL within the music industry, as well as what we are capable of today."
is one of the EMP sponsors and partners," Zumwalt said. "JBL provided
all of the loudspeaker cabinets we specified for the facility and, in many
cases, worked to customize audio treatments. One of the key aspects for the
entire building is adaptability. We found JBL staff to be helpful in designing a
flexible and adaptable sound system that will support everything from live music
to background ambience, plus everything in between."
HPPG worked closely with contractors, designers and EMP staff to maximize the
effectiveness of JBL loudspeakers and other Harman products, according to
Zumwalt. Amps from Crown, Allen & Heath and JBL were used throughout the
site, as were multiple BSS Soundweb audio-processing systems, dbx Technologies
signal processing units and Soundcraft mixing consoles.
is a spectacular realization of an amazing vision," said Ken Blecher,
director of HPPG. "In all aspects of the design and execution, it was
readily apparent that this venue is dedicated to providing the highest standards
of performance. Given JBL Professional's shared history with the birth and
development of rock and roll and its commitment to quality and design, it is
fitting that JBL loudspeaker systems form an integral part of the museum's
expression of that vision."
meets off-the-shelf units
In addition to selecting off-the-shelf components
offered by Harman and its subsidiaries, EMP designers were also able to call
upon the JBL Custom Shop, which developed customized systems to fit the specific
requirements of certain exhibits. The Milestones area, for example, presents an
A-V history of modern music. The JBL Custom Shop, under direction from Jaffe
Holden Scarbrough, the project's acoustics and noise control consultants,
designed a number of long, rectangular boxes, open at the bottom. These devices
contain the sound to an area where visitors are looking at the relevant
exhibits. The playback dispersion falls off rapidly within a couple of feet,
allowing the listener to hear the narration and music from that specific area.
Each tube houses a JBL LE8T-H 8 inch (203 mm) full-range loudspeaker.
Installation Range and Contractor Control series loudspeakers systems are also
featured throughout EMP's interactive museum areas. The eight personal recording
studios located in Sound Lab are outfitted with JBL Professional LSR series
monitor loudspeakers as well as JBL Control series speaker systems in other
areas. Lexicon MPX-series digital processors provide programmable room
the ticketing area and entrance lobby, a JBL Custom Shop line-array is installed
above each large-format plasma-screen monitor. These units were originally
intended to be mounted on the side of each display, but EMP made the aesthetic
decision to mount the arrays horizontally. Given the system's characteristics,
it still provides coverage of the immediate area in front of each display
also touched other areas of the site. The 146 distributed ceiling loudspeakers
throughout the facility are high-performance LE8T-H full-range units. The Liquid
Lounge and other areas bar used the CSP18, an 8 inch, two-way loudspeaker with a
1 inch (25.4 mm) exit compression driver, for program playback. Further, the
interior of the JBL Theater, designed by Gehry, uses a behind-the-screen system
of JBL ScreenArray Cinema System units with customized surround-sound
loudspeakers derived from JBL Model 8330 loudspeakers hidden behind custom
Fitzsimmons, EMP's director of technology, said, "Once we had determined
what was needed at each exhibit area and the low-level programming required to
supply the necessary audio-video systems, our Exhibit Team could design the
replay systems. We felt that we did not need to reinvent the wheel when so much
of this capability and functionality was already in place and available
off-the-shelf from Harman and its various brands.
cable infrastructure is based upon a network control, which provides signal
distribution and computer control of technology-driven exhibits. While we are
still refining that vision - some functions will be added and enhanced over the
coming months - we realized that central storage of sound and video files and
high-speed distribution via a number of channels was the only way to go."
that end, BSS Soundweb provides computer-controlled DSP on all exhibit and
specialty-audio systems. Each of the equipment rooms is interconnected with QSC
Rave units using Peak Audio's CobraNet to provide high-speed delivery of sound
to various exhibit areas via 100 Base-T Ethernet using single CAT-5 cable. An
estimated 25,000 miles (40,200 km) of cabling is used throughout the complex.
audio originates in AES/EBU digital format from a number of ENCO hard disk
servers. Video playback is handled from a centralized SeaChange International
MediaCluster disk-based server capable of delivering 24 Mbps of digitized
component video in ITR-U 601 and MPEG2 compressed formats. The server features a
fully redundant RAID topology and handles all scheduled playback. A pair of Pesa
Jaguar routers provides first-level switching of A-V sources to designated
exhibit destinations. Real-time show control is provided from a Pacific
Interactive PacificStream system triggered against timecode. A total of 128
stereo pairs of AES/EBU digital audio is distributed the facility on Ethernet,
which leaves room for future expansion.
to 72 discrete channels of audio and video can be distributed from a central
playback area," said Graham Usherwood, EMP's facility technology manager.
