The sound guide

An acoustic virtual reality trip


Are you still wiping or are you already looking? Wolfgang Schreiner and his team at NOUSdigital are driven by the question of how to adequately convey art and culture digitally. Their clients include the Jüdische Museum Berlin and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Recently, the Vienna based firm developed an audio system that does not require any haptic interaction with a device, which earned them a nomination for the Austrian state Price for digtialization. Magic? No, technology and quite sensual at the same time.

"It's like a movie, only you create the images for it yourself in your head"

Antje Mayer-Salvi: We were just conspiratorial in your "basement", so to speak the little "Silicon Valley of the 15th Vienna District", and we got an exclusive demonstration of the new NOUS Sonic audio system. It's a bit like a drug trip when you're moving through the room with purely auditory stimulation, imagining all kinds of different scenes.

Wolfgang Schreiner: The cool thing is that with our new audio guide, you have your hands completely free and you don't have to swipe around on any device - which has become quite annoying to me. The visitors can fully visually concentrate on the object on display. They wear a lightweight headset, nothing more. It recognizes where you are standing in the room, how you are moving, even where you are looking, and can deliver the appropriate sounds precisely to within ten centimeters: informative texts, dialogs, sounds, noises, historical recordings, street sound, or specially composed music. 

How can we both represent this impressive acoustic experience in writing to our readers? It is much more than the familiar explanatory text that is played as soon as one approaches an object.

Perhaps I will succeed with an example: Our system will be in use in the Louvre Abu Dhabi in a few weeks. It's like a movie, only that you create the images for it yourself in your head. There is an Egyptian hall there, you hear the Nile rushing, children playing in the reeds. You meet a statue whispering its fate to you. You stroll past a rowing boat and hear how the paddles splash into the water, from a distance you can hear Egyptian music from 2,000 years ago.

"We collectively fiddle around with devices all the time."

Sounds very sensual! I wonder why people didn't come up with such a device earlier? When I borrow a Blackberry-style audio guide in a classic museum, I often feel transported to the early 2000s in terms of technology. 

It is formulated a bit exaggerated, but it is correct that we collectively continuously fiddle around some devices, which has eminent effects on how we perceive the world around us. We are a thoroughly visual society. Everyone speaks of augmented and virtual reality when it comes to digital cultural mediation. I find AR especially terrible. Hardly anyone has thought of doing something of quality with another wonderful human sense: hearing.

You are the expert; Corona made it clear to us: A digital visit to a museum does not replace a real one, yet it's now part of the norm. How will we consume art digitally in the future?

Of course, consuming art from home while sitting "in front of the box" won't replace a visit to a museum - no one can seriously claim that. The solution lies in a smart dovetailing of the analog and the digital. Until now, we have been adapting to the devices instead of them adapting to our natural behavior and needs.

"We are a thoroughly visual society."

The smartphone is like the umbilical cord to the world and has made us completely dependent. There are young people who can't find the bakery around the corner without Google Maps ...

The city council of Yamato near Tokyo wants to prohibit pedestrians from using smartphones in traffic because so many accidents happen. The device is a trap! The cell phone tempts you to use it all the time. I'm actually speaking against our core business now, app development for mobile phones. We will certainly use smarter technologies in the future.

Stop teasing us, please tell us: How does this new magical audio guide work?

In the first step, we measure the rooms and install small, barely visible, ultra-wide-ban antennas. These ultra-wideband receivers can determine the position and head alignment within ten centimeters - a high-precision localization system. A mini real-world orientation sensor, which is used in robotics to determine position, inclination, rotation, or orientation, is built into the headsets.

What happens after the antennas are installed?

The measurements result in a 3-D model that is uploaded to a very easy-to-use app that connects to a content management system we developed, where all sound content can easily be uploaded. You then build your own acoustic dramaturgy, three-dimensional.

"We should democratize the museums more."

The problem is that the museums permanently have too little budget and the cultural mediators have too little technical know-how.

We are in active exchange with our customers and try to respond to their needs. We also know that they shy away from costly maintenance. That's why it was important for us to use software and hardware already available on the market, in order to keep development costs and thus the financial outlay low for everyone. After all, we are in Vienna, not in Silicon Valley.

Is digital technology even necessary in a museum? Shouldn't it be preserved as a kind of "sacred place" where unique, real-life objects seduce us with their analog magic?

I am an agnostic and have problems with “sanctities” (laughs). We shouldn't be afraid to touch the playful, the digital, the everyday and the ordinary. I still believe in the attraction and appeal of real objects and architecture, as well as in the communicative power of analog art mediation from person to person. I myself was a passionate art educator for a long time. I see a great opportunity for museums, for example, in the digital visualization of their huge collections. What we see as visitors are usually only ten percent of the treasures that lie dormant in the archives.

"Hardly anyone has thought of doing something of quality with another wonderful human sense: hearing."

What can technology do about it?

Technology can provide support, make things more visible and easier, and - as NOUS Sonic does - expand the experience artistically and sensually. The possibilities our sound system offers are incredible.

Do you also work with musicians and artists?

Absolutely! We are currently in the process of generating quality content for our NOUS Sonic with sound artists from all over the world, including the well-known Viennese musician Christian Fennesz,  to generate qualitative content for our NOUS Sonic, because the "sound literally makes the music" here. because “the sound makes the music here in the truest sense of the word”. In this area, Vienna can easily compete with Silicon Valley.

c/o Vienna

NOUS Sonic

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