The Philosophy of Sound: David Russell and the Art of Crafting Musical Museum Experiences

Posted on Jan 6, 2022 5:07:45 PM

MediaMerge understands the importance of quality AVL integration for museum exhibits. However, the design and installation of Audio, Visual, and Lighting systems is only part of the story when it comes to creating exhibits that are memorable and effective.

When it comes to exhibit design, the audio and video content must be just as expertly crafted as the technology used to present it, and music can be a key part of the experience. Over the last decade, MediaMerge has worked with composers whose musical talents have touched everything, from Oscar-nominated films to Star Wars properties.

David Russell, a dedicated and talented composer, orchestrator, and synth programmer, is one such expert. With his help, MediaMerge has raised the bar for many of their museum projects, including the American Village, the Boston Tea Party Museum, and the ICR Discovery Center.

Stellar Credentials

As a teen, David was a metalhead. “I listened to Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, bands of that nature. Orchestral works and film scores weren’t even on my radar at that time.”

That all changed when he heard Danny Elfman’s Batman soundtrack. “I didn't know what I wanted to do in regard to my future until I heard Danny Elfman’s music. It clicked after that. I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ ”

David’s dream of composing music led him to Virginia Commonwealth University, where he studied Classical Guitar Performance. Following that, he attended the University of Miami and received his Master’s Degree in Music.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1995 and has been making music ever since. You’ve probably heard his work in the Oscar-nominated film, Brooklyn, or some of the fourteen hours of music he’s composed and scored for the popular animated Star Wars series (The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Bad Batch). His catalog includes an impressive list of well-known films including Black Swan, Spiderman 3, and The Grudge

Music for Museums

“I might surprise you,” David says, “but there isn’t much of a difference between writing music for film or television, and creating a piece for a multimedia setting, like when I compose for a museum exhibit alongside MediaMerge.”

Creating music for a film is a drawn-out process filled with overarching themes that find their way into multiple tracks in its score. TV, in contrast, is much more of a get-in, get-out style where emotion and tension have to be set up immediately before the next scene.

Work for museum exhibits falls somewhere in the middle. David’s work with MediaMerge consists of composing for films that play at specific points in a visitor's experience, allowing him to score a miniature movie. For example one of the films for the ICR Discovery Center is titled, The Returning King, and is a wordless short film scored by David.

The Philosophy of Making Music

David’s museum process begins much the same as any artistic endeavor. “I just start by throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. A strong initial spark can connect the music to the visual. That kind of connection makes the subject matter and emotions from the subject feel more immediate.”

After that creative spark ignites and forms a general composition he is happy with, editing and fine-tuning follow. The music in a composer’s head doesn't always translate when it's performed, whether by an orchestra or through a computer.

“You always have to go in and tweak things. Usually, my first pass has the backbone or general feel of what I’m going for, but fitting it with MediaMerge’s films requires a bit of reshaping. The core vision usually remains the same from that initial burst of inspiration, though.”

Film vs Museum

The artistic side of creating this music might be similar to other areas David works in, but there is one major difference.

“Mixing for a 3-dimensional environment, and how involved MediaMerge is with that aspect, is a key difference between what I’ve done with them and what I’ve done in more traditional film roles.”

When it comes to film and TV, the final audio output will be very different, and out of David’s hands. There is no telling how David’s final composition might sound on each television. Even in a theater, speakers can be placed inconsistently or be in disrepair.

MediaMerge’s AV integrations, however, are specifically tuned for a single environment; David and the integration team at MediaMerge have complete control over how museum visitors will hear his music.

Once he completes a musical project, David will send over the individual elements of the piece along with the stereo mix. This allows them to match the actual sound in the exhibit as closely as possible by fine-tuning every individual element to fit the space.

Pride in MediaMerge’s Excellence

Even with the mountain of accomplishments in David’s portfolio, his projects with MediaMerge are some of his most cherished pieces.

“The music I created for the ICR is some of the most personal music I’ve made for any project,” says David. “I’m extremely grateful for MediaMerge’s trust in my skills and allowing me such freedom on their projects.”

This trust is a key reason why museum exhibits like the ICR have literally brought visitors to tears. This is a result that simply cannot be attained by music from a stock catalog. The skill and abilities of experts such as David enable the MediaMerge team to consistently deliver expertly crafted visions.

Topics:Museum Exhibit DesignAward winningMuseum design


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