The imposing National Museum of Qatar rises from the desert floor like a striking mirage. Designed by celebrated French architect Jean Nouvel, the new museum’s 539 disk-like structures enclose more than 8,000 square meters of exhibit space divided into twelve interconnected, thematic galleries. Each gallery captivates the visitor in a multimedia experience of Qatar’s history, with the sweeping wall-wide video projections supported by multichannel sound designs heard through immersive Meyer Sound systems controlled by D-Mitri digital audio platforms and comprising hundreds of hidden IntelligentDC loudspeakers.
All aspects of the museum’s audio design, including both content and technical systems, were created as a holistic, integrated project by Idee und Klang Audio Design of Basel, Switzerland. The sheer scope of the assignment was daunting, with three hours of film soundtrack employing 11,278 sound files on 173 media servers reproduced through 308 discrete audio channels.
The technical challenges involved in the audio system design extended beyond the intricacies of the audio content. The unusual architecture combined with aesthetic considerations — all loudspeakers had to be concealed in the walls or ceiling — demanded very small loudspeakers, flexibility in placement, comprehensive control and, to ensure reliability, computer monitoring of all performance parameters. For conceptual audio designer Daniel Teige, these factors pointed toward an integrated Meyer Sound solution.
“I knew from the outset that Meyer Sound, with their products, technology and support team, would be of great benefit in this project,” relates Teige. “Meyer Sound offers a vast number of different loudspeakers to choose from, and from my perspective they are simply the best tools for reproducing sound. In addition, the D-Mitri platform offers the most flexible and reliable processing solution on the market.”
For Teige, Meyer Sound was not merely an equipment supplier but also an active partner in the project. “They were with us from the beginning through the final installation and commissioning of the system. Their dedicated team supported us many times with their experience and knowledge, so it felt like a true collaboration.”
A total of 42 D-Mitri modules formed the networked backbone for all audio systems. In addition to handling audio I/O, matrixing and DSP, D-Mitri also provided primary show control functions for synchronizing media servers and more than 100 Panasonic projectors.
The complement of more than 280 Meyer Sound loudspeakers included Ashby-5C and Ashby-8C ceiling loudspeakers along with UPM-1XP, UPM-2XP, UP-4XP and UP-4slim loudspeakers. UMS-1XP compact subwoofers were installed as needed for low frequency extension. All systems were supplied and installed by Qatari integrator Techno Q.
A key factor favoring a comprehensive Meyer Sound solution was the company’s exclusive IntelligentDC technology. By routing both balanced audio and 48 VDC power for the amplifier over a single cable from a remote rack-mount unit, IntelligentDC uniquely combines the installation advantages of low voltage systems with the sonic superiority and individual addressability of self-powered loudspeakers.
“IntelligentDC was a big plus for us,” says Idee und Klang’s on-site project manager Frederic Robinson. “The biggest advantage is that it eliminated very long speaker cable runs. Fitting a museum of that size would likely not have been possible using passive systems.”
Robinson gives special kudos to the new UP-4slim loudspeaker. “Finding suitable speaker positions around the projection surfaces proved to be a major challenge in every gallery. The UP-4slims provided Meyer Sound’s usual quality in a size that allowed placement below the screens. No other product with a profile that narrow came even close to the UP-4slim’s audio quality.”
The results of the technology and teamwork have been appreciated by museum management and other creative principals on the project. “Everyone is impressed by the sound quality,” says Daniel Teige. “You are not really aware of hearing loudspeakers. The sound is just everywhere around, and you are fully immersed in it. The museum and the filmmakers are all pleased with how the system performs on every level.”
A typical sentiment was expressed by Christophe Cheysson, director of galleries one and two. “The quality of the installation, and the fact that you can really pin a sound at a very precise place on the screen and then have it move with the object, has allowed us to tell amazing stories.”
Creating and mixing the complex, spatialized soundtracks involved an exhaustive two-stage process. Working closely with filmmakers, the Idee und Klang team first created the dynamic sound designs and mapped out a preliminary mix-to-picture at their studios in Basel. But because of the wide variance in room dimensions and acoustics, the final mix for each soundtrack had to be done on site at the museum, often in the wee hours of the morning to avoid noise from final phases of construction.
The main contractor for the National Museum of Qatar was a joint venture of MAN Enterprise, a Qatari general contractor, and EMPTY S.L., a Spanish museography specialist, together forming MEJV. The museum and architect partnered with the Doha Film Institute (DFI) to create the series of films, and then DFI and MEJV in turn contracted London-based RES to consult on pre-visualization and projection mapping. Idee und Klang Audio Design was charged with the complete sound scenography for the museum, from the early planning stage to the final mix of the audio content on-site.
The National Museum of Qatar opened on March 28, 2019, and is dedicated to celebrating the culture, heritage and future of Qatar and its people. Nouvel’s architecture is inspired by the desert rose crystal formations often found in arid landscapes.