Black to the Future

Black to the future1State-of-the-art Rockheim pop and rock experience in Norway makes extensive use of Genelec monitors, finds Dave Robinson in the August issue of Pro Sound News Europe.

The ‘Norwegian Rock and Pop Museum’. I know what you’re thinking: don’t be daft, there’s not enough rock and pop in the country to warrant such a thing. Wouldn’t a waxwork tableau of a-ha, a glass case laden with Röyksopp memorabilia and a picture-board naming and shaming the country’s appalling Eurovision entries (2009’s Alex Rybak excluded) do the trick? Well, no, they wouldn’t. Like most countries, Norway has a rich and colourful history of pop and rock; it’s just that not much of it made it past the fjörds. Norway also has a very dark legacy: the despicable genre of Black Metal, which led to murders, church-burning and worldwide notoriety for the country in the early ’90s. But more on that jolly subject later.

Rockheim, then, is the fabulous new state-of-the-art museum that opened in Trondheim, Norway’s third-largest city, on 5 August. It’s a converted grain warehouse in the harbour, and offers visitors six floors of interactive experiences from 1950s pop to the digital present. PSNE is visiting Rockheim six weeks before it officially opens. “It’s probably the most sophisticated museum in Europe,” says creative director Stacey Spiegel, who is also the Canadian CEO of exhibition/experience design company Parallel World Labs. “Its main focus is user control – where other environments deliver content, here you have to do something to get it, you learn by interacting.” The museum’s budget was around £10 million (€12 million), project director (and former musician/producer) Arvid Esperø reveals to PSNE. This has enabled Spiegel to specify the latest technology throughout: projectors by Norway’s projectiondesign, screens by California’s Stewart Filmscreen, and loudspeakers from Finland’s Genelec. There are over 120 monitors, mainly Genelec 8050s, throughout the exhibition. The servers dishing up the audio are Core i7 Intel machines on a Cat6 network. Entering Rockheim on the ground floor, the visitor emerges into the Main Atrium, featuring a six-storey-high interactive map of Norway. Point a laser pen at a particular town or region and beside it, content will appear in the form of pop videos, photos, artwork and more.
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The first ‘experience’ proper is the Tribute Hall/Wall. Choose one of six circles on the floor, from the ’50s to the ’00s, stand in it and move your arms to ‘virtually wipe’ the image from the screen in front of you – cameras above you track the motion. As the image clears, a song by the next act to appear starts to play (PSNE disposed of Bel Canto to reveal – yes! – a-ha). When real visitors visit Rockheim, they will be competing with each other to clear their own section of wall and trigger their choice of track before their peers. “All of the exhibits have a high level of user control, and that’s the big difference between this place and anywhere else.”

The tour proper continues with more traditional ideas about immersion. Suddenly we’re in a 1950s garage, with a panoramic view through the ‘windows’ (video screens). “There are all kind of triggers around the room. By touching different objects you trigger different content.” Sure enough – wave your hand over the workbench and ’50s-style posters turn into video screens. All the audio is delivered by Genelec 8050s. “From a speaker point of view, our goal was to use Genelecs: low levels of sound but at high quality,” explains Spiegel. Other highlights include an Artefact Wall where your laser pen will trigger info about musical instruments, and a ‘tour bus’ experience where the lush Norwegian scenery speeding past becomes artwork or archive NRK material, depending on which part of the ‘virtual music newspaper’ you touch on the desktop in front of your bus seat. The ’80s room is designed like Trondheim’s now defunct Nidaros recording. The sliders on the customized 48-channel SSL desk trigger content related to the artists – images, video and text. The ’90s set is a Tromsø cappuccino bar: a scene of snow falling on the city transforms to video footage as you touch the virtual table-tops. And finally we’re here, the place PSNE has been waiting for: the nasty part. “We actually made a copy of the rehearsal room of the Norwegian Black Metal band, Mayhem,” says Spiegel. “It’s a chicken shed.” Norway’s dark years, at the beginning of the ’90s, when band rivalry and obsession with the occult, death, violence, nature and ancient gods led to suicide, murder and arson attacks. Count Grishnackh, Euronymous, Hellhammer, Blasphemer, Dead. Nice sounding bunch of guys.

“Today, they are kind of accepted,” remarks Espero. And at Rockheim, it is celebrated, almost. Here’s the original couch from the shed, and the original fridge: decorated with black metal band stickers put there by Jørn Stubberud AKA Mayhem’s Necrobutcher, who came to endorse the exhibit. “The sensibility we’re trying to create is quite raw and intense,” says Spiegel. “As you walk around, red lights will point to different areas; stand in the light and you trigger the content.” A much larger 1037 speaker and a big Genelec sub give depth in this room you don’t find elsewhere in Rockheim. The tour ends with a cube room for the 21st century: all mirrors and wall panels, and videos triggered by laser pen. Despite several attempts, PSNE couldn’t locate a Röyksopp video. Esperø is particularly happy with his choice of loudspeakers. “Genelec, I was very familiar with,” he says. “So when we were going to choose which system to use, the Genelecs were one of the choices. It takes care of one big problem and that is: the amplifier is in the speaker. And you can play them loud without your subconscious knowing that it’s loud [because of the low distortion]. “I’m very happy because it does all I hoped for and more. It lifts the project, it lifts the total experience for the public.” As we leave, Esperø tells us the local Hells Angels chapter has been invited at 6pm to trial the exhibition. He’s not fazed by this. But if you’ve lived through Black Metal, you’re ready for anything.

Black to the

Source: Pro Sound News Europe, August 2010