In the Mood
Moodsonic is making waves, providing bespoke biophilic office soundscapes that do much more than mask conversation.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
Main Image:/ Murray Harris Photography
They didn’t call it ‘sound masking’ in the Wild West but the constant janky tones of the honky tonk piano most certainly played that role as much as it did a rudimentary form of entertainment.
As the Hollywood Western trope goes: when the piano player stops, all eyes turn to the saloon doors. I felt a bit like that standing next to Marcus Rose as he hit the mute button on the Moodsonic control tablet and a room full of Sydney Catholic Schools office staff all paused momentarily, like a split-second mannequin challenge, wondering what had changed.
Moodsonic is a fancy, bespoke sound masking system. Moodsonic would prefer you don’t call it sound masking, and out of respect to Moodsonic, this will be the last time I use the term ‘sound masking’ in reference to its system, but it’s clearly the quickest way to understand what it’s about.
The fundamental premise of Moodsonic is: there’s gotta be a better way of doing sound masking. Marcus Rose is a director of Valeo Technology, an authorised Moodsonic partner, but he has also been an intrinsic member of the Moodsonic team from when the company was establishment and heavily involved in developing the solution over the last few years.
For those at the back of the CTS class, traditional sound masking uses shaped noise via a distributed loudspeaker system to raise the noise floor of the work space such that conversations aren’t heard across the room or between spaces. The noise isn’t so loud as to be intrusive — like waking up to static on the TV when you left it on overnight (for those over 40) — but loud enough to ‘mask’ vocal frequencies. You can have zones to ‘fine tune’ the level of your sound masking but ultimately it’s a reasonably blunt instrument and no one pretends the noise has wellbeing benefits.
Conversely, the founders of Moodsonic looked at research that clearly demonstrated that there are wellbeing benefits to certain ambient sounds. Certain water sounds, for example, promote calm and focus. Meanwhile, certain soundscapes are shown to provide a calming influence on the brains of the neuro-diverse (people with autism etc, for those unfamiliar with the neologism). There’s no shortage of research on the power of background sound (for good and for bad), so Moodsonic joined the dots and began devising a system that ticked the sound masking boxes and improved workplace conditions.
CLOSE TO NATURE
Firstly, when it comes to office ambience, the Aphex Twin won’t cut it. Moodsonic is almost all about the sounds of nature — ‘biophilic’ is the mellifluous term it uses. These include the sounds of a babbling brook, the ebb and flow of the surf on a sandy beach, and other sounds of nature’s flora such as birds and animals. These sounds are algorithmically generated and mixed in the audio device, so the balance between elements can be fine tuned, and programmed to have no loop.
AV.Technology met with Marcus at this new Moodsonic showpiece in downtown Sydney. Steve Lastro from Technology & Wellness Consultants, 6Sides, brought Marcus Rose in on the project. The client immediately saw the appeal of the Moodsonic system and it dovetailed with its own open-plan, activity based work strategy. The decor of certain areas is themed in green for quieter, focussed work, and bold pink, yellow and gold for louder, more collaborative working. Marcus and his team consulted to devise a bespoke background ambience.
The Moodsonic method relies on similar speaker layouts as a traditional noise masking system, to ensure complete and seamless left/right audio coverage. It has a number of brands and models of audio solutions it happily employs but is particularly satisfied with QSC’s AC-C2T 2.75-inch model. It’s small, cost-effective and has wide (170°) and even dispersion characteristics. There are more than 200 of these QSC in-ceiling speakers in the two floors of the fitout, driven by three QSC MP-A80V 8 x 200W amplifiers for 24 potential zones. The Moodsonic system interfaces seamlessly with the Q-SYS system.
There are a couple of Moodsonic standouts on the SCS job. Marcus is particularly proud of the signature Rottnest Island soundscape. Originally devised for a West Australian client, the Rottnest Island sounds take you on an auditory hike across the island — the beach, the rivulet, the birds and, yes, the quokkas. For the WA client, the soundscape had extra significance being indigenous to the region, while for ACS it simply represented the perfect biophilic blend.
During the design phase, staff were invited to provide feedback on the soundscape mix. ‘Too many seagulls’ was one observation in the early days. No problem, the balance and timing can all be fine tuned to suit the client feedback in the Moodsonic GUI.
The SCS chapel is another source of great pride for Moodsonic. It commissioned its own choral theme for the space. Actually, there are four different a cappella soundscapes — one for each season of the year, to guard against the ambience going stale over time. The chapel is an example of Moodsonic’s versatility — it’s not all surf ’n’ turf. The Gregorian-style vocals in the chapel provide more than sound masking, they provide overt ambience, and, again, when Marcus hits ‘mute’ it was like a DJ ripping the needle off a LP in the middle of your favourite song — the soundscape contributes that much to the ambience, its absence is positively jarring.
There’s certainly more to this project than one of the fanciest ‘sound masking’ systems in the world but it’s the Moodsonic ambience that sets this fitout apart.
Doubtlessly, as business does its darnedest to attract staff back to the office, promising inspiration and efficiency, we’ll hear lots more about Moodsonic… and others like it. But I think it’d be naive to underestimate Moodsonic’s IP. Apart from having an elegant and refined client-friendly system, it has years of research under its belt. How much quokka is too much quokka? Good question. Moodsonic knows. That might sound glib, but there’s no doubt that the exact constitution of a Moodsonic soundscape is finely tuned to achieve the desired result on a space-by-space basis. Part science, part art, it’s a developing and fascinating area of expertise.