On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles hosts Mike Jonas, Operations Manager with Clearwing Systems Integration. They discuss the complete AV upgrade of the 2,255-seat Overture Hall in Madison, Wisconsin. The largest venue at Madison’s Overture Center needed modernization on many tech fronts and Clearwing installed new house sound, video, routing, assisted listening, intercom and 55 miles of wiring.
Photography by Jay Baumgardner
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This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor with Mike Jonas of Clearwing Systems Integration. Show notes and product links for this one and the other SVC podcasts are at svconline.com. You’ll see the Podcasts link at the top of the page.
Madison, Wisconsin’s Overture Center for the Arts has several world class venues but their largest is Overture Hall and recently it got a complete AV technology renovation with lights, sound and video right down to the basic wiring. Clearwing Systems Integration handled the job and got the whole thing done in just five weeks. Clearwing’s Operations Manager Mike Jonas is here with the story on the SVC Podcast.
Mike, it’s good having you with us on the SVC Podcast from Clearwing Systems Integration to talk to us about a big project at the Madison Wisconsin Overture Center for the Arts. Their largest venue, Overture Hall completely upgraded down to the AV and network wiring. So start off with introducing us to Clearwing Systems Integration.
Clearwing Systems Integration is kind of the install arm of Clearwing Productions, which is a full service audio, lighting, video, rigging production company. We have offices both in Milwaukee, which is the original office. We have a Phoenix office, and then we recently, about a year ago this time, we also added a Denver office. So I work on the systems integration side of things. So we basically do anything that stays permanently attached to the building as opposed to the production side, which is only temporary. Basically we kind of do everything; audio, lighting, video, rigging, staging. Anything you basically need for permanent install, be anything from schools, churches up to arenas, museums, custom show experience-type things. [Timestamp: 1:51]
So they do the production side and you handle the integration part of it and I’m sure you have people specialized in both of those.
Okay, so Overture Hall is the largest venue at the center with over 2200 seats.
That is correct.
This one was not just swapping out some speakers. The place was built in 2004 so it’s had some time for the technology to move on and so what did they need there?
Like you mentioned, spent about 11-12 years, about the time that this conversation really kicked off with Overture Center. That they had their space; it was, you know, built out but times have changed, technology has changed, and they were really looking to get future-proofed as possible for the next 15-year cycle. So the main part of it was doing the audio system. That was kind of the biggest visual impact to the space, removing what they had in there and then replacing that with the L-Acoustic rig. And then the other portion that, although unseen, was actually the much more complicated part was the infrastructure upgrades which consisted of all new tie-lines, new mic lines, a new category cable – CAT6 – for distributing video, for network, for Dante patching as well as fiber and also some SDI video tie lines as well. [Timestamp 3:02]
And on this the more sweat work part of it had to be the new cabling. Something like 55 miles of cabling that had to be run?
Correct. Yeah, somewhere in that ballpark. You start losing track after mile 35 or so.
And I’m sure you had to pull out a lot of old stuff first.
Yeah. This venue as a whole, without getting too deep into the history of it, the audio system originally was sort of an afterthought. I believe it was originally intended to be a symphony venue so they really weren’t big on needing a bunch of sound reinforcement. And then as the building was in progress of being built they realized that hey, we want to add all this other stuff to it so we’re going to have to add in the audio system. So you can certainly tell with how the building was constructed and how the pipes were ran from what was there that it was not part of the original plan. So we were kind of limited with what we had to work with with existing conduit and stuff. We had to clear out a lot of stuff that was there to upgrade the tie lines. A lot of the existing fiber was multimode fiber. They wanted single mode, that sort of thing. So a lot of that got pulled out and cleared out. Obviously the new arrays took a different cable configuration than the previous ones, so there was a lot of pulling out and much more adding. [Timestamp: 4:09]
This re-cabling went all the way down to drilling a lot of new holes in the walls.
Yes. Finding the cable paths was a bit of an adventure because we did add cable to a lot of places that didn’t have it as part of the original install. I mean, over the last 15 years they realized that there was other places that they would like having positions for touring groups to bring in projectors or find where there are certain spots that they were really using and having to run a lot of temporary cable. So we tried to make a lot of those runs permanent. And it’s a very unique venue because there’s, I believe, seven venues that make up the Overture Center. Overture Hall is acoustically isolated from the rest so there’s multiple walls you have to get through in order to get to some of your cable runs sometimes. Thankfully, the house crew also assisted in this and they did a lot of the cable path things for us, so they did a lot of the drilling which was much appreciated. But I don’t envy them. [Timestamp: 5:00]
Making this big a jump in technical infrastructure all the way down to the cabling, you have to get the unglamorous basic stuff done first.
