Audio at the Musical Instrument Museum, Part 2

Every type of musical instrument imaginable is played in performance in the theater at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and when they decided to improve their front fill they got a demo of th 4/22/2014 6:37 AM Eastern

Audio at the Musical Instrument Museum, Part 2

Apr 22, 2014 10:37 AM, With Bennett Liles

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Every type of musical instrument imaginable is played in performance in the theater at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and when they decided to improve their front fill they got a demo of the K-array Anakonda. Ted Greenbaum, the Music Theater Manager, couldn’t believe what he was hearing and not seeing. He’s here to talk about that coming right up on the SVC Podcast.

Ted Greenbaum, it’s great to have you with us on part two of the SVC Podcast from the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix and its Music Theater. What’s been going on there?

Well, boy, there’s a lot of stuff going on. If you’re not familiar with the museum, it’s the only global instrument museum in the world. It’s quite remarkable. Every country is represented except for maybe – well, they’re still represented, but countries like North Korea, we haven’t been able to get any instruments out of. [Timestamp: 1:17]

I would think that might be a problem. I don’t know how much music they’ve got going on there anyway.

There’s music everywhere in the world. I think they’re singing the blues up there.

I think they would be. Since it’s a musical instrument museum and we’re dealing mainly with sound, you must have plenty of sound exhibits there.

Oh yeah, yeah. In fact, we have the world’s largest deployed system of Sennheiser’s guidePort system. Basically what happens is that at each exhibit, you see instruments displayed and then there’s a videoscreen and you see those instruments being played usually – and they’re field recordings, a lot of them, so you’ll see people from those countries playing the instruments. And as you walk up to the exhibit, you are wearing a receiver with headphones and it automatically tunes in. It’s the proximity that you are in relation to each exhibit. So it tunes in as you walk up to the exhibit and you’ll hear the instruments playing and seeing them on video. It’s pretty remarkable. [Timestamp: 2:19]

When you said headphones I had been wondering how you managed to avoid having a lot of sound leakage from one exhibit to another and headphones would be the obvious solution.

Yeah, yeah. In fact, we get a lot of comments about that. It’s really interesting when you walk through the museum. It’s really quiet if you don’t have your headphones on, whereas other museums I’ve had feedback from other people that have been to other music museums where it can be kind of a cacophony of sound, whereas here it’s not. It’s a very sort of an intimate experience you have with each exhibit. [Timestamp: 2:53]

And the best vehicle for seeing some of those instruments played live is right there in your theater.

Well, that’s right.

And you’ve got a very nice house sound system there. I was looking at the pictures. Where have you got the main house speakers stashed? I don’t see them anywhere.

A lot of people wonder about that. The sound system is pretty close to invisible. It’s a Meyer installation. There are, on each side of the stage, there are some screens that they’re behind. They were built into the architecture. And then we also have some, up above in the center of the theater, we have a center fill that’s up above, and then about halfway back there are two more fills and then we have booths. We have got two side booths and a rear booth that have speakers there. And they’re all, of course, time-aligned. The volume of each of them is such that your sense is that it feels like you’re surrounded by sound but that it’s coming from the stage wherever you sit. It’s a really nice system. [Timestamp: 3:59]

Audio at the Musical Instrument Museum, Part 2

Apr 22, 2014 10:37 AM, With Bennett Liles

And what led you to try out the Anakonda speakers from K-array?

The main speakers are fairly wide. They’re far apart on each side of the stage. And then the center fill speaker kind of pulled things together, but then we had – from the original installation there were five of those as sound fills and they’re below the stage. They’re built into the little recesses with a little grate over the front. And so there were five of those, but the problem with those is they’re point-source speakers. If you’re sitting right in front of them you’re getting the brunt of it. If you’re off to the side, you get less. As you go back, there’s less. There were hot spots and dead spots, and that’s in the high-priced ticket area. That was the weakest part of the sound coverage. When we had our Sennheiser rep, Jerry, brought in the Anakonda system, we were kind of blown away by it. It was like, “Oh my gosh, this could solve this problem.” And sure enough, we did a demo and laid it in. It goes across the front of the stage, which has a curve to it – the front of the stage. We tested it out for the first time on a Susie Bogguss concert and got emails the next day from people saying it was the best sound they’d heard. The coverage is just so uniform over the first five, six rows. It made such a difference. [Timestamp: 5:32]

And those speaker arrays don’t really look at all like speaker arrays. They look a lot more like trim along the front of the stage.

Yeah. It does. It does look like trim and it pretty much disappears.

Did you get any reaction from people who spotted those or were they happy just to know the sound was there?

They just know the sound is there. Yeah, people don’t really notice it. And actually we’re not quite done with the final. We’re going to actually enclose it. We’re going to be putting a wood basically molding. We would be able to put some uplighting behind it. That’s one of the upsides of this is that we’re going to add some uplighting behind it, and we’re going to put a grill in front and then it will really disappear. [Timestamp: 6:12]

And those things just lay there and they plug right into each other with the NL4 connectors so I would think that installation was pretty quick and easy.

Ridiculously easy, yeah. Basically we have six of them, plug them together, run a cable, run it to the amp and that’s it.

What sort of sound control do you have in the theater? Is that all back in the rear booth for the mixing console?

Yeah. We’re using the KA40 amp to run them. That’s backstage in a rack. And then that along with the rest of our speakers, that’s controlled with a Meyer Galileo DSP. [Timestamp: 6:49]

Okay, you did the first concert and everything seemed to work out there. What’s been happening since and I ask that because you’ve got to have such a wide variety of performers and audiences.

We do. Well I mean people rave about this and they always have, but now you can tell that people are even having a better experience. And I go and sit up when I can in the front rows. We sell out a lot, so it’s kind of hard for me to do that. So I did it last night, for example. We had a Mavis Staples concert and toward the end of the show some people had left so I popped up and it just sounds so good. [Timestamp: 7:25]

What sort of reaction have you gotten from the performers? Do any of them notice and ask about that unique-looking front fill situation?

It’s interesting because they usually don’t notice it. We usually point it out to them and then they go, “Oh my gosh, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Jerry Delgado from Sennheiser talked with me in part one about the demo he provided for you and that must have been pretty strange the first time you saw what’s probably the only speaker array you can actually tie in a knot.

Yeah, they’re amazing. I can see the number of applications that you can use these on, you can put them in places that you’d never think of, I’m sure. We were talking about that, in outdoor settings hanging them from tents and all kinds of stuff and it would be hard to find them. [Timestamp: 8:09]

Yeah, and of course the theater is the real keystone to the place but it must be very unusual just looking at the whole museum there. You must be constantly getting new ideas about what to have in your exhibits.

Well yeah. We have a whole curatorial department that does that, and we do get feedback from people visiting from other countries that say you know, you don’t have this represented or that and they’ll change it or add it. [Timestamp: 8:34]

Well, to see and hear all of those instruments from around the world played in live performance with the new Anakonda front fill must be a real kick. I know the shows must be amazing.

Well, you’re preaching to the choir, yeah. I mean I always try and get people to come in because once they come in, until you get in and see the place you just don’t have any idea of the kind of depth and breadth and just – it’s remarkable. You really have to experience it. [Timestamp: 9:04]

From the pictures of the theater that you have it looks like you got the perfect solution and it was very good of you to be here to tell us about it.

Well, I appreciate the opportunity. Thanks.

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