Creating a cinematic experience for the ears

How might an immersive experience for the ears broaden our understanding of what an audio guide can be?

A woman wearing headphones is looking at a sculpture of a bust at the Josh Russell exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. She has an iPod Touch device on a lanyard and is listening to an audio guide

As the Art Gallery of NSW prepared the first major survey of French impressionist John Russell’s work in 40 years, it needed a new way to deliver audio tours. Bringing together 120 paintings, drawings and watercolours from public and private collections around the world, the exhibition was reintroducing the formerly obscure Australian artist’s extraordinary works to today’s audiences — and the gallery wanted to experiment with a new type of audio offering and model for its delivery.

Having commissioned traditional audio tours in the past, the gallery had a clear idea of what it wanted: an audio delivery platform that was consistent, scalable and varied. In other words, a platform that could be used to provide immersive audio offerings for any kind of exhibition, didn’t require new onboarding techniques each time it was used, and offered choice to visitors.

Working closely with the gallery’s digital engagement and curatorial teams, we developed the John Russell Audio Experience, a location-aware cinematic audio tour that paired narrative and storytelling with an original musical score that transported visitors to the world within the paintings. Taking influence from cinematic modes and assuming characteristics of the impressionist movement, visitors could wander from room to room, listening to an emotive landscape conveyed elegantly through the use of narration, sound design and music.


Challenge

The Art Gallery of NSW wanted an audio delivery platform that showcased the possibilities for an audio experience in an art museum. The platform needed to be consistent and scalable, starting small with the ability to be built out in the future for expansion into other galleries to support the organisation’s long-term goals for location-based audio offerings. To inaugurate the platform, we needed to create an audio experience that would push the limits of traditional guides and fully utilise the technical capacity of our delivery platform.

A hand holding an iPod Touch in front of a wall painting at the Josh Russell exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. The device shows the same painting on its screen.
Mobile screen interface for John Russell Audio Experience
Mobile screen interface for John Russell Audio Experience
Mobile screen interface for John Russell Audio Experience

Approach

In close consultation with the gallery and the exhibition curators, we zeroed in on storytelling and soundscapes as the focus for developing the guide’s audio content. We incorporated environmental sound design to immerse visitors even more deeply in the rich storytelling, which included the use of acclaimed actor Hugo Weaving to voice the role of artist John Russell. Alongside developing the audio content, we developed the technical framework that would deliver the guide to visitors via a specially built app on our proprietary platform.

Two women wearing headphones looking at a wall of paintings. One woman has a mobility aid.

The music for this exhibition was layered so beautifully. We had quite a few visitors who told us they walked around the exhibition twice — the first time listening to the narrative and then again just listening to the music.

– Brooke Carson-Ewart,
   Head of Digital Engagement, Art Gallery of NSW

Music has the power to shift the way people interpret art. For the audio tour to have a point of difference, we developed a detailed audio content plan that assumed characteristics of the impressionist movement that spawned Russell’s works.

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Visitors at John Russel Exhibition at Art Gallery of New South Wales

 


Solution

The Gogo app provides everything a visitor needs to make the most of their visit. Two immersive audio experiences featuring local stories and original music let visitors choose how they want to explore the museum: Let Us Guide You is a curated journey covering 80 highlights of the collection, while Go Your Own Way lets visitors wander the galleries and learn about the objects closest to them via location-aware beacons. Digital labels and touchpoints located throughout the galleries encourage interaction with the collection, while interactive maps via the app help visitors find their way around the museum.
Enabling these site-wide digital experiences is the Museum Digital Platform, powered by MOS. It empowers museum staff, giving them control to add and edit visitor experiences. It also provides intuitive data and analytics so staff can make informed decisions to improve visitor engagement.

Impact in numbers

  • 91 per cent Visitors who expressed positive feedback after post-launch update to the audio experience. Satisfaction increased from 61%.
  • 55 minutes Average time visitors spent listening to the audio experience while wandering the exhibition.
  • 88 per cent Of visitors listened to all 12 of the audio tracks. Visitor feedback showed the narration wasn’t too long or too short, it was just right.
A group of people gathered at the Josh Russell exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW