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Les Paul’s House of Sound

Les Paul’s House of Sound

Writing Sample – Exhibit Overview and Proposal for Discovery World

Combining memorabilia, hands-on exhibits and performance, Les Paulʼs House of Sound will celebrate the ongoing contributions of Wisconsinʼs native son and music legend. The exhibit and corresponding events will be designed to showcase the entrepreneurial characteristics of Les Paul and reveal that his innovative spirit is waiting to be awakened in every one of us. Visitors will discover that by combining creativity with scientific know-how — just as Les Paul did — they too can have a lasting worldwide impact.

Les Paulʼs House of Sound will kick off with a community-wide celebration on June 21st. The event will launch on the weekend of June 21 and 22 and will continue through the summer of 2008 at Discovery World. Throughout the summer of 2008, more than 1.3 million visitors will descend on the shores of Lake Michigan for events like Summerfest and the Harley-Davidson 105th Anniversary Celebration. The combination of these events, the natural draw of Milwaukeeʼs lakefront and our own marketing efforts will provide a strong local, regional and national audience for the project.

The experience will provide an immediate opportunity to showcase the inventions and influence of a Wisconsin legend and intertwine events that highlight the spirit of creativity and ingenuity. We will seek to place a spotlight
on Les Paul, but, as importantly, seek to inspire the “Les Paul” in everyone.

The experience will also serve as a proof-of-concept for a possible permanent exhibit at Discovery World or elsewhere by showcasing public interest in the project and potential donor participation.

In the days leading up to the launch, Discovery World will use its deep connections to a variety of civic and media outlets to highlight the ongoing achievements of Les Paul and build interest for Les Paulʼs House of Sound. Opportunities include television segments on Upfront with Mike Gousha and Milwaukee Public Televisionʼs “I Remember” as well as special proclamations by the Governor of Wisconsin and the Mayors of Milwaukee and Waukesha.

The launch will also include a party and live performance at the Pabst Theater. To make the event accessible to a wider audience and to showcase the technology of Discovery World, it will also be broadcast on the Internet and fed to the Discovery World theaters. Guests at this kickoff will be invited to preview Les Paulʼs House of Sound.

Les Paulʼs House of Sound will be framed by a large graphic timeline that will highlight the significant points in the artistʼs life through photos, audio and video. This timeline will reflect his inspiration, innovation and the impact he continues to have on popular culture.

Guests will be invited to post “notes” on the timeline relating to their memories and experiences with the music legend through writing, video and sound. This hands-on approach encourages the audience to participate in the living timeline and allows them to help build it over the run of the exhibit.

The first part of Les Paulʼs House of Sound will center on Les Paulʼs early years when signs of his lifelong innovative core first surfaced. Les has identified five everyday items of the era in his motherʼs living room that, when coupled with the “can do” spirit of Popular Science, turned his childhood home into a laboratory. The five items – the phonograph, the telephone, the radio, the piano and the window – inspired him to seek the “magic” in the things around him and motivated him to experiment with sound and music.

One of his most profound discoveries occurred when Les placed his hand on a pane of glass. As a locomotive would pass behind his house, he would note how the vibrations changed at different points as the train went by. This introduced him to the principles of sympathetic resonance and vibration.

This area will feature several interactive exhibits including a dissected antique telephone, an acoustic guitar that displays sound waves through an oscilloscope and a tube of sand that demonstrates the doppler effect
of waves.

This area will show that art and science coexist and the combination of the two can have historically important consequences. The installation will feature the ways Les Paulʼs passion for the intersection of technology and artistry helped him transform the recording and performance industries. By featuring prototypes by Les Paul and others, this area will emphasize the role art and science play in good design.

Some features include:

Electrifying the Guitar
As a teen, Les was invited to sing at a roadhouse parking lot. There, he noticed that his voice could be heard, but not the sound of his guitar.

This inspired Les to take apart his telephone and place the electromagnet under the guitar strings. This created an electrified guitar, as opposed to the amplified guitars of the day. We will recreate this experiment and allow visitors to test it out for themselves.

Railroad Track
Through observation and experimentation, Les determined that something solid would better communicate vibration than something hollow. He demonstrated this with a railroad track, a guitar string and a pickup. We will display several interactive examples that prove Lesʼ observations.

The Log
He further developed his idea with “The Log,” a 4×4 piece of hardwood he fashioned into a guitar. This innovation became the basis of the electric guitar. From this prototype, he partnered with Gibson Guitars and created a beautiful solid base guitar. It featured a Humbucker pickup that reduced undesirable noise and interference. We will display “The Log” as well as exercises that involve the audience in the design

Record Cutting Lathe
Les went on to create a homemade record-cutting lathe to produce his own record masters using vibration and wax disks. We will showcase the technology applied to create these records and provide a microscope for
visitors to observe the grooves on a record.

Recording Tape
After World War II, the US acquired the first recording tape machines from the Nazis. From this, Ampex became the first commercial producers of recording tape machines and revolutionized the recording industry. Les was at the forefront of experimenting with this new technology and discovered that by using two recording heads, he could
record sound over sound, allowing him to tape his own back up and play back sounds at different speeds. We will feature this technology and create a series of interactive activities that allow visitors to experiment with tape loops and multi-track recording.

Television and the Les Pulverizer
In addition to his radio program, Les hosted his own television show and at one point had 8 of the top 10 songs in the country. During this time, he developed the Les Pulverizer, which was a large analog computer that allowed him to play, play back and record. We will showcase the capabilities of the Les Pulverizer and display clips from his radio and television programs.

The area also includes interviews with Les Paul talking about topics such as his inspirations, his first performance, the importance of good design, the performerʼs motivation and the relationship of art and science.

The exhibit experience continues with a look at the advancements in technology relating to Les Paul and his lifeʼs work. This includes the progression of the radio, the television, recording devices, TV cameras,
tape decks and the guitar.

Les Paulʼs House of Sound concludes with a look at Les Paulʼs most recent endeavors as well as a showcase of emerging technologies and innovations that embrace his innovative spirit. These will be presented through a series of experiences that feature digital audio manipulation, “perfect” recordings, open programming environments, home recordings, guitar effects and several others.

In addition to the installation, Discovery World will use its Television Studioʼs green screen technology to give guests the opportunity to perform with Les Paul in a virtual environment. The activity will have variations that will accommodate musicians and average music-lovers and will allow them to take home a DVD of them performing with Les Paul.

Other activities will include audio recording and manipulation experiences in Discovery Worldʼs Audio Lab and live performances in the Discovery World Theaters, including a 5 hour guitar jam featuring a wide range of guitarists.

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