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Largest 3D soundfield on Millennium Bridge during Olympics

In celebration of the Olympics, Martyn Ware and artistic director David Bickerstaff have transformed London’s Millennium Bridge into a giant 3D soundscape, titled Tales From The Bridge.

As part of the Mayor of London’s programme of free events celebrating the Olympics, Martyn Ware – of Heaven 17 and Human League fame – has teamed up with artistic director David Bickerstaff to transform London’s Millennium Bridge into a giant 3D soundscape. Tales From The Bridge went live the morning of the opening ceremony, and will run daily from 8am to 10pm during the Olympics. It is the largest 3D soundscape in the world, using 3DAudioScape software (developed by Ware’s company Future of Sound, in collaboration with Vince Clarke) to position spoken elements written by poet Mario Petrucci and voiced by Mia Austen and Steven Alexander within a soundfield that runs the entire length of the bridge. In addition, at the start of each hour, an astounding invisible 3,746-voice strong choir from 73 countries – Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir – will perform Water Night, written by Grammy-winning composer, Eric Whitacre. Amplifying the mesmerizing soundscape are five d&b E3 loudspeakers, amplified by five d&b D6s, installed by Encore Group Ltd. The speakers are encased in wooden boxes and painted silver to minimize any ‘negative visual impact’ they might have on the bridge. As Encore’s John Tinline explained, designing a system for a bridge involves compromise: “The distances are enormous. The speakers are not equidistant because the placement was dictated by the engineers, rather than by our sonic preference. So we’ve had to compensate for that. Hopefully if I’ve done the maths right, it should be fairly even as you go across.” Both the computer running the 3DAudioScape software, and the amplifiers are housed in a small plant room owned by City of London School located underneath the north side of the bridge. According to Ware, creating the 3D soundfield within the unusual shape of the bridge was relatively straight-forward: “We literally tell the software the location of the speakers, in metres, from centre-point, and then we tell it where the new speaker locations are and it reconfigures the soundfield to whatever size we want, or whatever shape we want. It doesn’t have to be a regular shape,” he said. “Essentially it’s a corridor of sound that people are walking down. They cannot move laterally more than two meters. So in one sense it’s perfect because you are imparting to them three-dimensionality all the way down the bridge in a very narrow band.” Technically, Tales From The Bridge was a relatively straight-forward installation, ­ despite some compromises with the sound system. The real challenge, said Tinline, was getting the project off the ground: “The north side of the bridge is governed by Westminister, the south side is governed by Southwark, the bridge is owned by the City of London and the Port of London Authority own the water that goes underneath. No one knew who we should ask permissions from,” he said. “We could’ve organised the whole of Glastonbury for the number of hours we’ve spent on this.” Tales From The Bridge is one of two 3D soundscapes Ware has contributed to the Olympics, the other being Heroes at The Bobby Moore Bridge. Both will run until the end of the London 2012 Olympics.