The Royal Navy Submarine Museum
UK - UK - The only British surviving Second World War-era submarine, HMS Alliance, stands proudly in Gosport, just across the water from Portsmouth.

It has undergone a major £7m restoration project to bring it to life as a visitor attraction, allowing people young and old to go on board and experience what it would have been like on the vessel throughout historic wars.

The audio system was devised by sound designer Sarah Angliss, who also programmed the submarine's novel, generative audio system using MaxMSP. DJW was briefed to install the AV hardware and design, programme and install elements of the audio soundscaping throughout the 218ft submarine. The solution needed to help bring the submarine 'back to life', submersing visitors in the feel of a working vessel.

While throughout its award-winning, 28-year history DJW has worked within some unusual environments (castles, domes and super-yachts to name a few), going to work on a submarine every day was a first. The cramped conditions of the vessel made installation and getting equipment in and out a challenge, particularly when working alongside many other contractors.

Other challenges included ensuring the hardware was in keeping with the traditional surroundings to keep the visitor experience as realistic as possible, and being careful not to damage the preserved submarine, which is of huge historical value.

Bringing history to life was a key part of the brief and DJW used all the tools in its AV armoury to create a realistic experience for visitors.

In the engine room it installed a heavy duty Bose MB4 Bass Module, teamed with a Cloud CX-A6 Amp for Bass and Tactile Soundspeakers, to give the audio of the engine running a powerful low resonance. Actuators, linked to the bass audio, were carefully installed under the floorboards, meaning when the rumbling sound of the engine kicked in, the actuators leapt into action and the floor shook, just like it would have when the submarine was in use.

DJW also used clever lighting tactics to bring the vessel to life. When visitors are guided into the control room, an attack situation is simulated. Suddenly red lights begin to flash, the deafening sound of an alarm rings through the Visaton loudspeakers and a seaman's voice is played out, warning the captain of depth charges being used by the frigate above.

Audio cones create the sound illusion that a boat has gone over the top of the submarine and, just at the right time, DJW's programming sets the lights to flash brightly, as if the depth charges have gone off.

To ensure the experience was as realistic as possible, LED lights were used and speakers were hidden in the many nooks and crannies of the vessel. In total, there were 51 speakers across HMS Alliance and DJW's team worked meticulously to find spots to hide them, before carefully removing panels and installing them.

In some cases, however, DJW made feature points of its AV hardware, sourcing vintage speakers such as 1960s Tannoy systems and displaying them as they would have appeared on the working submarine. The vintage speakers served a dual purpose, helping DJW to ensure the audio sounded how it would have on board, rather than a modern and crystal clear version of a captain's call.

The incredible way of life on board HMS Alliance has been brought back to life, thanks to a clever use of technology. What could have been a straightforward restoration has become a visitor experience and now people of all ages are not only able to see, but hear and feel, what life would have been like on board.

Chris Munns, director at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, comments: "A visit on board HMS Alliance assaults all the senses and really brings to life what it is like to work and live on a submarine."

(Jim Evans)

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