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Followers of fashion

Followers of fashion
A "garden" walkway with birdsong soundscape ran behind Lady Curzon's Peacock dress display

Followers of fashion

A stylish combination of Genelec PoE-powered IP speakers and OutBoard’s TiMax has helped create a multi-zone soundscape for an Indian exhibition. Caroline Moss visits India in Fashion

Constructed on reclaimed land on the Mithi river, the ever-evolving, upscale Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), is coming to life, endowing Mumbai with a sleek, modern business and residential district. The long-awaited centrepiece of BKC is the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) incorporating exhibition spaces and theatres. The first exhibition to take place here, from 2 April – 4 June, was India in Fashion: The Impact of Indian Dress and Textiles on the Fashionable Imagination, curated by Vogue’s global editor Hamish Bowles and designed by stage, costume and architectural designer Patrick Kinmonth with Indian architectural and interior specialist, Rooshad Shroff.

A very specific audio brief for the exhibition needed to be fulfilled within a seemingly impossible timeframe. Munro Acoustics director, Kapil Thirwani, was contacted in mid-January to come up with an audio solution for the prestigious exhibition which would feature multiple zones, some of which were immersive, and a soundscape that segued from zone to zone. The 128 speakers required needed to be practically invisible, as did any cabling.

Munro's Kapil Thirwani
Munro's Kapil Thirwani

Thirwani quickly worked out that using conventional powered speakers would require more than 20km of copper cabling – not only expensive but hard to conceal and integrate, and extremely wasteful at the end of the exhibition’s run. “I started looking at the Genelec 4430 Dante IP speaker,” he recalls. Running on a single Cat5 cable, the PoE-powered speaker incorporates the Finnish manufacturer’s Smart IP Manager which can operate across an unlimited number of zones and includes device discovery, a room equalisation toolset, system organisation and status monitoring while supporting external control via third-party hardware or software.

The Munro Acoustics team began coordinating with the construction company to determine how and where the equipment could be installed. “Our 3D specialists Cyril and Johan modelled some of the immersive areas – closed spaces which were the easiest to simulate – in Fusion 360 and EASE software,” continues Thirwani. “We used Genelec and another brand of passive speaker, did a price comparison and presented to the clients, letting them know about the failure rate of using powered speakers, plus the cost of copper cabling. I knew the Genelec model would work, but I needed to convince Patrick, who wanted everything hidden, and also get the budget approved. We also contacted Sandunes, the musical duo commissioned to create the soundscape, and find something to store their content on that would work across the different zones.”

L to R: Alphatec's Prakash Jalouka; video director Sourya Sen; Out Board's Dave Haydon; Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Jhaveri from Sandunes
L to R: Alphatec's Prakash Jalouka; video director Sourya Sen; Out Board's Dave Haydon; Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Jhaveri from Sandunes

Thirwani had heard about OutBoard’s TiMax SoundHub-S64 spatial processor from Indian distributor, Alphatec which, by fortunate coincidence, also distributes Genelec. “Alphatec showed Kapil different ways of configuring the project on the server to play music and soundscapes across 15 different zones, starting and stopping it all automatically without anybody having to touch it,” explains OutBoard director, Dave Haydon. “He worked out that TiMax was the only thing that could do it all at once.” Intrigued, Thirwani travelled to ISE in Barcelona in late January to meet Haydon.

With the budget approved and the project green-lighted, Sandunes – Goa-based musicians Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Jhaveri – started sending audio content to Haydon in the for programming and stress-testing the showfiles. He also conducted a series of Zoom workshops with Sandunes, explaining the TiMax workflow and virtually placing four studio monitors, two front and two rear, in each zone. “They could monitor on the four speakers while programming and panning the content around in a small studio space, and TiMax would simultaneously render it to play and pan as intended to be heard in a real-life setting at the venue,” explains Haydon. “I also gave them some guidance on what works and what doesn't work, such as keeping everything quite subtle and not whizzing stuff around people's heads, which they took onboard. They had a very good grasp of what the technology could do. Sanaya commented that, as an artist, it was quite a transition working in multi-channel spatial audio and it was journey of discovery, finding out what works; separating things out into surround.” Also on hand to help with TiMax programming was Sandunes tour video director Sourya Sen, who had experience of working with spatial soundscapes.

The Hippie Trail was one of the immersive zones
The Hippie Trail was one of the immersive zones

In Mumbai, Thirwani and Alphatec’s application engineer, Prakash Jalooka, took a space at NMACC theatre The Cube. “We set up four top and four bottom channels and spent a week figuring out the setup and creating the tracks on the SoundHubs, with Dave assisting from UK,” says Thirwani. “Dave sent the showfiles from the UK as downloads and we presented the project to the clients to give them an idea of how it was going to sound.”

