Can you hear me now?
By J. Damany Daniel
For the past several months we’ve been taking a trip through the five senses and showing how event technology is using them to shape event design. If you haven’t read about what’s happening in the world of technological design as it relates to the pre-event experience and the sense of sight, I’d encourage you to head over to those blog posts and check them out. This month we’re moving on to what we hear, so listen up (I couldn’t resist).
To be honest, in doing the research for this particular article, I was sorely disappointed and underwhelmed with the innovations available for audio and sound support in event design. When doing research for the other senses, I was blown away at the sheer number of options for technologies, but when it came to sound, there were only a handful. So, consider this my challenge to developers and the like- come out with something awesome! If you’ve heard of something that I’ve missed, list it below because I want to learn about it. OK, onto what I did discover.
In November, 2013, I wrote about the age-old battle between event designers wanting it pretty and the techs who want it functional. Nowhere is this more true than in audio design. Big speakers hang obtrusively throughout an event space, stealing attention away from chandeliers and drapery (or so it would appear), and there seems to be no compromising because people have to hear, right? Well, now there may be a new option: Enter Tectonic Audio Labs.
Relatively new to the pro audio scene, these speakers deliver epic sound in a super tiny package. How tiny? Try 60.8” W x 22.3” H. But the amazing part of it isn’t in their height and width, but in the fact that they’re only 2.9” deep. To put that into perspective, that’s thinner than a standard plasma television! There’s a bunch of fantastic science attached to why they’re able to make these speakers so thin, but suffice it to say they’re one of the biggest bangs you can get for their relatively diminutive size. In A/B tests of these speakers against their much larger counterparts, professional audio engineers and musicians preferred the Tectonic system in significant numbers. Unfortunately there aren’t many AV companies carrying this line of speakers just yet, but I’d definitely keep my eyes open as they’re likely to make a major impact in the field of professional production in the not too distant future.
One of the continual battles event designers and sound designers alike face is the difficulty of making audio work in a variety of (often challenging) venues. Meyer Sound is working diligently to change that. They’ve launched their Constellation Acoustic System, which they tout as a “revolutionary breakthrough in acoustical design.” Through the usage of proprietary computer aided digital speaker processing software and their speaker hardware, audio engineers can alter the acoustical properties of a room to suit the nature of the event taking place. What this means is that the exact same room can be made to sound like a concert hall, intimate music performance space, or a stadium, all with the push of a button.
Currently this technology is designed to be permanently installed in venues, as opposed to being installed on an as needed basis, so there is some limitation on how and when it can be used. However, venues that have this technology installed become almost infinitely versatile in the types of shows and experiences they can create for their clients and their guests.
One of the complaints I regularly hear from conference designers is that there’s no easy way to provide a way for audience members to interact with, and ask questions of speakers and panelists during an event. In a room of 500-2,000 people it’s nearly impossible to have enough microphones to cover everyone, and to try would put a blight on just about any event design. The team at Crowd Mics saw this problem, and have made it their mission to solve it. Crowd Mics is an iOS and Android app that turns everyone’s phone into an audience response mic. Don’t think big brother, as people have to authorize the app to use their microphone, but this represents a significant update in what’s possible with responsive and interactive technology. All phones connect to an event using WIFI and enter a code to “join” the event, once the mic feature is activated by a moderator at a computer plugged into the audio system, people can stand up and ask questions of the presenter directly into the microphone, with their voice being heard through the event’s PA system. This can be done in an open/free for all format, or it can be set up to require people to request permission to speak. For those people that are a little too shy to have their voice heard through the PA, they can also submit a question or comment via a text field that is sent to a moderator to be read aloud. Moderators are also able to send out polls to anyone with the app open.
Pepsi took the event world by storm during South by Southwest by creating a “bioreactive concert.” What’s that mean? Basically, it means that, over the course of the night, the elements of the concert –which featured multiple DJs, projection mapping, an immersive pop up event structure, and hundreds of attendees — could be changed based on people’s interaction and energy. All of this was powered by a startup out of San Francisco by the name of Lightwave. This technology consists of a stylish wearable bracelet that measures biometric data- movement, ambient temperature, and sound — and transmits that info to the cloud for interpretation and incorporation into an overall event experience. This means that event designers and organizers can respond in real time to how impactful an event is on the people in attendance. Pepsi used the bracelets to measure people’s excitement and their response to various elements throughout the night –as music got louder, did people respond favorably (i.e. dancing more and sweating), or did they slink away to quieter corners of the room to escape? Did one DJ or another impact people more? Did the projection mapping make people want to stay and party, or leave and hide?
It also enabled epic dance offs as each bracelet was first tied to an individual upon arrival and demographic info about each was recorded. When it came time for the girls vs guys dance off, event producers were able to anoint the ladies the queens of the dance floor based on their relative activity on the dance floor as compared to their more docile male counterparts. Check out Lightwave’s recap video of the epicness that took place during the concert and the kinds of data the wristbands were able to report.
Come check back with us next month as we test out what touch does to the event experience when event tech is involved. Until then, I’d love to know your thoughts on these technology innovations so comment below.
Editor’s Note: J. Damany Daniel will be speaking in-depth on this very subject at The Special Event in Anaheim, January 7, 2015 from 2:45 to 4:15 p.m. Don’t miss Events to Experiences: Tech that Transforms!