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Sennheiser to play major role at Sgt Pepper exhibition

V&A Museum retrospective to include immersive 3D AMBEO content

Shards from Jimi Hendrix’s and Pete Townshend’s shattered guitars… The brown fringe jacket Roger Daltrey wore at Woodstock…. Handwritten lyrics for Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by the Beatles… The suits worn by John Lennon and George Harrison on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band…

All of these incredible artefacts are to be included in a major cultural retrospective to be held at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in September 2016. Called You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966–70, the exhibition will explore the era-defining significance and impact of the late 1960s upon life today.

It follows the success of 2013’s David Bowie Is – the most popular exhibition ever held at the V&A – and once again, Sennheiser technology, including the guidePORT system and the emerging AMBEO 3D environment, will play a major part in the presentation and production of the show.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966–70 will “investigate the upheaval, the explosive sense of freedom, and the legal changes that took place resulting in a fundamental shift in the mindset of the Western world”, say the curators, Victoria Broakes and Geoffrey Marsh. More than 350 objects from the period, encompassing photography, posters, literature, music, design, film, fashion, and performance, have been procured for the show: even a moon rock, and an Apple 1 computer (of which there are only four working models in the world).

Details of Record and Rebels 1966-70 – which will run from September 2016 to February 2017 – were revealed at former legendary ’60s bar (now a private club) the Bag O’ Nails, just off London’s Carnaby Street, at the end of February. Martin Roth, director of the V&A, said it was one of the most important exhibitions the museum had curated. Broakes and Marsh agreed that the Sgt Pepper suits were some of the most difficult objects to secure – but they were items considered essential to the show.

Levi’s and Sennheiser are key sponsors of the event, along with outfitter Fenwick and stylist Sassoon.

“I knew some of the concept, but not all of it until today, so and I think it’s going to be a really, really exciting exhibition!” Sennheiser co-CEO Daniel Sennheiser told PSNEurope at the launch. He noted that one of the show themes – how the 1960s have shaped how we think today – is very much in tune with his company philosophy.

In an introductory speech at the Bag O’Nails, Daniel spoke of how his grandfather’s business had mass-produced the HD414 headphones starting in 1968, and how it had gone on to be the “most sold headphone in the world”. Later, while clutching a pair based on the original ’60s design, Daniel told PSNEurope that the phones were never planned as a product but came about when some of the Sennheiser engineers were “playing around with microphone capsules” and noticed the transparency of the sound when they were placed close to the ear.

“My grandfather [Fritz Sennheiser] said, OK, let’s make a product out of it. He asked the distributor at the time how many they could sell. But no one could imagine having a hi-fi sound ‘in your head’. The distributor said, maybe 500 worldwide! But grandfather said, to make it work financially, I need to make 5,000.

“So he made 5,000 – and it was sold out in three months. And today, more than 12m pieces have been produced. And we can still sell you replacement earpads for a 1968 pair!” revealed Daniel.

Working with the exhibition’s sound designer Carolyn Downing, the Sennheiser team (led by system designer Norbert Hilbich) will be setting up two AMBEO 3D audio soundscapes at the museum. One will place visitors in an immersive environment evoking the political issues and fight against censorship and the establishment of the late 1960s; the other will recreate a live concert atmosphere with upmixed audio material from the period.

Of AMBEO 3D – demonstrated in London last year but launched official at CES earlier in 2016 – Daniel says: “The idea is to transport you into a different place.

“We’re still learning how to use it and what we [can] do with it. It’s not just one technology, it’s about the capturing, the mixing, the creation of the spacial audio, then the processing and the playback. [But] that’s where Sennheiser is uniquely positioned [at the V&A]: to provide the 3D audio and create an emotional experience in an exhibition which is already emotive in its content, so it’s a really good case study and demonstration for us.”

Visitors will be accompanied through the exhibition by Sennheiser’s guidePORT system, as they were for David Bowie Is…. GuidePORT can deliver hundreds of personal, automatically triggered stereo feeds simultaneously, and will transmit real-time, lip-sync audio to fully immerse visitors in the sights and sounds of the period. The V&A implementation will comprise 750 receiver units with premium headphones (though Daniel didn’t know which models at the time), along with several transmission and trigger units, hidden from the public eye.

David Bowie Is has been on tour ever since the March 2013 V&A launch: it’s visited Toronto, Sao Paolo, Chicago, Melbourne, the Netherlands and is about to open in Tokyo. Daniel remarks, “If [Records and Rebels] is successful, I would love it to go on tour – but that is the V&A’s decision.”

Is Daniel a big fan of music from the era? “I would have loved to have been alive at that time. I’m a big fan of Zappa, Hendrix, Bob Dylan. I play guitar and piano – but I have more passion than talent!”

Bag O’Nails staircase pic: Sennheiser’s Robert Genereux (business director system design, strategic collaborations); Daniel Sennheiser, holding the reproduction HD414s; Eric Clapton(!) c. 1968; Norbert Hilbich (Sennheiser director spectrum affairs & system design)