ProjectLilidoreiLocationAlnwick, Northumberland, UKManufacturersd&b audiotechnikInstallerSouthby Productions, UKTheatre and Audiovisual ConsultantGareth FrySubmitted byd&b audiotechnik

Lilidorei is an enchanting, themed play-world targeted at families with young children. Conceived entirely by Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland, this £17.5m creation, situated within the grounds of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, is the world’s biggest play structure. It is a fantastical world of grottos and lairs, inhabited by magical creatures – dwarves, trolls, fairies, pixies, hobgoblins, and more – all of them invisible.

To encourage engagement and traditional play, the attraction relies heavily on ‘realistic’ sound effects – bringing to life the work, play and often confrontational interactions of these fabulous invisible creatures.

To achieve the convincingly magical environment that was needed, a spatial audio solution from d&b audiotechnik, in the form of a d&b Soundscape plus xS Series loudspeaker system, was employed. This system was designed by Southby Productions with support from d&b audiotechnik, while the aural interpretation of the world was the work of award-winning theatre design specialist, Gareth Fry.

Southby Productions became involved in the project in 2019, when the Duchess became aware of its expertise in immersive audio. After an in-person demonstration of d&b Soundscape, led by Southby’s Chris Jones, the Duchess and her team were convinced of its importance to the realisation of the project. Over the next three years, as the possibilities of immersive sound took shape, Southby worked with sound designer Gareth Fry to realise this multi-layered, imaginary world.

Having the entire park covered directly by d&b Soundscape’s DS100 processing engines would have been prohibitively expensive, so the Soundscape output was copied to the individual Q-Sys systems controlling each zone’s playback. That playback comes from over 300 of d&b’s versatile xS Series loudspeakers (weather-resistant models) including 5S, 4S and the ultra-compact installation subwoofer, the Bi8. The whole system is powered by 82 of d&b’s new 4-channel install amplifier, the 5D.

The task – to bring an invisible, imagined world to life – was a challenge in itself, but this needed to be achieved across 13 areas of the park, and to encompass the existence of the various different clans of fantastical creatures who inhabit them.

The young visitors to the park had to be convinced by the realistic sounds of working, arguing, complaining, plotting and celebrating, that their invisible hosts – willing or otherwise – were, in fact, close by. It required a complex solution with a degree of realism that was unprecedented for a themed environment.

Although familiar with immersive concepts, this was Fry’s first use of Soundscape. “My main learning curve was in how d&b have implemented those concepts in software,” he says. To facilitate this process, Southby installed a mini-immersive 360-degree Soundscape studio in Fry’s home. This was to prove invaluable to him in learning to use d&b Soundscape to its full potential.

Individual soundtracks for each ‘clan’ were produced and then demo’d by Fry and the Southby team to the Duchess, who had a very clear idea of what this world should be. They began by developing how each type of creature might sound, before working out sequences of events that might happen in each clan, and finally working out how to spatialise that across the speakers in each of Lilidorei’s 13 areas.

The hundreds of sound effects – including the interactions, exclamations and movements of the various invisible inhabitants – were mixed in Logic Pro by Fry, who then used the Soundscape Audio Unit plug-in to remotely control and automate all of Soundscape’s parameters via OSC (Open Sound Control).

The soundscape created for Lilidorei – a rich concoction of hundreds of cues – had to be very convincing. Sound was not intended to be only for passive entertainment, it would actively influence the behaviour, encourage interaction and guide the movement of visitors through the park.

Sound effects conveying the specific characteristics of the park’s inhabitants – including voices, hissing, slithering, cackling and crying, plus the sounds of work and other activities – had to emanate precisely from buildings, doorways or objects, to seem real, and to draw the attention and influence the actions of visitors. For this reason, loudspeaker placement and audio object localisation enabled by the d&b Soundscape was extremely important.

Lilidorei is an extraordinary achievement in many ways, but notably for the world of immersive audio, it stands as a unique installation and a major landmark. It exists because a number of factors came together at the right time: the relentless drive and energy of the Duchess of Northumberland, combined with the advanced technological capability of the d&b Soundscape system, the experience and insights of the Southby Productions team, and the exceptional understanding of theatrical sound brought by Gareth Fry. Each was an essential contribution, and thanks to them, Lilidorei has set a new standard for what is possible in audio.