Creating a heart-aching and eerie cinematic experience for the ears

Japan Supernatural audio experience

A woman wearing headphones is walking down a hallway at the Japan Supernatural exhibition at Art Gallery of NSW. She is looking at a iPod Touch in her hand, and artwork is projected onto the walls.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ blockbuster exhibition, Japan Supernatural, explored the role of ghosts, spirits and demons in Japanese art. It featured over 180 wildly imaginative works by Japanese artists, past and present, including magnificent paintings, large-scale installations, miniature carvings, humorous illustrations, and vibrant ukiyo-e woodblock prints.

Working with the gallery team as part of our long-term partnership, Art Processors produced the Japan Supernatural immersive audio experience. It featured an original musical score together with narration by exhibition curator Melanie Eastburn and history and folklore experts Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt that immersed audiences deep into an underworld of folklore, literature, theatre and art. More than your ordinary audio tour, the immersive experience played a key role in guiding thousands of visitors through the temporary exhibition. 


Challenge

Rather than settle for a traditional audio guide, exhibition curator Melanie Eastburn was interested in exploring new territory. We were up for the challenge.

“We could think about the creepiness and the spookiness of the subject matter and how to make that come alive,” explains Becky Sui Zhen Freeman, our Sound and Music Supervisor. “We also worked very closely with the curatorial team, identifying what curator Melanie Eastburn was hoping for the audio experience.”

The gallery’s Head of Digital Engagement, Brooke Carson-Ewart, says our partnership was about more than devising a technical solution—it was about creating original content. “Art Processors understands how we work and we’re able to create experiences for our visitors that get better each time.”

A woman wearing headphones listening to the Japan Supernatural audio guide at Art Gallery of New South Wales. She is looking at miniature Japanese sculptures.
Screenshot of Japan Supernatural app
Screenshot of Japan Supernatural app
Screenshot of Japan Supernatural app
Screenshot of Japan Supernatural app

Approach

Working closely with the gallery’s curatorial and digital staff, we explored their creative and technical requirements. 

It was important to keep the user experience clean, uncluttered and straightforward, allowing audiences to lose themselves in the art without fussing over intrusive or distracting devices. We created an immersive and intuitive audio experience where everything was readily on hand in the app and your ears, meaning eyes could stay on the art. Our proprietary platform and location-aware technology enabled the soundtrack to update seamlessly as visitors moved throughout the space.

We produced the original score for the audio guide in collaboration with Japanese vocalist and virtuoso master of the Japanese shamisen, Noriko Tadano, and Toshi Sakamoto of renowned Japanese Taiko drumming ensemble Wadaiko Rindo. Melbourne-based Natural Progression Studios provided additional composition and arrangement.

Sui Zhen Freeman worked with the creative team across Sydney, Melbourne and Tokyo to compose several tracks blending ambient sound, traditional Japanese vocals and instrumentation—taiko drumming, shamisen (a three-string musical instrument) and kokyu (a string instrument played with a bow).

Together with Eastburn’s narration, the immersive, multi-layered audio guide was delivered to visitor headphones and mobile devices using our location-aware technology.

A hand holding an iPod Touch in front of a mural at Japan Supernatural exhibition at Art Gallery of New South Wales. The device shows an audio track is playing.

 

We’re not just working with Art Processors as a technical solution. It’s about collaborating around creating original content. Art Processors understands how we work and we’re able to create experiences for our visitors that get better each time.

– Brooke Carson-Ewart,
   Head of Digital Engagement, Art Gallery of New South Wales

It was an unusual project for the musicians, involving quite a lot of improvisation on their part because we wanted their musical responses to the themes of the artworks. Tadano’s interpretation of a lullaby for one of the exhibition’s yurei (ghost story) artworks is both heart-aching and eerie.

“When I saw the artwork, the feeling came into my heart, and I tried pulling at the feeling,” Ms Tadano says.

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A man and woman are in a sound recording studio. He is adjusting a microphone and she is playing a Japanese shamisen.

Solution

We produced an immersive audio guide that gave visitors an evocative sound-art experience. Location-aware Bluetooth technology enabled audiences to move throughout the exhibition at their own pace, the haunting tunes, shapeshifting sounds and expert narration shifting seamlessly with them. We kept the user experience clean and uncluttered, allowing audiences to lose themselves in the art.

The performances of the musicians and the work of the sound design team elevated the audio experience above mere background music to a place where it could evoke the spirit of the artworks and render it in sonic form.

Impact in numbers

  • 55,000 listens Total number of times visitors listened to the immersive audio experience.
  • 1,295 sessions Total number of visitor sessions recorded during the opening weekend of the exhibition.
  • 62 minutes Average time visitors spent listening to the audio experience.
A man wearing headphones listening to the Japan Supernatural audio guide at Art Gallery of New South Wales.