Project: Berio Lounge: Listening Shells
Client: Royal Festival Hall London, England
Fabrication: Richard Marwood Interiors and DuPont Corian UK
Sometimes it's a good thing to retreat into your shell.
Especially if that shell is one of two Listening Shells created for the Royal Festival Hall Ballroom as part of its Ballroom Interactive series. Included within the exhibit are ball and stick sculptures made from thermoformed Cameo White Corian, which invite the visitor to literally crawl inside for a strictly personal experience of sound and space.
The berio lounge is number three in a series of five major projects commissioned for the RFH Ballroom, which provide a year-round program of free events. The focus of the exhibition, which ran from March through the first week in May 2004, was based around the ideas of music, learning and the future, and celebrated the life and work of Italian composer Luciano Berio (1925-2003).
Designed by Dody Nash and product designer Julian Brown in association with Sound Intermedia, the lounge was the result of a collaboration between RFH Education and the London Sinfonietta.
The Ballroom was conceived by architect Leslie Martin in 1951 as a multi-use space that would greet people as they entered from the main entrance at the east side of the building. berio lounge is a meeting point for the worlds of music, design and education, embracing the work of many hands in a dual language context.
"The concept of the Listening Shells was to create a space which was about privacy and listening, but also openness, and did not involve the use of headphones," Nash explains. "We wanted to make an enclosure — the shape of the shell comes out of that. There is a common sound throughout the shell — the listener is in a micro-environment."
The ball and stick shape, although striking in appearance, is not merely decorative. The tail section acts both as a structural support and also as a sound conductor that feeds sound to an audio pearl situated inside the center of the ball. The stick also controls the relationship of the ball to the ground, and angles it in such a way as to make it more inviting — almost like an open door tilted slightly upwards.
Omni-directional microphones pick up general ambience and sound from other audio installations located within the hall and feed them into a computer, which processes the live data. The processed sound emerges into the Listening Shell through the audio pearl. Sound Intermedia of London worked on development of the audio technology with Brown and Nash.
"The audio experience . . . doesn't reveal itself immediately, but gradually becomes an intimate experience, requiring time," says Nash. "It has a gentle tranquility, with occasional surprises. The sound will be like watching clouds passing — you may hear things in them you're not really sure you've heard, and you can make up your own narrative."
Fabricating The Shells
The project was fabricated by Lee Brookes, Rob Clark and Steve Garrett of Richard Marwood Interiors in Birmingham, with assistance from Steve Ball and David Smith of DuPont Corian UK. Richard Marwood Interiors was selected to construct the Listening Shells because of the company's experience in thermoforming Corian.