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Beauty in the Ear of the Beholder: Acoustic Design in Art Galleries and Museums


Beauty in the Ear of the Beholder: Acoustic Design in Art Galleries and Museums
Alexandra Lande - stock.adobe.com

It’s said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there’s actually far more to the appreciation of beauty than meets the eye. In fact, the soundscape of an environment is going to have a profound impact on the way you perceive the environment–and the objects in it. There’s increasing evidence that a positive soundscape will enhance a person’s sense of calm, happiness, and well-being. People in positive sound environments exhibit physiological changes, including changes in blood volume pulse (BVP) amplitudes, that usually indicate a relaxed and contented state (1).


While noise pollution magnifies stressors, undermines cognition, and exaggerates negative emotions in built environments (2-5), an inviting soundscape enhances the positives, supporting mental, emotional, and physical functioning. It can also have a delightfully positive impact when used strategically and well (6-8).


The Sound of Beauty


Given the enormous impact of the sound environment both on human physiological functioning and on emotional processing, it’s probably not surprising that the quality of the soundscape impacts those viewing the art or museum artifacts. Indeed, while the exhibitions are to be the star of the show, if you’re not designing a complimentary acoustic environment for the exhibits, the viewers will not have an optimal experience.


The quality of the sound environment in the display space will make or break visitors’ experience, not only of the space but also of the art, and that’s an impression that is likely to endure long after the visitors take their leave.


While that reality might seem intimidating, particularly if you’re new to acoustic design, there’s also quite a lot to be excited about. The fact is that with a bit of knowledge, the right materials, and perhaps a helping hand from an experienced sound engineer, you can cultivate a soundscape for your gallery or museum design project that truly takes the visitor experience to a new and previously unimaginable level.


Acoustic Engineering for Your Exhibition Space


Modern acoustic design is about far more than sound mitigation, though noise reduction is certainly a cornerstone of the process. Beyond this lie principles and practices that are revolutionizing how a built environment is used and experienced.


That means that we’ve truly entered into a brave new world of exhibition spaces. For example, with the proper acoustic installations, you can increase, decrease, and even redirect sound in designated zones and areas based on their intended purposes. Specially designed panels, baffles, and tiles can create insular conversation areas to allow multiple presentations to occur simultaneously in the same large hall.


These solutions can even mitigate or entirely eliminate the dreaded “cocktail party effect,” in which multiple overlapping conversations produce such massive amounts of background noise that one must practically shout to be heard–and often with only marginal success. Acoustic panels can create sound environments which enable crowds to converse more easily, to hear, and to be heard at normal voice levels without producing a cacophony of ambient sound.


In an exhibition space, the capacity to control, contain, and even redirect soundwaves can be transformative. That’s because most art galleries and museums simply have not been designed with the soundscape in mind. They’re generally dominated by hard surfaces, straight walls, and flat planes–all of which are notorious for amplifying sound and generating echoes and reverberations.


Of course, there are also the various (and noisy) human activities that take place in an exhibition space, from the click-clacking of high-heeled shoes to the shuffling mass movement of the tour groups to the multiplicity of voices. When you add to this the hum and drone of mechanical equipment, from the whir of the HVAC to the hiss of plumbing, you have a less-than-ideal environment for engaging with, let alone appreciating art.


Acoustic panels, however, can not only minimize the distracting and aggravating noises you don’t want, but they can amplify (and contain) the sounds you do want. This creates distinct and separate zones throughout the space for presentations, tours, private conversations, and quiet contemplation.


Baffles, for instance, may be placed around an exhibition piece to maximize the quiet in the immediate proximity of the object, allowing visitors to observe, reflect, and even to comment audibly without disturbing other viewers in the space.


Conversely, clouds may be installed to lower the ceiling height and create a curvature. This is ideal for simultaneous guided tours and presentations because audiences will be able to clearly hear the presenter without being disturbed by sound overflow from beyond the tour space.


What this means for owners and operators is a more functional and flexible exhibition space. What it means for visitors is a more satisfying experience and, in all likelihood, a more productive engagement with the exhibits.


