Martyn Ware works on sound installations for National Portrait Gallery

Three-dimensional soundscape designer Martyn Ware is leading a project at the National Portrait Gallery in London to accompany portraiture with sound design.
Ware, who is founder of consultancy Illustrious and was a founding member of bands The Human League and Heaven 17, says he has been speaking to the gallery for 18 months ’to persuade them that 3D sound in particular could be used in an exhibition environment’.

Three-dimensional soundscape designer Martyn Ware is leading a project at the National Portrait Gallery in London to accompany portraiture with sound design.
Ware, who is founder of consultancy Illustrious and was a founding member of bands The Human League and Heaven 17, says he has been speaking to the gallery for 18 months ’to persuade them that 3D sound in particular could be used in an exhibition environment’.

Plans are now underway for Ware to contribute to the National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 Project – an evolving exhibition being developed over three years at the gallery.

The exhibition currently features a series of portraits taken by photographers Brian Griffin and Bettina von Zwehl of athletes, politicians and engineers contributing to the London Olympics. The first set of photographic portraits were shown in July and will be replaced annually over the next two summers.

Details of how Ware’s project will be executed are to be decided, but the designer will work with Goldsmiths’ students to gather a sound library.

The students’ brief is to capture residents’ views in the areas affected by the Olympic Games through audio, film and photography, finding out what they mean ’to them and to London’. Their work will be shown on the Road to 2012 website in November before a sample is taken for Ware’s final installation. Ware says, ’It’s not just a facile examination of people – there’s a more philosophical impact on people’s lives to be shown. We’ll look at the location of the Olympic site and the work in progress, albeit filtered through the gallery.’

The soundscape will appear in 2012 at the gallery as the exhibition moves into its final stage. Ware believes that it will take the form of an immersive soundscape, rather then individual interaction points with portraits.

Handheld smartphone devices may be brought into the interaction, but Ware will steer clear of headphones, which ’isolate people from their environment’, he says.
In the interim Ware will curate a one-off evening event at the gallery in spring 2011 to explore the possibilities of 3D sound in galleries.

Although Ware expects ’a natural resistance’ to bringing soundscapes to the gallery, he says, ’I’m not expecting every gallery to have them.’

He adds, ’This project stands a good chance of reaching a younger audience in a place where the demographic can be a little old.’

Ware says he hopes ’that sound can be thought of in a serious rather than a flippant way’, and says that with ’the right curatorial attitude’ his sonic portraits will be ’immersive and impressionistic soundscapes’ of the portraits, rather than descriptive add-ons.

He adds that he hopes that if successful, sound design can be considered for other National Portrait Gallery exhibitions. ’That’s my aim and I’m quite naked about it,’ Ware says. ’In the long run I want sound to be part of the portrait oeuvre.’

NPG and BT’s Road to 2012 Project The National Portrait Gallery/BT Road to 2012 Project opened in July. It will evolve over the next two summers with Martyn Ware designing for the final year

In total 100 portraits will be shown over three years

Portraits have been taken by Brian Griffin and Bettina von Zwehl of people who conceived and won the bid for London, as well as those who designed, built and delivered the Olympic Park

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