The Métaphone® is a musical building, a world first. It is the contemporary keystone of the whole project, embodying the site’s new musical and acoustic role. An architecture of materials, sound and light, it is the iconic space of 9/9bis: a building to be looked at and listened to, an immense instrument played by musicians who may be invisible or perform live on stage. And like music, it evolves in time, a vector of fluid, ephemeral and constantly shifting harmonies of sound and light.
The Metaphone is a living machine, both concert hall and “urban musical instrument”, whose walls generate and diffuse sound, in harmony with the play of light. The concert hall and its annexes are contained within a volume of black concrete, itself wrapped in a steel structure covered by light skin made up of scales of different materials: clear and unpolished glass, Corten steel, wood. This scaly envelope extends outwards and opens above the esplanade, forming a great porch protecting the entrance and terrace. Between the concrete mass and the scaly skin, attached to a fine metallic structure, technical walkways provide access to the sound and lighting equipment for installation and maintenance. On the roof, the lattice of scales extends into a 600 m² sheet of integrated photovoltaic cells. Under the porch, the red structure of the instrument control cabin emerges theatrically from the black façade.
An overhanging stairway and terrace structure, made of Corten steel, completes the arrangement, providing another listening platform. The instrumental components are designed with two principles of sound production: mechanical, with acoustic instruments controlled by electronic interfaces; or electroacoustic with speaker drivers mounted on plates that thereby become sound diffusing membranes. These plates are distributed on the perimeter of the building, creating an immense playing surface, an acoustic mass around which the sounds can move. The variety of timbres that can be produced is vast. These systems were developed and tested by making a prototype of the musical facade, composed of eight 1 m² modules, each fitted with an acoustic instrument on half its volume and a vibrating plate on the other half. What compositions can be produced with such an instrument? The aim is to give a totally musical form to a concert hall built on a site dedicated to music. The principles take account of architectural space, material and light, but also the environment, use, maintenance and cost of the building. Sound and architecture are and must remain inseparable.
The Métaphone® is an exceptional space where musical forms can be invented that are commensurate with the architecture. The originality and power of the project will be maintained and reinforced by the musicians who, in their turn, will create pieces for the Métaphone®. For the public, it will be a “curiosity”. People will come to Oignies to see and hear it. It will act like a secular bell, marking the hours, midday or twilight. It will signal the beginning of a concert or the interval, become a peripheral sound space, though discreet so as not to disturb the neighbours … It could also be used as an instrument in an orchestral composition, with the musicians playing under the porch.
Inside, the hall is modular, able to accommodate 500 people in “seated” format and 1000 in “seated/standing” format. The walls are lined with wool felt, forming a background from which the red mass of the balcony emerges. This structure connects with the bar, which opens onto the terrace. The red of the balcony extends into the spaces of the bar and control cabin, providing glimpses of the interior atmosphere from outside.
Building dimensions: 53m long x 30m wide in its widest part (awning), 16m wide in its narrowest part (back-stage). Height: 12m in the main section, 14m at the end of the awning. The performance hall – largely dedicated to modern music – and its annexes, are housed in a volume of black painted concrete. Sound insulation from the outside enhanced by a hanging Mégastil ceiling. Facade structure: panels fixed on hanging double steel plates measuring 10 to 15m x 1.5m. Awning structure: hanging glass roof and walls supported on 4 reformed and welded steel profiles (10m overhang). The facade consists of 712 panels: 311 on each of the eastern and western facades, 90 on the northern facade. These panels are made of Corten steel, larch ply, clear glass and opal glass. They are attached to the structure by 4 or 6 steel cleats, depending on their size.
The sound installation occupies the entire exterior of the Métaphone, and constitutes a single immense instrument. It is divided into 3 parts:
- The vibrating plates on the external facades: the eastern and western facades each have 23 musical panels made of larch ply, each of which supports 4 audio drivers screwed onto and in contact with its back – 2 wideband drivers and 2 tweeters. These drivers are fed directly by an audio signal. The sound plates attachments are mounted on Silentblocs to prevent the vibrations being transmitted to the whole facade. The vibrating plates are distributed evenly across the facades at 2 different heights. They are accompanied by 2 bass boxes on each side. The system forms a space of moving sound, creating an acoustic universe that makes the building “breathe”. - The mechanical instruments under the porch: on the inside of each side of the awning are 12 instruments distributed on 1 m² panels: hurdy-gurdy, big drum, marimba, Tibetan singing bowls, organ, rain sticks, vibraphone, tom-tom, drums, resonating tubes, Chinese cymbal, ride cymbal, gong. A sound system installed on each instrument can be used to amplify them as required. - A control room from which the whole system is controlled by MIDI keyboards (mechanical instruments) and a computer (vibrating plates). The system can be programmed to operate automatically or be controlled manually.
Each of the side facades is fitted with 14 light panels, the northern facade with 6. These panels consist of a set of LEDs covered with an opal glass panel. The LEDs can be individually programmed from the control room to create light effects of varying intensity, from gentle to spectacular. As with the sound, light and shadow can be made to run across the external envelope of the building, contributing to its personality as a “living machine”.