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What is the sound of wood? Visitors can now conduct the Wood orchestra in the Science Centre Heureka's new exhibition

Researchers at Aalto University and the University of the Arts Helsinki have created an interactive installation that demonstrates the acoustic properties of different wood specimens.
Lähikuvasssa kädet rakentamassa puusta kaiutinta akustiikan laboratoriossa. Kuva: Jussi Rämö
Structure-borne sound drivers make panels vibrate and their surfaces to radiate sound like a loudspeaker.

The Finnish Science Centre Heureka is featuring a new exhibition entitled "Wild Wild Wood", which demonstrates the versatility of wood material and one of the exhibition's attractions is the “Wood Orchestra” co-produced by the Aalto Acoustics Lab, the University of the Arts Helsinki's Sibelius Academy, and Heureka. The installation allows visitors to immerse themselves in the acoustic properties of wood as it is a common material found in musical instruments and concert halls.

The wood orchestra comprises four 1.6-2.5-meter wood panels, which the researchers have transformed into loudspeakers using structure-borne sound technology and state-of-the-art audio signal processing. Structure-borne sound drivers installed to the panels cause them to vibrate and their surfaces to radiate sound like a loudspeaker. The orchestra features four different wood specimens - maple, spruce, apple tree and goat willow.

tutkijat seisovat Puuorkesteri-teoksen edessä Heurekassa kuva: Jussi Rämö
Vesa Välimäki, Otso Lähdeoja, Jussi Rämö and Juho Liski with the installation in Heureka.

'Spruce has the best or most balanced acoustic properties inherently. The apple tree has a particularly clear sound quality, and the sound of goat willow is very soft,' describes Academy of Finland fellow Otso Lähdeoja from the Helsinki University of the Arts’ Sibelius Academy.

Acoustic properties of the wood panels were measured and analyzed at the Aalto University’s anechoic chamber. An equalizer for each panel was customized by audio signal processing researchers M.Sc. Juho Liski and Dr Jussi Rämö together with Professor Vesa Välimäki.

'In each panel, different frequencies are amplified and ring differently. Therefore, we needed to design a separate equalizer for each panel to enhance their sound quality to meet the requirements of music reproduction,' says Professor Välimäki.

Otso Lähdeoja composed four quartet pieces that were recorded at the Helsinki Music Centre’s studios. Each panel replicates the sound of one instrument, and the panels then join together to form a wooden quartet. Exhibition visitors can immerse themselves in the acoustic properties of wood by taking the orchestra conductor’s place. The “Wood Orchestra’s” user interface allows for mixing between each panel’s sound and exploring the qualities of the individual wood panels. Heureka’s design team created the technical setup, scenography, and the user interface of the “Wood Orchestra”.

The Finnish Science Centre Heureka opened its doors to visitors on Wednesday, 10 June 2020, following a three-month Covid-19 lockdown in Finland. Heureka receives over 300,000 visitors annually. The “Wild Wild Wood" exhibition will be open for over a year, so it is expected to have a considerably sized audience. 

More information

Professor Vesa Välimäki
[email protected]

Wild Wild Wood on Heureka's website

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