Located on Gatwick’s 180-metre long Skybridge, the airport’s new ‘A Living River’ soundscape literally serenades passengers with sights and sounds of China’s Yangtze River courtesy 128 kilometres of cables and 160 speakers across 80 channels that immerse visitors in 3D sound.
The soundscape includes everything from rushing water, the crackling of rocks and stones on the riverbed, skylarks singing, seagulls squawking, frogs croaking and dogs barking to those of people playing mahjong, clunky fishing boats, noisy street markets and a Cessna flying overhead.
And incredibly all were recorded by award winning sound designer and audio specialist, Nick Ryan, and a colleague during a whirlwind five-day trip to China when they recorded over 100 hours of material.
The sounds react and change to people’s movements (using motion sensors), so everyone’s experience is unique and, as an added element, the installation is responsive to live weather, so if it’s raining on the Yangtze you will hear rain in the Skybridge.
Described as a “one-off” installation by Gatwick’s chief commercial officer Guy Stephenson, the soundscape is designed to celebrate the work of HSBC’s 15-year partnership with World Wildlife Fund and The Water Programme in the Yangtze.
“Airports are all about experiences and I believe that we have created something unique here that will delight and entertainment our customers and that they will go home and talk about it and Gatwick Airport,” he told Airport World.
“I think if we put a smile on people’s faces then it will be a success. Is there any commercial benefit in it for us? Not really, but then again not everything is measurable. If people like it and talk about it then that's great and they will hopefully want to come back.”
Marketing and communications company, J Walter Thompson (JWT), was commissioned by HSBC to provide the soundscape.
Ryan, who recorded noises at 35 different locations along the 6,300km long Yangtze River, enthused: “As a sound designer I am used to using sound to transport people to a different place, and the journey at Gatwick is the Yangtze.
“The Yangtze really is a living river and the seven million people that use Gatwick’s Skybridge every year will have the chance to hear the sounds of its people, local businesses and wildlife.
“We have created a sound world that is ever changing and alive and will be different every time you walk across the bridge no matter how many times you cross it. You will never have experienced anything like this before in an airport.”
Like the best rollercoaster rides that are over too quickly, it takes passengers only around two minutes and a half minutes to pass through the soundscape despite taking some 12 months and hundreds of hours of manpower to put together.
Huge images of the Yangtze River, surrounding countryside and the wildlife and people that live alongside provide the visual element of the installation, which will be around for a year.
HSBC has been a long-term business partner to Gatwick Airport and, like at other UK gateways, its logo is advertised on airbridges across the airport, although rather refreshingly the sound installation is free from any obvious advertising.
Sue Alexander, who runs the Water Programme at HSBC, said: “For me it is all about education and raising awareness of the good work of the WWF and the HBC Water Programme by creating something truly special that people can enjoy.”
To find out more about the HSBC Water Programme and its work to help cleaning up the Yangtze River can be found at www.thewaterhub.org