Serpentine Pavilion Sound Programme review

posted on Monday, 5th July 2021 by Steve May

3D Audio  Installs  Architectural speakers 


An innovative multichannel audio installation has opened at The Serpentine Gallery, in London’s Kensington Gardens.

The Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Johannesburg-based Counterspace, is an open plan platform to support live events, including experimental performance and experiential sound commissions. The Circular structure features a 29 channel system delivered by L-Acoustics and is mixed and presented in the L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound format.

Thus summer it will host four distinct sound experiences. It opened with a specially commissioned piece from Brian Eno composition, In a Garden, which runs until July 23.

L Acoustics Speakers In Pavilion Sound Installation

The installation features 13 L-Acoustics X4i compact (just 4-inches across) point source speakers, placed on pillars, and 12 slightly larger (5-inch) 5XTs used as overheads. Four SB15 subwoofers, with 15-inch drivers, complete the collection.

Not that the subs have much to do with the opening Brian Eno piece. Inside CI attended the live preview for the show, which is open to the public and free to visit. Rather than pound with sound, something L-Acoustics is rather good at given that it supplies sound systems to festivals and concerts, the Serpentine experience is subtle, almost ethereal.

It blends seamlessly with the ambient noise of Kensington Gardens and its surroundings. So much so it’s often difficult to tell them apart. At one point, we heard a motorbike pass by - was that real or part of the mix? We were told anecdotally that during the recording of the piece, a bike was accidentally captured by Eno. He liked it, and left it in. So we’ll never know for sure. With the L-ISA Hyperreal Sound format recordings and reality share the same space.

Of the composition, Eno says: “This piece started life two years ago as what I call ‘country music’. In my use of the phrase that doesn’t involve banjos and cowboys, but is intended to be a music that is an evocation of being in a landscape, in a place.

“The Serpentine Gallery really is a place, and it’s in the middle of a park. I wanted to think of the music that I installed in the new pavilion as a sort of sonic garden – a concentrated park within the real park. A garden is a place in which all sorts of things are brought together, and interest is created by spacing and contrast and the unexpected unfolding of the planting as it develops.”

Eno says he wanted to take advantage of L-Acoustics L-ISA spatialisation technology. “The piece is essentially a long recording, looped. So if you come at midday two days in a row you’ll hear almost the same music. Not exactly the same, because there are some random elements within the spatialisation itself. If it were a garden, it would be as though some of the plants had moved a bit during the night…”

Serpentine Pavilion Presentation Sound Installation

From July 24-25, a new sound commission by Jay Bernard, in association with the young people from South London. From July 25 - August 25, Ain Bailey presents a soundstage of new recordings and archival sounds from the communities of South London. The Sound Programme concludes September 26 - October 17 with an aural essay from Torkwase Dyson.

A number of live performances are planned using the space. July 9 features a performance by multi-instrumentalist Aga Ujma, with Jota Mombaca following on July 16 with a spoken word session.

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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