How the ambient sound at Walt Disney World works

Sunday, November 13, 2011
Noah sez, "An interview with the man who designed the ambient sound at Disney World,ensuring a constant experience rather than one that ends with the end of the ride. It wasinitially a little uneven, with sound changing volumes depending on where you stood, sothey used algorithms to position 15,000 speakers around the park so that the levels wouldnever change.

"I like the way there's often running water or waterfalls between different soundscapes toact as a white-noise buffer. It's subtle but incredibly effective. You almost never hear twocontrasting soundscapes at once.In the mid 1990's, the park started researching the problem. It would eventuallyfind no existing solution, so the engineers had to design and construct, on theirown, one of the most complex and advanced audio systems ever built.

The workpaid off: today, as you walk through Disney World, the volume of the ambientmusic does not change. Ever. More than 15,000 speakers have been positionedusing complex algorithms to ensure that the sound plays within a range of just acouple decibels throughout the entire park. It is quite a technical featacoustically, electrically, and mathematically.As we land, I ask Mr Q what he considers the highlight of his career. He describeshow he wrote some software for "manufacturing emotion" with the thousands ofnew speakers in the park.

The system he built can slowly change the style of themusic across a distance without the visitor noticing. As a person walks fromTomorrowland to Fantasyland, for example, each of the hundreds of speakersslowly fades in different melodies at different frequencies so that at any point youcan stop and enjoy a fully accurate piece of music, but by the time you walk 400feet, the entire song has changed and no one has noticed.