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Creating Visual Noise with BBC Sounds.

How to make sound LOOK cool.

That was the challenge posed when we were asked by Mother London to design, fabricate and install a visually arresting stand to tour UK festivals and showcase the variety of music, radio and podcasts available through the BBC Sounds app.

The BBC Sounds app launched in November 2018 with an ambition to transform how audio is consumed in the UK by bringing together radio, music mixes and podcasts.

The installation needed to create some visual noise in the busy festival space to drive awareness in a younger audience as the future of BBC listeners. And, of course the experience needed to be Instagrammable to drive reach beyond those at the festival and ultimately drive downloads of the App.

The immersive experience took shape as a collection of rather large fibreglass tubes, surrounding eight amazing ‘sound pods’ which collectively echoed the appearance of soundwave bars. This abstract structure was covered in the distinctive orange of the BBC branding providing a real pop of eye-catching colour in the festival scene.

Original 3D render

So, we knew we needed to create an enormous structure, a collection of 29 tubes to tower high above the crowd of festival-goers, creating a bright orange beacon of sound. The process of creative design and fabrication R&D was then required to find the unique solution.

To get the scale and rigidity of the pods we fabricated GIANT cardboard tubes - inspired by the packaging tube in which we often receive artwork (proving design inspiration can come from anywhere!). Fibreglass was then applied to the tubes in order to waterproof them (an absolute necessity with British festival weather) and finally the exterior was covered in the PVC fabric printed in the BBC brand colours to create the final smooth surface.

But the real experience lay within each of the eight sound pods. Each of the interactive, custom-made pods were innovatively kitted out to showcase the diverse range of content: nature, wellness, hip-hop, pop, indie, comedy, sports and electronic.

NATURE – With wall to wall greenery and hashtag branded leaves it truly felt that you were in a rainforest. Combined with a voice over from the one and only David Attenborough and the sounds of nature it offered a chance to immerse yourself in a moment of nature.

WELLNESS - The totally white walls and domed ceiling created a sense of quiet calm. With colour changing lights in the base of the pod that shone right up to the ceiling it offered a peaceful immersion in contrast to the buzz of the festival scene.

HIP HOP – This pod featured a supersized speaker in the ceiling, gold walls with hashtags and a plinth which vibrated in time with the bass being played inside the pod.

POP – This pod had a kaleidoscope inside made using a projector mounted in the roof and 6 mirrors to create an infinite kaleidoscope effect.

INDIE – This pod featured a black and white zigzag effect on the walls and par can lighting in the ceiling to suit the Indie vibes.

COMEDY – Bubble quotes featuring comedy one-liners were fixed around the interior of the comedy sound pod – a chance to brush up on some classics to use on your mates at the festival.

SPORTS – A myriad of branded footballs, tennis balls, snooker balls and basketballs were suspended from the ceiling as well as on the walls of the Sports Sound pod. The effect was further magnified by the interior being covered in mirrors for an infinity effect.

ELECTRONIC – Inside the electro pod viewers were gazing up into streams of colouring changing LED lights with an infinity effect created by a mirror mounted in the top of the pod. The lights were coded in-house to change colour to a beat (wasn't in time with the music).

Creative design of the experience aside, this project also gave us an interesting engineering and logistical challenge. First the design needed to solve the major structural engineering problem of how to suspend the enormous tubes in the air with an asymmetric design, ensure everything was weatherproof for the unpredictable British weather and of course ensure the experience was safe in an exposed, possibly windy, environment. As we knew we wouldn’t be able to dig into the ground at the festival locations the layout was designed for maximum stability. Large steel base plates were then added to some of the pods and secured to the ground with large industrial style pegs. As the tubes are cylindrical there are gaps between the structure which allowed for wind flow.

The scale of this build meant that multiple machines were required in order to lift and secure all the tubes together. Working with a hi-ab, cherry picker and genie lift all at once (as well as some good old fashioned muscle) all 29 tubes were secured together, ready to withstand up to 83mph winds. The design also ensured that the tubes were carefully planned to be able to be transported on minimum vehicles for efficiency. The main pods were in three groups to allow them to go on the front of the hi-ab. The decorative tubes then all laid in length order on a drag trailer and all interior assets went in a Luton.

There was also a consideration for keeping everything weather proof and festival-goer proof. The lids were carefully and thoroughly sealed and all internal elements either being out of reach or tightly secured on.

The experience was a huge success at Leeds Festival and we hope the BBC Sounds experience will be on tour in 2021 to continue to help inspire the next generation of BBC listeners.

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