Es Devlin is crowdsourcing a “choral soundscape” for the Expo 2020 Dubai

The crowdsourced contributions will form an immersive sound installation at the UK Pavilion at next year’s exposition in the UAE.

Es Devlin and sound design studio Polyphonia have announced a crowd-sourced musical project as part of the Expo 2020 Dubai.

The London-based multidisciplinary studio has created a seven-minute composition track and people can contribute their interpretations of the piece (in any musical style). This will then be played throughout the installation.

The UK Pavilion seeks to be a “meeting point” of ideas and people and has been inspired by Stephen Hawkings’ “Breakthrough Message”, which was part of the late physicist’s “Breakthrough Initiatives”. This specific project was about sending a message from Earth to an extraterrestrial civilisation, which would be representative of humanity.

Expo 2020 was due to open at Dubai in the UAE in October this year but has been postponed until October 2021 — the name has been retained. It’s the first time that the world exposition, which showcases over 190 countries, has been postponed.


What is an immersive soundscape?

A render of the installation

Devlin has worked with Polyphonia on the sound installation. A “choral space” will be at the centre of the pavilion, where words can be “donated” by visitors.

In an attempt to tie together ideas of connectedness, the design team has come up with an accompanying musical project. There is an open call for people all over the world to contribute their musical talents for the composition.

“We are working with voices from all over the world to create the choral soundscape which will envelop visitors at the heart of the pavilion,” Devlin says. “We want to express a full, beautiful range and breadth and diversity of voices, every age, gender, ethnicity.”

People can record themselves and submit sounds through the Expo’s website. There are opportunities for various levels of musical abilities as well as pitches for singing voices. Organisers are encouraging a range of instruments.

Expo 2020 UK Commissioner Laura Faulkner says that the project has benefits for the short and long-term. During a time of socially-distanced measures and a potential second lockdown, contributing to an international project could provide a sense of escape and much-needed connection. In the long-term, she suggests that the crowdsourced piece could have a life after the Expo next October.

“Making and sharing music with others, whether it be through singing, percussion or any form of musical instrument, is a powerful way to connect us and experience our universal humanity,” she adds.

Sound is fertile ground for designers at the moment; Pentagram partner Yuri Suzuki has also been collecting the sounds of the pandemic for the Dallas Museum of Art.


A “meditative soundscape”

The actual soundscape itself has been designed by Polyphonia. It is a 360-degree “spatial sound system” that will use 16 concealed speakers and ambisonic software (which creates a more complex sound wave system) to create a “fully immersive and unique sound that will be crafted and moulded to the space”.

Polyphonia co-founders Jade Pybus and Andy Theakstone say: “We have composed a meditative soundscape which reflects the key artistic aspirations of the UK Pavillion and its architectural space.”

The studio has created the seven-minute composition for the Expo. The aim was to create a “sonic journey that spans the breadth of human history and invention, from ancient choral traditions and cultural sounds to global satellite communications”.

A multi-channel space has been designed which will allow the studio to “pinpoint many instruments and voices woven together, as well as move individual sounds around within the choral space”. “We hope that whenever one enters into the space, they might discover a different sound each time,” the designers say.

Millions of visitors are expected at the Expo next October, which will run for a six-month period. While Faulkner says that the celebrations will “absolutely” go ahead, immediate plans to travel internationally are uncertain.

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  • mike dempsey September 22, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    This is a wonderful project. Music is the one thing that breaks down cultural, religious and ethnic barriers, bringing people together.

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