A Brief History of Us: From Burning Man to Museum Partner

Time for a little "Throwback Thursday"!

Looking out the window of an airplane and listening to a brand new Sony Walkman, Chris Hardman had an epiphany – this was a soundtrack. It was 1982 – the Walkman had just come out – and hearing music as he soared through the clouds was practically live theater.

In the coming days, he searched for as many Walkmen as he could find, renting the majority of them from skateboarders, and set out to put on a show with his experimental theater company. The show would take place in a school where a chalk line drawn through the hallways would give the audient (a rare word meaning audience of one) a path for them to follow as they donned the Walkman. Instead of watching the show, participants were part of the show, becoming actors in the drama they heard unfolding on the recording. Antenna was changing the relationship between theater and its audiences by incorporating new artistic disciplines and technologies into the experience.

Then, the United States Parks service called and asked the team to help them make an experience with a very famous prison – Alcatraz! The Antenna team suggested an experience never done before in a cultural setting. Instead of a straight lecture, we offered interviews with prisoners and an immersive soundscape, similar to the show in the school. Thrilled with this new idea, the first official production was created, the Alcatraz Cellhouse Tour for the National Park Service, which is still being used today.

Antenna Theater then redirected the company’s focus and established a division to produce interpretive audio tours for other non-profits throughout the country. Building on their experience in sound design and creative scriptwriting, and adding oral histories, interviews, original music, and sound effects that were the hallmark of Antenna Theater’s live performances, Antenna Audio Tours was established to create audio environments in historical and cultural institutions.

Concurrently, Arts Communications and Technology Ltd (ACT) in London was developing a portable CD-ROM to provide random access audio commentary at visitor attractions. This device, known as the “Gallery Guide”, would launch in 1995 at the National Gallery in London. In 1998, Antenna Audio Tours merged with ACT and became Antenna Audio.

A little bigger than today's portable players!

A little bigger than today's portable players!

Through the late 1990s, Antenna Audio stayed true to its experimental roots, working with influential arts festivals such as Burning Man, the annual temporary arts community in the Nevada desert. In 1999, at the cusp of the Millennium, Antenna created the “Sands of Time” experience, which carved the history of the earth into the sand and offered each participant a Walkman cassette player, guiding them on a multi-dimensional soundscape journey through the history of time.

Digging Sands of Time took two weeks prior to the festival, but Antenna Audio created a memorable experience that reflected the founder’s immersive, artistic, and experimental ideals.

Digging Sands of Time took two weeks prior to the festival, but Antenna Audio created a memorable experience that reflected the founder’s immersive, artistic, and experimental ideals.

The 2000s brought a new wave of technology to Antenna and to the world. With the introduction of the industry’s first custom MP3 device, the X-Plorer became the most used audio tour device in the world. And in 2008, the world’s first museum app (LoveArt) was released on iTunes.

The business grew quickly – soon we had millions of audio players all over the world, thousands were downloading our apps, and our client base was in the thousands. While humbled by our inclusion in the most amazing, historic places in the world, we needed a name to reflect our global outlook. In 2010, Antenna Audio became Antenna International. While we’ve now dropped the International for convenience sake, Antenna remains committed to these same ideals.

Audio devices available within the last 10 years.

Audio devices available within the last 10 years.

*This post is part of our series for #Museumweek, specifically #HeritageMW.

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