Emerald Necklace Conservancy, Boston

The Opportunity

Provide a high-performance, weather-resistant audio solution for an ambitious outdoor public art project presented by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy to commemorate the Conservancy’s 20th anniversary. The Emerald Necklace Conservancy stewards a five-and-a-half-mile-long chain of parks that surround Boston known as the “Emerald Necklace.” To commemorate the Conservancy’s 20th anniversary and celebrate the parks’ designer Frederick Law Olmsted, curator Jen Mergel commissioned Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya to create five “fog sculpture” art installations for a free outdoor exhibition called Fog x FLO: Fujiko Nakaya on the Emerald Necklace. Nakaya’s fog sculptures generate a fine mist from high-pressure water nozzles, which is then shaped by the surrounding environment. The largest of the installations, Fog x Ruins, filled the large rectangular footprint of a ruined stone building designed by Olmsted. The mist nozzles were elevated on scaffolding to the building’s former height and lit by LED fixtures, creating a color-changing fog around the ruins.

The Solution

Mergel brought in local artists to create complimentary works for the exhibition, including musician and Artistic Director at Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute Neil Leonard. Inspired by Duke Ellington, who had performed at the park in the past, Leonard composed a quadrophonic ambient saxophone composition entitled “Lavender Ruins” using notes from Ellington’s song “Lady of the Lavender Mist”. The addition of a sound component to Fog x Ruins presented a unique challenge, requiring a high-quality surround-sound audio system that could provide even coverage, endure constant moisture and be easily set up and torn down each day. Supported by funding from the Conservancy, Berklee and donor Robert Nagle, Leonard coordinated with Rick Scott at Parsons Audio to acquire a set of JBL CBT 70J-1 line array column loudspeakers for the unique installation.

The JBL CBT 70J-1’s broad coverage and smooth, even dispersion characteristics made them ideal for delivering an immersive surround-sound experience that didn’t require listeners to stand in one specific spot. The CBT columns’ Constant Beamwidth Technology and Asymmetrical Vertical Coverage provided precise vertical dispersion with consistent front-to-back coverage. This, along with their 150° horizontal dispersion, ensured that there were no null spots in the installation. The CBT 70J-1 achieves remarkably flat response from 60–20 kHz with 16 1-inch soft-dome tweeters and four 5-inch high-power low-frequency drivers arranged coaxially.

In addition to their sonic characteristics, the CBT 70J-1 columns provided several practical benefits for the installation. The MTC-PC2 cover panel complies with IP-55 and ASTM G85 ratings, protecting the columns from moisture, dust, ultraviolet radiation, acid, and salt corrosion. The included swiveling mounting brackets allow for precise positioning, even when mounted on a less-than-ideal surface like the scaffolding used in the Fog x Ruins installation. And at just 21 pounds each, the columns could easily be put up and taken down each day to comply with the park system’s security policies.

The Fog x FLO exhibition ran daily for twelve weeks in 2018. Although the installation is over, Leonard has plans to exhibit “Lavender Ruins” in a different context in the near future. The piece was designed to be scalable and adaptable to different sound systems, and was recently re-mixed in a twelve-channel surround-sound format at Greyfade Studio in Brooklyn. This new version of the piece will be played in a similar installation, without the fog, in New York City in 2019.

The Impact

“What was really stunning was that the sound translated from my home studio with a THX-grade system to these JBL speakers in the park,” said Leonard. “It was not necessary to EQ anything to adapt the studio mix to the outdoor presentation. These columns also have really broad diffusion, and that was extremely helpful for this installation where sometimes people were inside the installation, and sometimes some people were wandering outside the structure.”

“It’s not just the fact that these speakers are outdoors, but they’re actually getting bombarded with water droplets all day,” said Rick Scott, owner of Parsons Audio. “It’s not just a momentary rain or some inclement weather occasionally, but they are always under very harsh conditions. So a key ingredient was not only the sound quality, but their ability to stand up to this kind of situation. With our regional HARMAN representative’s help, and collaborating with Neil, I think we hit upon a solution that would not only provide good sound, but also be more or less weather-proof in the conditions that they were planning.”