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Exhibition about ancient Northern tribes houses the largest sound installation in the world

The newly-opened Estonian National Museum in Tartu, Estonia offers on top of fascinating new world-class architecture and a very contemporary take on exhibitions, an unexpected treat for people looking for excellent audio experiences. "Echo of the Urals", the permanent exhibition of the museum focussed on introducing all the Northern Finno-Ugric cultures, boasts an interactive sound installation that is likely the largest in the world. Spreading over 1000 square metres, the installation uses 126 speakers to transmit 140 different audio channels.
The spatial experience that this creates takes the visitor on a trip to locations where the tiny Finno-Ugric nations live. The exhibition is split into four exhibition halls, each of them dedicated to a few of the language groups, but also to a certain time of day and a season. Moving through the space, the visitor is taken from a spring morning to a summer day, followed by an autumnal afternoon and wintery night. Each of the spaces sets the mood by using seasonal sounds of migrating birds, the splashing of a stream, crackling fire, winter gales, etc.

According to the author of the installation, Estonian sound artist and designer Taavi Tulev, there’s not much that would compare to the sound installation at this exhibition, anywhere. "This is a space where the sound is in complete symbiosis with everything else you can see and experience - spatial sound makes also the static parts of the exhibition come to life. The result whisks the visitor away to another space and time and the natural sound environment makes people forget they are in a museum among exhibits," he explains, and says that special attention was paid to small details, so there should be tiny sound surprises scattered across the exhibition, catching the visitor unaware.

Tulev has designed soundscapes for museums before – recently for the Estonian History Museum and Kumu Art Museum – and was invited to design the soundscape of the exhibition by designers of the exhibition: Velvet design agency and JanKen Wisespace creative studio. The "Echo of the Urals" exhibition sound installation is unique because the soundscape became part of the design at a very early stage. "It happens quite often that sound is only considered once everything physical has already been designed and sometimes even already built. This time, I got to work on planning the soundscape in time, so that all the necessary technology for audio could be designed and built together with interior in an aesthetic manner. There’s sound all over, but very few speakers in sight: thus the environment feels much more natural," Tulev comments, saying he spent hours upon hours digging through his extensive archives of nature sound recordings to find the right soundbites for each display and room. When it turned out that something special was needed to create the sound environment of the Finno-Ugric nations, he took to nature to specially capture new sounds.

How people move in exhibition space and how much time they like to spend investigating an exhibit or another was also taken into account by Tulev, when composing the soundscape of the exhibition. Marko Erlach, partner at RGB Baltic, who was responsible for the technical side of the exhibition, said that for such a complex sound installation QSC Q-Sys system with 256 inputs and outputs was used. There are 39 speakers hidden inside the walls, 15 smaller integrated speakers and 45 speakers integrated to ceiling, 6 hanging 360 degree speakers, 9 directional speakers, 11 additional speakers for special effects and one subwoofer used to convey such a complex sound installation. In addition, the installation uses nine sensor triggered sound effect microphones and eight contact microphones to assess sound levels.

Taavi Tulev has been making nature recordings for years; his work has been used for sound design of several exhibitions and installations. Tulev has also released several nature sound albums and original music.

More info:

Taavi Tulev
Taustsüstem OÜ
Phone. +372 562 04 008
E-mail: taavi@taavitulev.com

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