"The 14 servers can provide a total playback capacity of 48 hours of
multichannel audio and video material."
also offers flexibility for creating application-specific playback systems. For
example, setting up a secondary audio feed in an exhibit area with overall EQ
and dynamics control would normally take half a day with conventional hardware.
Technicians can now do that in less than an hour with Soundweb and its PC-based
control of processing functions. Other areas within EMP are supplied via Peavey
MediaMatrix or Level Control Systems SuperNova systems.
Of the environments offered at EMP, Sky Church (pictured below) represents its creative
centerpiece. Designed to offer a great deal of flexibility, the original idea
stemmed from Jimi Hendrix's desire for an environment in which "all kinds
of people, regardless of age, background or interests, could come together to
appreciate music." The multi-channel sound system comprises both stock JBL
Venue series and Custom Shop loudspeakers arranged at three levels on either
side of the 40 ft tall (12 m) by 70 ft wide (21 m) Sony Jumbotron video wall,
supplemented by JBL Custom Shop 99 inches high by 6 ft wide (2.5 m x 1.8 m)
vertical line arrays situated between banks of video display components. Because
the line-array systems were incorporated into the screen, EMP can address sound
right from the screen or locate it at specific places.
24-channel sound system is controlled from an audio booth located high on the
rear wall, where a Mackie Digital 8 Bus console links to a Level Control Systems
SuperNova hard-disk playback and computer-controlled routing unit. A total of 17
BSS Soundweb 9088 DSP systems provide zone-specific processing. EMP wanted
highly directional loudspeakers with a wide array distribution. The basic system
is laid out in a nine-channel array - left, center, right across the video wall (supported by the custom line-arrays) and left- and right-side front and rear,
and rear-left and right. JBL MPX600 and MPX1200 power amps feed six JBL pre-amplifier
Venue series VS-3215 cabinets (left and right of video wall and on
the other primary trusses for 360ø floor-level playback). Additional
multi-channel playback support is provided for mid- and upper level localization
by a total of 18 JBL Custom Shop 12 inch (305 mm) two-way cabinets mounted on
three tiers throughout the space. Subwoofer support is provided by four Venue
series VS-125HS horn-loaded subwoofers and seven 4642A-GS direct radiators for a
total of eight 15 inch (381 mm) and 14 18 inch (457 mm) drivers.
Artist's Journey Artist's Journey includes a motion platform ride in four
distinct stages. A-V systems for this area were designed by Soundelux, which
functioned as the design-build firm for both Sky Church and Artist's Journey and
installation contractor for the balance of the project. Various pre-ride areas
are supplied with video screens and loudspeakers to explain background to the
ride, which consists of special effects, theatrical lighting, IMAX-style 70 mm
film, audio, video, computer graphics and full 3-D motion. A total of 40
visitors can be accommodated on the ride at the same time. Act I is a lounge
with JBL Control 1 loudspeakers. Act II is a tall room with a series of ramps,
and Act III is a ride with incredible sonic blasts from all directions around
the screen. System components include JBL Venue series, Sound Power, Marquis
series, Control series, Screen-Array and custom subwoofer systems. A
rear-projector screen uses a BARCO 9300 Series III, while six BARCO 6300
projectors are used in Act II.
