Complex Audio Worship Upgrade, Part 1

The massive sound upgrade at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford, Conn., involved a hugely complex delay system, remote control, and wireless mic systems. 8/14/2012 6:51 AM Eastern

Complex Audio Worship Upgrade, Part 1

Aug 14, 2012 10:51 AM, With Bennett Liles

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The massive sound upgrade at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford, Conn., involved a hugely complex delay system, remote control, and wireless mic systems. It was a tremendous project with lots going on behind the scenes while the priests just push a few buttons. Steve Minozzi of Monte Brothers Sound Systems is here to give us the details coming up on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Steve, its good having you here on the SVC Podcast with what has got to be one of the most complex sound system upgrades I’ve seen in a while. Monte Brothers Sound Systems took on the job and made it all work. Before we get into that though, tell me about Monte Brothers Sound Systems.

Scott Minozzi: Well, basically Monte Brothers specializes in the design, installation, and service of sound systems in houses of worship. We’ve done many cathedrals—Sacred Heart in Newark; Saint Patrick’s in Harrisburg in Beaumont, Texas. So that’s our specialty. We do other projects for NYPD headquarters and counter terror division after 9/11, which involves similar technology just applied a little differently but basically 95 percent of our business is houses of worship throughout the country. [Timestamp: 1:31]

St. Joseph’s is a huge place and when you say cathedral, the first thing I think of is reverberation. So what’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral like and how is it acoustically?

The challenge with St. Joseph’s Cathedral besides the acoustics,which is present in other cathedrals, is the size of the space like St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The seating capacity is 1,750 people. The ceiling is 108ft. high. It’s just a big space. Logistically with St. Joseph’s Cathedral the features that they wanted in the sound system are unique because we’ve really expanded the capability of the sound system to do many things over and above dealing with the acoustics, so there were a lot of challenges in this project. [Timestamp: 3:13]

I’m sure that one of the main goals on this would be speech intelligibility in that kind of acoustic environment. How did you approach that?

This is a Roman Catholic Cathedral, so every denomination has different logistical requirements in the worship space. Typically in a Roman Catholic cathedral the celebrant, the priest, the bishop, the archbishop, or the cardinal—depending on which cathedral it is—they will physically be in many areas of the space. For instance, besides the sanctuary where the alter of sacrifice is they will also use the nave or the transepts of a cathedral to, for instance, do the Stations of the Cross during Easter, to meet a body during a funeral at the front entrance to the cathedral, to have the vigil mass outside the front doors of the cathedral on Holy Saturday. So they use this space, and therefore a sound system has to be designed to provide intelligibility, but at the same time it has to provide logistic capability for the multiple wireless microphones to be used anywhere in the space. For instance, if the priest, the bishop, or the archbishop wants to go down the center aisle of the nave and speak from there, which is done quite often. And then if you don’t have a system that gives feedback, meaning acoustic feedback, back to the person speaking, if you don’t have a system that gives a comfortable level of the person throughout the space they have difficulty with that. For example, if he uses a source system where the speakers are projecting from one source as the person or the priest walks towards the back or the entrance of the cathedral, they’re going to distance themselves from the sound source that is amplifying them. In this case that is not a very high comfort level, so we designed for that cathedral what they call a “hybrid sound system,” which uses source speakers, which are typically line array devices that have a cylindrical waveform for quite a distance and then we have support speakers distributed down the sides of the cathedral. And then in the side chapels and everywhere else then they’re time aligned with digital delay technology so you have directional realism and you reduce the sound of multiple sources from different speakers as you approach the entrance of the cathedral. This enhances intelligibility for the congregation and it also enhances the comfort level for the priest, bishop, or archbishop or cardinal who happens to be walking and standing in the entrance of the cathedral, which is quite a distance from the sanctuary. [Timestamp: 4:33]

Complex Audio Worship Upgrade, Part 1

Aug 14, 2012 10:51 AM, With Bennett Liles

And you mentioned a lot of different types of events there—weddings, funerals—and so you have to have a system that can deal with all of those events. So when they contacted you on this were you familiar with this place? What was the first step that you took when you got in this?

