Filling Tate Modern’s Vast Turbine Hall with Targeted Sound

As footsteps echo through the vast emptiness of the Turbine Hall, a soundscape comes to life. Spoken word compositions reverberate from all directions, blurring into a mesmerising artistic experience. This was the vision we brought to reality through our intricate audio installation for artist Bruce Nauman’s 2005 Raw Materials exhibit at Tate Modern.

Nauman orchestrated the spoken word pieces throughout the enormous space to explore language’s rhythms and measure the hall’s cavernous acoustics. The project required us to route 21 diverse audio tracks via 28 electrostatic speakers and 4 suspended dome speakers that we had built specialised baffles and enclosures for, in order to draw guests through the hall. 

The scale of the hall posed challenges that required multi-pin breakout boxes to allow our rapid installation despite limited access, while constant repatching during testing optimised gain settings up to the opening.

Nauman’s fascination with language is central to his artistic output, an area he continues to explore through works like this commission. Influenced by Samuel Beckett and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Nauman has long used language, from acoustic rhythms to neon texts, to probe possibilities. He believes art has a social function, using repetition to address human frustration. This provocative sound installation engages Turbine Hall visitors, fulfilling Nauman’s aim of creating fascinating art with social commentary.

Disrupting the traditionally quiet space of the gallery, Nauman has said he wants the experience of his work to be “like getting hit in the face with a baseball bat. Or better, like getting hit in the back of the neck. You never see it coming; it just knocks you down.”

With 21 sounds and 35 outputs, a DSP matrix routing was essential. Visual mapping of speaker points as source selectors enabled us to make quick changes to levels, EQ, and compression. A 150Hz high-pass filter added protection. The system was centralised around a DSP zone mixer and 4x 8 channel Cloud amplifiers. 

In the summer of 2017, the piece was shown again. This time, we modernised the system and opted for an audio over IP architecture. We used 8x nXp1504D Dante enabled amplifiers and a single Mac mini computer was playing the audio content via Dante Virtual Soundcard.

Looking to transform an expansive or acoustically difficult environment through sound? Our expertise in multi-channel audio systems and acoustic modelling can build immersive audio experiences suited to your space. Contact our team to discuss your vision.