Turning light and sound into Lumisonica

A project as complex and technologically advanced as Lumisonica requires close collaboration among many people. And while it may seem ironic for a project involving digital technology, the best format for such collaboration is through face-to-face meetings. For this reason, Vesna Petresin traveled from her current home base of London to The Mint Museum to work on Lumisonica on October 9 and 10. She spent much of her time with two key people: Creative Design Lead Ben Mason, who is based in Asheville, and lighting consultant Terry Reeves, who also traveled from London.

Ben has been involved with Lumisonica since its early days. He runs his own digital media business and has expertise in a range of technical areas, including media systems architecture and design, photography, animation, web design, sound design, show control/stage interactives, and more. Vesna’s agent, Bonnie Hall, found Ben through a mutual LinkedIn connection who knew him from his interactive media work in Asheville. In January 2018, Ben joined Bonnie and Vesna for their first site visit to the Mint Museum Uptown after Vesna was awarded the commission to create an interactive light and sound installation on the grand staircase. For Lumisonica, Ben designed and is implementing the lighting and sound systems, as well as consulting on programming. His work is essential in translating Vesna’s plans for the sound and colored light sequences for Lumisonica into the final interactive installation. He notes that his work is called “media engineering,” because “Digital advances have led to a thorough blending of domains. The tech backbone behind Lumisonica builds on techniques used in game design, contemporary stage performance, architectural lighting, and theme-park rides (among others).”

Although Ben and Vesna have been conversing for many months by phone, Skype, and e-mail, the meetings at the Mint in October were their only opportunity to work in the same space since that first meeting in January. In a classroom tucked away on the museum’s Level 4, they worked on mixing Vesna’s field recordings of natural sounds and electronically-generated Solfeggio frequencies (see previous blog post). Ben had set up the speakers that will be mounted on the museum’s façade and in planters on the steps so they could test the way visitors will experience the sounds. When visitors are on the stairs, sounds will come from multiple directions—Vesna’s goal is that it feels like you are in the middle of an orchestra, rather than watching one play from across the room. Only by being in a room together with the equipment could Ben and Vesna assess how the sounds will be distributed among the twelve audio channels and what the volume should be on each channel to blend the sounds into the intended score.

Ben Mason and Vesna Petresin working on the score for Lumisonica, 9 October 2018, at Mint Museum Uptown. Photo by Terry Reeves, lighting consultant.

Along with the sound score, Ben and Vesna also worked on the lighting with Terry Reeves, whom Vesna has worked with on other projects and whom she brought from London. Just as Lumisonica’s sounds must be combined into a score that reacts to its surroundings and plays over time, the color palettes must also be sequenced. Terry is overseeing this aspect, building on programming work that Ben began and overseeing programmers in London. He worked for Philips Lighting UK from 2010 to 2017, most recently serving as head of project management. Philips made the LED lights being installed on the Mint Museum’s steps for Lumisonica. (The lights in the handrails were custom-made by another company, Prolume.) In September, Terry and some colleagues formed a new lighting consultancy company, Profile Lighting Ltd.

Lumisonica’s lighting will be controlled by Pharos Designer 2 software on a Pharos LPC show controller. This software and hardware have been used on many large-scale and high-profile lighting projects around the world, ranging from buildings, bridges and monuments to museum exhibitions and art installations. Terry’s previous company, Lighting Technology Projects, used them on the London Eye. The light shows on the London Eye give an idea of the array of effects enabled by the sophisticated Pharos systems. But whereas those shows are meant to be dramatic, Lumisonica’s lighting will mostly be subtle, to promote a sense of well-being. The colors and intensity will shift gradually throughout the day to relate to the level of ambient light and activity at the museum. Color schemes will evoke various moods, sometimes being more dynamic and spectacular and at other times meditative.

From now until the end of October, Vesna, Ben, Terry, and other experts will be in daily contact, fine-tuning the visual and auditory aspects of Lumisonica. Meanwhile, the light fixtures and other hardware are being installed at the museum. Vesna will return the week of November 12 to test the system with Ben and make sure everything runs smoothly. Lumisonica will debut the evening of Friday, November 16, when the museum will be open late.