Home > Origin (Robert Langdon #5)(8)

Origin (Robert Langdon #5)(8)
Author: Dan Brown

Really? Langdon looked around. There are hundreds of guests.

Langdon eyed the headset, which was nothing but a sleek loop of metal with tiny pads at each end. Perhaps seeing his puzzled look, the young woman came around to help him.

“These are quite new,” she said, helping him don the device. “The transducer pads don’t go inside your ears, but rather rest on your face.” She placed the loop behind his head and positioned the pads so that they gently clamped onto his face, just above the jawbone and below the temple.

“But how—”

“Bone conduction technology. The transducers drive sound directly into the bones of your jaw, allowing sound to reach your cochlea directly. I tried it earlier, and it’s really quite amazing—like having a voice inside your head. What’s more, it leaves your ears free to have outside conversations.”

“Very clever.”

“The technology was invented by Mr. Kirsch more than a decade ago. It’s now available in many brands of consumer headphones.”

I hope Ludwig van Beethoven gets his cut, Langdon thought, fairly certain that the original inventor of bone conduction technology was the eighteenth-century composer who, upon going deaf, discovered he could affix a metal rod to his piano and bite down on it while he played, enabling him to hear perfectly through vibrations in his jawbone.

“We hope you enjoy your tour experience,” the woman said. “You have about an hour to explore the museum before the presentation. Your audio guide will alert you when it is time to go upstairs to the auditorium.”

“Thank you. Do I need to press anything to—”

“No, the device is self-activating. Your guided tour will begin as soon as you start moving.”

“Ah yes, of course,” Langdon said with a smile. He headed out across the atrium, moving toward a scattering of other guests, all waiting for the elevators and wearing similar headsets pressed to their jawbones.

He was only halfway across the atrium when a male voice sounded in his head. “Good evening and welcome to the Guggenheim in Bilbao.”

Langdon knew it was his headset, but he still stopped short and looked behind him. The effect was startling—precisely as the young woman had described—like having someone inside your head.

“A most heartfelt welcome to you, Professor Langdon.” The voice was friendly and light, with a jaunty British accent. “My name is Winston, and I’m honored to be your guide this evening.”

Who did they get to record this—Hugh Grant?

“Tonight,” the cheery voice continued, “you may feel free to meander as you wish, anywhere you like, and I’ll endeavor to enlighten you as to what it is you’re viewing.”

Apparently, in addition to a chirpy narrator, personalized recordings, and bone conduction technology, each headset was equipped with GPS to discern precisely where in the museum the visitor was standing and therefore what commentary to generate.

“I do realize, sir,” the voice added, “that as a professor of art, you are one of our more savvy guests, and so perhaps you will have little need of my input. Worse yet, it is possible you will wholly disagree with my analysis of certain pieces!” The voice gave an awkward chuckle.

Seriously? Who wrote this script? The merry tone and personalized service were admittedly a charming touch, but Langdon could not imagine the amount of effort it must have taken to customize hundreds of headsets.

Thankfully, the voice fell silent now, as if it had exhausted its preprogrammed welcome dialogue.

Langdon glanced across the atrium at another enormous red banner suspended above the crowd.



What in the world is Edmond going to announce?

Langdon turned his eyes to the elevators, where a cluster of chatting guests included two famous founders of global Internet companies, a prominent Indian actor, and various other well-dressed VIPs whom Langdon sensed he probably should know but didn’t. Feeling both disinclined and ill-prepared to make small talk on the topics of social media and Bollywood, Langdon moved in the opposite direction, drifting toward a large piece of modern art that stood against the far wall.

The installation was nestled in a dark grotto and consisted of nine narrow conveyor belts that emerged from slits in the floor and raced upward, disappearing into slits in the ceiling. The piece resembled nine moving walkways running on a vertical plane. Each conveyor bore an illuminated message, which scrolled skyward.

I pray aloud … I smell you on my skin … I say your name.

As Langdon got closer, though, he realized that the moving bands were in fact stationary; the illusion of motion was created by a “skin” of tiny LED lights positioned on each vertical beam. The lights lit up in rapid succession to form words that materialized out of the floor, raced up the beam, and disappeared into the ceiling.

I’m crying hard … There was blood … No one told me.

Langdon moved in and around the vertical beams, taking it all in.

“This is a challenging piece,” the audio guide declared, returning suddenly. “It is called Installation for Bilbao and was created by conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. It consists of nine LED signboards, each forty feet tall, transmitting quotes in Basque, Spanish, and English—all relating to the horrors of AIDS and the pain endured by those left behind.”

Langdon had to admit, the effect was mesmerizing and somehow heartbreaking.

“Perhaps you’ve seen Jenny Holzer’s work before?”

Langdon felt hypnotized by the text coursing skyward.

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