It’s their 50th anniversary of the original cathedral going down. It was my understanding that they formed a committee to purchase a new sound system for the cathedral because the one they had wasn’t satisfying all of their needs. It was my understanding that they interviewed, I think, around five contractors prior to contacting us and I guess they weren’t totally happy with whatever these contractors proposed. I think one contractor even came in and gave them a demonstration and they weren’t really comfortable with that so they searched further and they, I guess, maybe contacted other cathedrals, which is usually how they find us and then they found us and asked us to come up and evaluate this system and meet with them and give them a proposal, which we did and obviously they liked it and we got the job and put it in. [Timestamp: 5:32]

I noticed that one of the central components on this project was the Pro Co digital snake. That’s been around for a while and it’s a proven product. Why did you decide to base this system around a digital snake?

The reason for the digital snake was two-fold. Besides the project requiring first that you have intelligibility of the spoken word and liturgical singing and all of the listening areas, but it also had some logistical requirements that the archdiocese wanted. They wanted to be able to record the services and broadcast them from their radio and TV station in Waterbury, Conn., which is about 30 miles from Hartford, and they wanted to be able to do that over the Internet with the certain software that we gave them—DaVinci software from Biamp. They also have a media vehicle, a remote media vehicle, with a mixing console in it. And they wanted to be able to simply connect one cable to it to the back of the cathedral, which is 200ft. from the parking lot that the media vehicle is in, and be able to connect to the truck and have them mix the audio for TV and radio broadcast in the truck along with the sub-mixer that was an analog mixer. And then there was another analog mixer that we installed in the media room that was for recording purposes, and it also participated with the mixing console in the media vehicle through the digital snake in order to have a professional musician mix the choirs performance for TV and radio broadcast from the media room, which would be sub-mixed through the digital snake to the main mixing console on the media vehicle, which was also taking that sub-mixer and adding the all the voice lift microphones in the sanctuary—the wireless microphones, the pulpit, etc. The distances that this involved for cable was 600-700ft. minimum and the cable had to cross different electrical sources and whatever throughout the building. That would be a real problem if you tried to do this with hard wire and you wouldn’t be able to pull a Cat-6 cable from the back of the building into the truck; you would need multiple wires. Inevitably all of these regular shielded microphone wires would have presented a problem. Likewise the actual locations in the sanctuary of the cathedral required cable for the processors and that would have been runs up to 600ft. because of pathways that had to be taken. We did not install the cable. We gave the specifications of the cable and locations where it had to go to a local electrician that the cathedral contracted and once that cable was installed, we made all the terminations, installed the system, and delivered it. But the digital snake was extremely successful. You have a quiet, clean, clear sound system both for live sound and recorded sound and broadcast sound. So the digital snake just enabled us to cover large areas of distance with multiple microphone locations. There is 24 locations in the cathedral that have to produce live sound to processors that have to produce sounds for recording in the media room and then sounds for broadcast and recording in the media vehicle in tandem with the analog mixer that’s managed in the media room. Without a digital snake this load ain’t going to happen. [Timestamp: 8:34]

All of the different sources from various places are a big challenge to handle, but the acoustics must have been formidable. The delay system you put in looks very complex, but sort of in a nutshell, how did you set up the delay system to work in there?

This is what they call “critical zone digital delay technology.” We developed it because I don’t know how many people use hybrid systems. A hybrid speaker system means that you’re using a source speaker, which is some sort of line array device—whatever company makes it—and then support speakers that go in line with that throughout the space to produce an evenness of sound that doesn’t necessarily have to be adjusted by attendants. In doing this, when you’re going to multiple speaker sources you have to find the most difficult listening area in the space, and that would be typically the end of the aisles of worship space where the person is the farthest distance from the source speaker and the support speaker. That’s the critical zone. That is where you take lasers and you determine the difference of the distance between the two speakers at each of those critical points. The difference is put into digital delay so that it eliminates multiple sound sources as you go near the entrance of the cathedral, which is quite a distance from the sanctuary and therefore you would be normally hearing multiple speakers but you’re not. This improves intelligibility and allows the person who is using a wireless mic or whatever to walk into the space and not have this severe delay of their voice from a single source sound system. When you move into the sides of the worship space, when you move in closer to the support speaker, a phenomenon called “forward masking” takes place where the brain focuses on the speaker that it hears the loudest so the delay is irrelevant at that point. If you are close enough to the support speaker that will take precedence to the brain and you’re going to understand everything, so that has worked very successfully in many churches, but also in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Harrisburg, and many of the cathedrals we’ve done. We’ve employed that in many large worship space we’ve done; we’ve employed it and it’s been the most successful way of dealing with acoustics in these houses of worship and you can tell a difference when you negate the delays and then you reactivate them; the listener can hear the difference. It’s really very affective. [Timestamp: 10:49]

Probably a big advantage for any prospective client is to go to where you’ve installed a system and actually hear it work. You’ve got a separate console for mixing out in the broadcast truck. How many different mixing consoles do they use in there?