By now, 128 Genelec 4430s had been approved and shipped from Finland. All were ordered in black – not a concern when concealed in the ceiling, but those on display had to be painted to match the exact colour of the walls they were to be mounted onto by the interior designers. Then, under the guidance of CTO Bhavin Sureliya, SI company Innovative Systems started work on the installation process. Four pillars holding up the ceiling needed to be worked around and, in places, these could be used to mount speakers on. But, for most of the installation, cabling was run underneath the raised plinth floor and up in the high ceiling, concealed in conduits.

Two TiMax SoundHub-S64s dubbed “Jio1” and “Jio2”, each with 64 inputs and 64 outputs on Dante, together with a laptop PC, each handled one half of the exhibition, playing out a mix of stereo and multi-stem spatial music and soundscape tracks to the 128 speakers. Once everything was installed, the team started loading and playing the soundscape over the distributed speakers.

Any visible Genelec 4430s were painted to match the walls on which they were mounted
Any visible Genelec 4430s were painted to match the walls on which they were mounted

Haydon arrived in Mumbai in late March to find everything working perfectly. “When I walked in, the soundscapes were playing in every zone, looping perfectly,” he says. “The integration and design were amazing, and all the equipment was up and running to provide totally automated, hands-free, fully integrated operation.”

The team then moved around from zone to zone with a Mac to fine-tune the spatialisation. One of the main challenges was in the Fashion Takes a Trip section, part of the immersive Hippie Trail zone, featuring a backdrop of projected images with fan noise emitting from the projectors. Another challenge was the overlap of the soundscape between zones. “This was unavoidable because there are no walls between them, and we were trialling how we could isolate everything,” says Haydon. “Fortunately, Sandunes created the music in the same key so, as you go from one zone to another, you could sometimes imagine that it was the same piece. Patrick actually said he liked that blend of sound and the slight overlaps; it gave it a life.”

However, to mitigate some of the bleed between zones, some tracks were remixed in Logic and reloaded back onto the SoundHubs to make them less dynamic, especially those featuring drums and louder sounds, so they wouldn't be as noticeable across the exhibition.

TiMax SoundHub-S64s with laptops were dubbed
TiMax SoundHub-S64s with laptops were dubbed "Jio1" and "Jio2"

“We saved the settings and locked the SoundHubs to fade in at 10am then slowly fade out when the gallery closes in the evening,” explains Thirwani. An iPad for each SoundHub runing TouchOSC give client control of master level and individual zone levels for out-of-hours VIP visits, press and TV interviews and so on. “We gave the iPads, running on a closed WiFi network, to the floor managers,” he continues. “We had our own UPS power with backup, and the entire show ran for two months with no issues at all.”

The exhibition, which closed in early June, led visitors around 15 zones to explore India’s rich fashion history and its influence on the West since the 17th century. Each zone featured a strong theme or era, such as the Mughal chinz hugely popular in the 18th century; the Indian impact on Parisian designers Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves St Laurent; the history of the sari and Western interpretations by Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Madame Grès and Jean Paul Gaultier; the Hippie Trail section featuring 1960s Indian-influenced fashion; film costume designers and Bollywood creations; and a Valentino lace wedding outfit made for Nita Mukesh Ambani’s daughter Isha, using thousands of crystal beads that took almost a year to complete.

Some of the zones were interactive, including the Great Exhibition London 1851, a nod to the Crystal Palace exhibition marking the complex colonial relationship between Britain and India, bringing Indian art and culture to London at the height of the empire. Here, a central display of shoes, jewellery and accessories was mounted on a plinth with 14 speakers underneath. As visitors approached, they were greeted by the chatter and ambience of a bazaar. “We wanted some of the soundtrack from the adjacent Journey of the Sari zone to blend with this as well, adding to the bazaar ambience,” explains Thirwani.

A stunning centrepiece by House of Worth – the Peacock dress worn by the vicereine of British India, Lady Curzon, to the 1903 Delhi Durbar celebrating the coronation of King Edward VII – was surrounded by silk hangings suspended from the ceiling imprinted with trees and flowers. Visitors were led behind the dress display into a “garden” where a field recording immersed them in countryside ambience and birdsong.

As Mumbai’s first truly world-class exhibition drew to a close, Thirwani gave thanks to the teams that worked with commitment to such a tight deadline. “This was a real joint effort, with safe hands all across the project in Alphatec, Genelec, OutBoard and Innovative Systems,” he says.

A high benchmark has already been set at the newly opened NMACC, and one that has left Mumbai’s culture and art patrons eagerly anticipating what will follow.

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