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The Jewish Museum of Sydney was founded three decades ago by Holocaust survivors who settled in Australia.

The museum's slogan, Where history has a voice, encapsulates the origins and mission of the museum, fitting seamlessly with the recently launched exhibition Reverberations: A Future for Memory.

This interactive and high-tech attraction sheds light on the humanity and experiences of Holocaust survivors who, in recent years, have shared their stories in person with visitors.

 

Created in collaboration with the USC Shoah Foundation - The Institute for Visual History and Education, this unprecedented visitor experience utilizes cutting-edge technology, such as Shure's Stem ecosystem components, to transform the experiences of Holocaust survivors in Sydney into interactive screen biographies, allowing visitors to engage in conversations with them.

 

Our exhibition's goal is to provide future generations with the opportunity to converse with a Holocaust survivor. It's about keeping their memories alive for when, sadly, no living Holocaust survivor remains, explains Shannon Biederman, Chief Curator of the Jewish Museum of Sydney.

 

USC Shoah Foundation

The extensive project of collecting video testimonies from real Holocaust witnesses owes much to Steven Spielberg. He was inspired to create the USC Shoah Foundation after meeting several Holocaust survivors who visited the set of his film Schindler's List in 1994. Since then, tens of thousands of testimonies have been recorded and preserved for future generations in the Visual History Archive, the world's largest collection of genocide witness testimonies.

Built on this experience, the USC Shoah Foundation initiated Dimensions in Testimony to record and present testimonies in a way that allows for real dialogue between Holocaust survivors and visitors now and in the future, thanks to an artificial intelligence-based language processing computer.

"We have a very close relationship with the USC Shoah Foundation", explains Shannon Biederman. "We've housed the 'Visual History Archive' in our facilities for 15 years, so we've seen how their Dimensions in Testimony project has developed over the years and have always been interested in joining that project here in Sydney".
Shure Jewish Museum 1 HI

Recording survivor testimonies

The opportunity arose during the COVID pandemic when testimonial recordings in the United States had to be halted. The sophisticated recording system was relocated to Australia and used to capture the intimate memories of six Holocaust survivors living in Sydney. Each survivor answered around 1000 questions about their Holocaust experience, life, interests, and hopes for the future, while being recorded by a specialized team with 23 cameras. Subsequently, the extensive hours of audiovisual material from these interviews were cataloged and processed, ready to be transformed into an interactive biography for the Reverberations exhibition.

After editing the video material, the AV system integration team from Interactive Controls entered the scene to install the technology for the museum's exhibition. The striking minimalist design places the visitor face-to-face with a life-size image of a survivor patiently waiting on an 86-inch vertical wall-mounted screen. There are no visible buttons or controls.

 

All interaction with artificial intelligence controls is done through voice, captured by a Shure Stem Ceiling microphone.

 

The microphone, part of Shure's Stem ecosystem, connects through a digital network to a Stem Hub directly connected via USB to the computer. The computer responds to visitor questions by instantly selecting the most appropriate response from the hundreds of stored video clips, sending the image to the monitor, and the sound, through Stem Hub, to the Shure Stem Speaker mounted on the ceiling.

 

Intelligent conversations

After months of training voice recognition systems, Curator Shannon Biederman realized how important it was to accurately capture visitors' voice interactions, even in such a noisy environment as the museum.

 

With so many different voice patterns and accents, the software has a lot to deal with, and that's why the clearer the audio, the better the software can process it. If the audio is constantly interrupted, there will be many errors in the system's responses. And that will ultimately negatively interfere with the visitors' experience, acknowledges Shannon.

 

Shure Jewish Museum 2 HI   Shure Jewish Museum 3 HI

 

Having worked with the USC Shoah Foundation on the technology prototype, Shure USA sought assistance from Jands, Shure's distributor in Australia, to provide specialized advice and assistance in installing and programming Shure components in the system installed at the Jewish Museum of Sydney.

As Christopher Ling from Jands explains, for the USC Shoah Foundation, the decision was made to use the "acoustic barrier" feature. "Basically, the acoustic barrier function uses the integrated DSP and 100 microphone elements to create a conical capture area directly under the microphone and reject surrounding audio".

 

An effective application

Although initially designed for video conferences in meeting rooms, the microphone's exceptional intelligent beamforming capabilities, along with the simple and elegant design of the entire Shure Stem ecosystem, perfectly combine to enable authentic duplex conversations with the artificial intelligence-based language processing system.

For Shannon Biederman, the simplicity of voice interaction is an important part of Reverberations.

 

We've observed that technology quickly takes a back seat for the visitor, giving way to an emotional and impactful experience. The fact that Holocaust survivors tell this story makes it personal. It's no longer just dates, just numbers. It's crucial that these experiences endure into the future for history to make sense.

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