The actual live sound in the cathedral is fully automatic. It runs on four Nexia digital signal processors, but that’s automatic; they have a preset panel that gives them four basic presets; one of them being daily mass or services, which occur in a smaller chapel in the right side of the cathedral that’s not in the main worship space. It holds about 100 people and can have a more intimate affect. They hit that preset and they only have sound in that chapel; the rest of the cathedral is quiet because there is nobody in it. Sometimes during those daily services there is an overflow of attendance, so it does spill out into the nave of the cathedral, but in direct line sight to the chapel, so they have a second preset that just expands the sound from the chapel into some of the speakers in the immediate vicinity of the chapel that are in the nave. The third preset is a full service where the microphones are working in all locations and just works everywhere. However, in the sanctuary of the cathedral you can hold up to 300 people where the altar of sacrifice is behind it, but typically there aren’t people there for weekends and services and general large liturgies. And then you have archdiocese in events such as the ordinations of priest and bishops and really large events where all of the bishops and archbishops and cardinals actually sit in the center of that sanctuary behind the altar of sacrifice, so there is a preset that turns on support speakers that focus on that area where there would not typically be people but there are for this event. So basically the only adjustments to the sound system that are necessary would be whether it’s a weekday service—a large weekday service, a regular service in the whole cathedral, or a special service where you have multiple people sitting in the large sanctuary. Other than that, the live sound of the cathedral works automatically through these Nexia processors. At the same time all that’s happening the Nexia processors utilize the digital snake, of course, to get the audio back to the electronics console in the media room to these processors. It goes in the digital snake and then it goes to the processors then in the media room; there’s an analog mixer. Twenty-four channels are connected to that digital snake and that is used to record onto a flash drive in the actual room in which a professional musician or an engineer comes up and when they’re having large performances they can actually record whatever they want—the choir, the whole service, or everything through that analog mixer, and it’s a Soundcraft that we put in. They can do that onto the flash drive and that’s an entirely separate mix from the live sound in the cathedral. At the same time, the remote media vehicle, if it connects to the building through the digital snake, it has a mixer, which is already in it but it has a similar analog mixer and that gives that mixing console simultaneous control for recording purposes of all of the 24 mics. So what happens, in essence, during a big event the live sound is managed with the four DSP processors, Nexias from Biamp—that is automatic; It can be manipulated if the cathedral wishes to do so for special tweaking here and there. It’s through a software called “DaVinci” that we programmed and supplied to their computers; it’s temporary and by restarting the sound system everything would default back to its original settings and they also have simple control panels—one in the media room and one down in the pre-sacristy, which is near the sanctuary cathedral, which is about 600ft. of cable lies away from the media room. So they are able to manipulate live sound if they feel they want to do it, but it’s not necessary. All of this is going on at the same time. Also in the actual TV studio they could come in through a very high speed Internet connection that they provided and interfaced with our processors and the digital snake and they can manipulate through DaVinci software in Waterbury, Conn., over high-speed Internet and also control and mix audio for broadcast purposes at the community radio station. Also in the cathedral we have multiple locations where media multiboxes can be connected for big events where the press wants to connect and take the audio. That can be manipulated from either a DaVinci view on the owner’s laptops in the cathedral or it can be manipulated from Waterbury, Conn., as a mono mix in the cathedral for the press and the media multiboxes. Also the mix that is going to the TV and radio station in Waterbury, Conn., is in full stereo. They have complete stereo capability and that makes, as I understand, they broadcast on the TV and radio in stereo. So of all this is being done by means of a digital snake and four very powerful Nexia DSP processors. So there’s a lot of mixers there but basically the live sound, believe it or not, is running automatically from the DSP processors. [Timestamp: 15:50]

A hugely complex system and it all has to be very easy to operate. Thanks for being here to tell us about it, Steve. Steve Minozzi from Monte Brothers Sound Systems in Ardsley, N.Y. We’ll be talking more in part two about the media room and the wireless mic setup, so we’ll see you then.

See you again.

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