Audio adds to underwater dining experience

Five and a half metres below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, guests at Europe’s first underwater restaurant are being immersed in the hauntingly serene sound of the deep blue sea. Reece Webb dives in.

Some of us have a taste for fish at the dinner table, but not many of us can say we’ve wined and dined in the natural habitat of our ocean dwelling animals deep below the surface of the waves. For visitors to the Under restaurant at the southern tip of Norway, submerging and immersing in the visual and audial glory of the ocean is now a reality. 

Under, Europe's first underwater restaurant lies semi-submerged on the Norwegian coastline, guests plunge down to the seabed to be met with a dramatic, panoramic view of the world beneath the waves, immersed in the haunting ambience provided by Norwegian integrator Level Audiovision. 
Petter Aase, sales manager for Level Audiovision, got involved with the project through a lucky phone call. 

He said: “There was no tender process, it was basically a cold call. My sister knew the owner, so I called him. Because we knew about the project and we found it interesting, we got more involved and they really believed in what we could do and they were very interested to work with us.”

Extending from the surface on the southern tip of Norway and descending down to the seabed, Under is comprised of two main levels that guests explore in a unique culinary experience. 

Aase explains: “There is the bar area where people meet and have the firstunder_copyright_ivar_kvaal_N237 presentation for Under while having a drink or two. This area has a bit more of a powerful sound experience compared to the restaurant.”

The bar area itself is brightly lit and colourful, featuring two Artcoustic SL Impact 1 speakers hidden in the bar section, with four Artcoustic SL 4-2’s built in to the sofa to hide them from view. A Shure QLXD24 wireless HH system with a B58 K51 microphone was also installed in the bar and restaurant area for staff use. 

A Control4 EA3 control system is used as the client did not want any touch panels or switchers, instead relying on discrete smartphones and iPads to control the system. 
The sound created in the bar area, is focused on more traditional hard sound, but as guests descend into the depths, the mood and colour palette becomes darker, from bright pinks and sea green colours to a dark midnight blue at the 25 metre long restaurant level.

The sound becomes more ambient and atmospheric to the icy waters on the other side of the giant window.  

For Level, creating a unique, otherworldly soundscape was top of the agenda, as Aase explains: “In the restaurant, it’s the same ceiling but we have a more atmospheric sound there, there aren’t as many subs.
“It was very important for us to answer the needs that the client had for these areas. It was not going to be a restaurant where you need hard sound, it’s more the feeling that you are actually underwater.”

Aase added: “We only used Artcoustic because of the sound it gives and the limited space we had to work with.” 

Space would be an issue for Level as each speaker and control module would need to be discretely hidden from view in the ceiling and furniture to fully immerse guests in the underwater soundscape. 

Aase said: “Every speaker in the restaurant is in the ceiling. We actually took a non-ceiling speaker, the Artcoustic SL 4-2 and we adjusted it to be a ceiling speaker. 
“This is not a speaker that people normally use in the ceiling, but we chose to do that because the box gives a very good sound and it also provides good coverage. It’s important for us to know the measurement between the ceiling and the floor and know that we have complete coverage without any drop zones. 

“When we measured out the building, we decided that the SL 4-2 would be the perfect choice to give the desired effect.” 
The thinness of the 4-2 speaker allowed Level to fit the speaker to the ceiling with ease, as Aase explained. “The 4-2 speaker is quite thin and that gave us that opportunity to use the product as we could have had an architect or in-ceiling speakers, but we wouldn’t have achieved the effect that we wanted.” 

The sound not only immerses guests into the underwater atmosphere but keeps the local inhabitants happy as well. Special consideration had to be given to the local wildlife, ensuring the fish populations were not disturbed by the restaurant. 

Aase said: “Special consideration had to be made to get the fish coming. The fish need a type of light and sound that will make the fish come to the window. There's also very little light in the restaurant so that the fish will not be scared of the big window.”
Under relies on three crucial elements for the experience to work: the interior, the lighting and the sound, requiring all three to work in tangent to create the immersive experience. 
Aase said: “In the restaurant, it feels like the walls create the sound, not any of the speakers. Everything is hidden so you cannot see any speakers or subs in the restaurant.” 

Acoustics were essential to the feeling of the restaurant and required the Level team to think outside of the box to deliver a system that was both discretely hidden and matched the ambience of the ocean view perfectly. 

The team decided to use a bespoke textile to achieve an atmospheric feeling, as Aase explains “Acoustics were central to the sound experience, we used a locally sourced hand-made sound material which has many small holes that were custom built for the acoustics of the restaurant. That’s a big part of the sound experience when you go in there.”  (This product is delivered and designed by Hamran.) 

under_copyright_ivar_kvaal_N235The material was stretched over the speakers, blending them into the ceiling without compromising the sound quality and atmosphere provided by the speakers. 

Level is responsible for ongoing tech support and maintenance and may add more equipment to the installation as time goes on, with the possibility of a hidden touch panel being installed for easier control of the system.
Looking to the future, Level aims to work with the team behind Under soon. 
Aase explained: “They are interesting people to work with. Under was under construction before we started on the project but they're going to build some historical parks and more. They said our solution was not the cheapest, but it was worth the money and much more.

“That gives some opportunities to work with them again, because they will probably return to us.”

Looking back on the project, Aase believes that it was smooth sailing and met all the requirements set by the client. 

Aase sums up the experience: “I think you will be amazed, you get that atmospheric feeling when you walk in, the light follows you in to the building and when you walk out, the light follows you out.
“The feedback that we got after the installation is amazing, I've never known an installation to have that amount of good feedback and that was what we hoped for. They liked the sound of it, it’s like a holy grail experience.”

Artcoustic SL 4-2 loudspeakers, SL Impact 1 subwoofers and PDA 100 amplifiers 
Control 4 Triad TS PAMP8 100 amplifiers, and EA3 and TS AMS8 controllers
Shure QLXD24 wireless HH system with B58 K51 microphone

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