from an architectural overview," said Howard Schlieper, Soundelux project
manager, "we acted as design engineers for the complex audio and video
systems used in Artist's Journey. Our biggest challenge was to provide totally
convincing screen image coupled with surround-sound playback. We could not place
loudspeakers behind the screen because it is non-perforated, but the array
sounds convincing. EMP opted for a non-perforated screen as the best option
because it needed to form a curved projection using a Stewart's Torus compound
series of AKAI DS-16 hard disk recorders provide real-time playback of 16
discrete audio tracks; this capacity may be expanded in the future to 24 or 32
using synchronized units. A Peavey MediaMatrix system controls assignment and
processing for a total of 21 playback channels and drives Crown Macro-Tech power
amps. Loudspeakers include five JBL playback systems above the 26 ft high by 40
ft wide (7.9 m x 12 m) wrap-around screen, five below, four overhead, two to the
left, two to the right and two below the ride, plus subwoofers. Cabinets include
JBL 4641A-GS, SP125S and SP128S subwoofers, Venue series VS-3215-6, EON 15P,
Control 5 and Control 1 plus custom-designed MS-28HR boxes, ScreenArray
components and CSP-118S subwoofers. Power amps include JBL MPC200, MPC300 and
MPC600 and Crown Macro-Tech series.
addition to the variety loudspeakers that were flown everywhere to facilitate
surround-sound playback," said Falconer, "an unusual product
application was the use of a number of JBL Screen-Array cinema products,
modified for this installation by removing their subwoofer cabinets and creating
a flying frame."
Experience Music Project is a great accomplishment," said Zumwalt. "We
were not interested in technology for technology's sake. The end result is an
inspired, creative environment, where sound and pictures blend with the unique
exhibits to create a totally enveloping experience."
of the most challenging aspects of the design was the delivery of
broadcast-quality audio and video from a single, reliable playback source. The
decision was made to use a digital video server manufactured by SeaChange
International. Running on an NT-based MPEG-2 video server platform, 72 outputs
of discrete 601 video streaming from 14 mainframes and 112 hard disk drives have
resulted in what is presently known as the largest broadcast media cluster in
the world. An additional audio-only server by ENCO delivers wave-encoded files
as AES audio to areas that do not require video.
in-house multimedia department creates the media content that is ultimately
distributed throughout the museum. These clips are then MPEG-2 encoded and
pushed via the network to our main SeaChange AV Server located in MEC-1065 (main
equipment center). Files are stored in the Raid 5 redundant topology and
selected for playback using an elaborate custom control system developed by
Pacific Interactive. Pacific Interactive's UI allows us to control fully what
file is played to each destination throughout the museum. The UI enables us to
create play lists so we can stack multiple files in a seamless manner or create
a schedule of what files playback at any given time and location.
video is spooled out and delivered by two different methods depending on the
area being served. Exhibit video passes through MEC-1038 and various BECs
(branch equipment centers) and floor boxes until it reaches a D/A converter
located near the video display. Other, non-exhibit areas are delivered similarly
with the exception that more source playback flexibility is required. Therefore,
they are delivered via a 64-channel PESA Jaguar router in 1038. We can then
select independent or multiple destinations of a single file or play list, or we
can select a different source such as DigiBeta, BetaSP, SVHS, DVD, satellite TV,
DSS, CATV, laserdisc, character generator or test generator. Video sources
originating as analog are converted to SDI prior to the Jaguar and then
converted to Y/C or YUV prior to the device.
distribution is more complex. "CobraNet essentially allows us to replace the
typical analog cable infrastructure with digital technologies using our existing
Ethernet backbone. After leaving the servers, all exhibit audio enters the
network via a bank of QSC's Rave CobraNet transmitters located in MEC-1038.
ambient audio system includes several feeds from ENCO, SeaChange and PESA that
pass through MediaMatrix before entering CobraNet. All DSP for ambient audio is
done inside MediaMatrix and all exhibit audio is direct into CobraNet.
on the network, 128 channels of audio can be peeled off anywhere network
connectivity is available. Located in the BECs are the QSC Rave receivers that
intercept the selected audio channels for all exhibit and ambient audio zones.
Exhibit and MEG (MEG is a portable handheld electronic device) audio signals are
then processed using BSS Soundweb prior to the exhibit amplifiers and MEG RF
transmitters. Unlike exhibit audio, ambient audio is passed from a corresponding
analog Rave receiver directly to the amps feeding the ambient audio zones. The
end result is a truly enhanced visitor experience with the synthesis of sound
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