Hilversum Sound and Vision Institute

Hilversum center insideHilversum, a name etched on the tuning dial of radio sets from the earliest days of broadcasting, is a town 25 km east of Amsterdam, on the first sizeable piece of land above sea level. Still a major broadcasting centre for the Netherlands, the local Media Park has, since late 2006, been dominated by a new building, a large rectangular structure of coloured glass. This is the Netherlands Institute of Sound & Vision, home to an archive of thousands of hours of public broadcast programming and other A/V material; and the Sound & Vision Experience, an interactive ‘museum’/’multimedia facility’ that explains the operations of broadcast media and allows the visitor to take part in mock programmes and explore aspects of the archive content.

Entering this building, there are elements of a cathedral, with the sun shining through the coloured glass cladding while on one interior a wall of glass rises seven storeys, etched with famous and historical Dutch media figures, topped by a glass roof. A glance over the railings on a walkway reveals a further five floors below ground level that house the archive stores. The organisation running this building was once an integral part of the Dutch public broadcaster NOB until the early 1990s and the bulk of the archive is audio and video tapes, and film that have been broadcast since the 1950s.Sound and Vision Studio

The archive is a resource for broadcasters and also handles enquiries from members of the public for ‘historic’ material. Down amongst the floors housing the archive are ten preview rooms and a 5.1 listening room equipped with Genelec 8000 Series monitors, all for auditioning archive material. However, work on stored programme material is handled in a suite of three audio and two video studios within the building. 

Each of these audio studios has a similar selection of equipment - a mix of vintage and not so old machines to handle media from the archive and modern digital technology. Dominant is a row of four Telefunken M15A 2-track quarter inch tape machines (they have amassed a collection of 31), a bank of DAT machines and record decks with 78 rpm capability.Hilversum centerWith over a million audio tapes alone, digitising the archive is a slow process and only handled on a project basis with government funding. Such material is only copied directly with no processing other than optimising the replay machine. However preparing archive material for rebroadcast or external customers can involve any amount of required noise removal processing and editing to the clients' specification, normally within a Digidesign Pro Tools system.

The studios standardised on classic Genelec S30 monitors years ago and still use them for their critical work in all the studios. With an extra studio added in this new building over their previous facility, they had to search for an additional pair, one of the last S30D’s available, supplied by Iemke Roos Audio. It was considered essential to maintain this Genelec standard throughout.

The other side of the building, houses the Sound & Vision Experience. There’s at least a day’s worth of interactive broadcast exhibits, mixing the archive and futuristic material including Europe’s largest movie screen which at 42x4 metres requires six projection systems.

In mid May there was a celebration of the 100,000th visitor to the ‘Experience’, up 25% on the estimated attendance. It isn’t surprising though - the combination of such an extraordinary building, the fun of interacting with the ‘Experience’ and the exploration of the broadcast archives has made this a place well worth a visit.

Article written by Keith Spencer-Allen.