There are important additional benefits because, fundamentally, acoustic design is a critical facet of accessible design. For patrons with sensory impairments, from hearing loss to processing disorders, galleries and museums are far too often non-functional at best and frightening and painful at worst. Optimal acoustic design creates a soundscape that not only minimizes ambient noise but also maximizes speech intelligibility, thus making the space useful for persons with hearing loss. Similarly, the creation of discrete zones of sound means that persons with sensory processing disorders, such as visitors on the autism spectrum, will have the opportunity to enjoy the exhibits in a comfortable and non-threatening way, while avoiding louder areas where tours, presentations, or concurrent conversations are occurring.


FSorb and a New Era of Customization


FSorb has long been celebrated as an industry leader in acoustic design. Acclaimed for its innovation, FSorb’s vast array of eco-friendly acoustic solutions are changing the soundscape of modern life. Their products appear in public buildings, factories, warehouses, schools, healthcare facilities, and even private homes across the US and around the world.


The customizable solutions are ideal for exhibition spaces, designed not only to optimize the sound environment but also to infuse a look and feel that aligns with and amplifies the aesthetic of the space. FSorb’s panels, tiles, baffles, and clouds come in an immense array of colors, textures, and patterns. Art and other customized designs can be printed directly onto FSorb, allowing it to blend into or enhance the environment.


This allows artists, curators, and designers alike to create exhibit displays that are both visually and aurally perfect. And this, in essence, means that your FSorb custom sound treatments become another facet of the art, another creative tool intended to revolutionize the experience of the piece. It is a new way to express, explore, and experience creative art as a pleasure for both the eye and the ear.


Contact your local FSorb representative today to discuss how our unique and customizable acoustic solutions can transform your museum or gallery.


 

FSorb

At FSorb, we are motivated by improving human health and do so by creating eco-friendly acoustic products. Our mission is to help designers build beautiful spaces that reduce excess ambient noise while calming the human nervous system. With over 25 years in the acoustic business we stand behind FSorb as a durable, environmentally friendly, and low-cost product. If you want an acoustic solution that is safe to human health at an affordable price, then we are your resource.


info@fsorb.com

(844) 313-7672


 

Sources:

Xu Y, Hamid N, Shepherd D, Kantono K, Reay S, Martinez G, Spence C. Background soundscapes influence the perception of ice-cream as indexed by electrophysiological measures. Food Res Int. 2019 Nov;125:108564. doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2019.108564. Epub 2019 Jul 17. PMID: 31554052.

Thompson R, Smith RB, Bou Karim Y, Shen C, Drummond K, Teng C, Toledano MB. Noise pollution and human cognition: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis of recent evidence. Environ Int. 2022 Jan;158:106905. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106905. Epub 2021 Oct 12. PMID: 34649047.

Rahman MM, Tasnim F, Quader MA, Bhuiyan MN, Sakib MS, Tabassum R, Shobuj IA, Hasan L, Chisty MA, Rahman F, Alam E, Islam ARMT. Perceived Noise Pollution and Self-Reported Health Status among Adult Population of Bangladesh. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Feb 19;19(4):2394. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19042394. PMID: 35206582; PMCID: PMC8872462.

Evans GW. The built environment and mental health. J Urban Health. 2003 Dec;80(4):536-55. doi: 10.1093/jurban/jtg063. PMID: 14709704; PMCID: PMC3456225.

Sivakumaran K, Ritonja JA, Waseem H, AlShenaibar L, Morgan E, Ahmadi SA, Denning A, Michaud DS, Morgan RL. Impact of Noise Exposure on Risk of Developing Stress-Related Health Effects Related to the Cardiovascular System: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Noise Health. 2022 Jul-Sep;24(114):107-129. doi: 10.4103/nah.nah_83_21. PMID: 36124520; PMCID: PMC9743313.

Buxton RT, Pearson AL, Allou C, Fristrup K, Wittemyer G. A synthesis of health benefits of natural sounds and their distribution in national parks. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Apr 6;118(14):e2013097118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2013097118. PMID: 33753555; PMCID: PMC8040792.

Mackrill J, Jennings P, Cain R. Exploring positive hospital ward soundscape interventions. Appl Ergon. 2014 Nov;45(6):1454-60. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2014.04.005. Epub 2014 Apr 24. PMID: 24768090.

Luo J, Wang M, Chen L. The Effects of Using a Nature-Sound Mobile Application on Psychological Well-Being and Cognitive Performance Among University Students. Front Psychol. 2021 Nov 24;12:699908. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.699908. PMID: 34899458; PMCID: PMC8651610.

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