Correct. And that was the thing was back in the day they didn’t realize they needed this many tie lines or this many network lines, that sort of thing. And where in the past they had just run some mic lines now we’re having to add the whole big bundle of CAT6, which obviously the cable diameter is much bigger. It takes up a lot more space. So they were slightly amazed as to how much conduit space we needed to make some of these runs. [Timestamp: 5:31]
And the basic point of the project was to make Overture Hall more rider friendly.
Correct. The system that they’d had in there before, at the time it went in, it was rider friendly. Nowadays not so much. So that was the big thing with the PA was to have a rider friendly PA and L-Acoustic K2 certain is that. [Timestamp: 5:48]
I’m sure you’re no stranger to the L-Acoustics systems having used it plenty of times before.
Yes. We are the largest L-Acoustics certified provider in North America. We obviously have a vast quantity of L-Acoustics products in rental stock on the production side of things. We’re also very happy with it on the install side of things. They have a box that meets just about every situation you may encounter. I mean, obviously we always look to match whatever product is right for that particular venue. We’re not out here to push one particular product over another. The end users’ needs are the most important. So making sure that whatever we sell them is right for their particular application is one of our main priorities. But in this particular case, a few years back in one of the other venues, the Capital Theater at the Overture Center, they had installed an L-Acoustic KARA system that we had provided. They had installed that one in-house, but they were very happy with how that sounded and how that all went together. So that really led to them focusing on K2 for this particular application. And then of course the rider friendliness and the price point and everything really made it attractive to them. [Timestamp: 6:58]
And having one of those systems already installed in one of their other venues certainly took any suspense out of it.
Yes. They definitely knew what they were getting.
The acoustics in there must be great already but they’ve got a cloud fill system up above. How does that help?
Basically, like I mentioned earlier, this was originally designed for symphony. So the Madison Symphony Orchestra is one of the primary users of the space. When they’re performing they do not want to see the arrays, which is understandable. They want to make it as acoustic as possible, but they still have the need to do announcements and that sort of thing. So that’s where the cloud system comes in. If you’ve seen in the pictures they kind of have the mesh ceiling clouds. And so distributed over those clouds we have basically three rows of four L-Acoustic 12XT speakers that are basically a mono system for kind of voiceover and announcements and that sort of thing. So it’s basically exclusively for the symphony use or in those types of events where you need announcements but you don’t want to see the arrays. But it’s not used in conjunction with the K2 system. [Timestamp: 8:00]
Very versatile place. They have three different orchestra pit configurations and even a variable proscenium size.
Yes. Yeah, it is quite the place. That orchestra pit is something to see as far as the engineering of how that works. But yeah, it’s a very versatile space. They’ve got good-sized wing space, a lot of fly space. Very touring-friendly venue. [Timestamp: 8:21]
And what do they use as the front of house mixer in there, the same thing they use for monitoring?
They have a Yamaha CL5 is the house desk. So they use that for the majority of things and obviously other acts, if they choose to bring something else they can easily tie into the system now with the new setup either via Dante or AES or analog lines. [Timestamp: 8:40]
I would think that there is always some difference of opinion among visiting operators as to where they want to be set up with that.
Yeah. There is a back-of-house mix position in the SCR – the sound control room – for those who still prefer to mix out of a box for God knows what reason. And then there’s also what they call the cockpit position, which is kind of the better mix position out in the house so people can actually be out among the seats and not trying to mix through monitors. [Timestamp: 9:03]
So where did you locate all of the stuff that makes it work in the equipment racks?
The primary rack room is called the SRR, that is up on probably about level 5. And that’s where all the amp racks and the Q-SYS cores and that sort of thing, kind of the main rack room of the system. Then there’s also the SCR, which has two racks in there, which is kind of the sound control room at back-of-house. There’s a bunch of patch racks down stage left and then there’s several other patch panels or small patch racks kind of scattered around the space on all four corners of the stage. There’s a truck position for broadcast. There’s a cockpit. There’s a production booth, a broadcast room – really all over. So just quite extensive. [Timestamp: 9:45]
A lot of stuff to do and not a whole lot of time to get it all done so did you concentrate your people on one system at a time and then move on to the next or did you have them working on sound, video and intercom all at the same time?
I wish we could have done one at a time. That would have been amazing. But due to the short schedule it just wasn’t possible. Along with the cable paths that we had to take really necessitated that everything had to get pulled up at once as best as we could. Some things, like the arrays, kind of went in fairly early on and went in pretty quickly with their cable retractors and everything like that that we did. When you think of the install, that was more or less the biggest part visually, that was probably easiest part was doing the arrays and the cable retractors for those, and then the distributed speakers. But then what really took the longest and just a massive amount of time was just the wire pulls, getting everything there, and getting the hundreds and hundreds of lines all terminated. [Timestamp: 10:41]
I figured that would be the most time consuming part of it is the most basic part of all.
Yes, just due to the sheer volume of it.
Alright well it’s been fun hearing about this part of it and we’ll get into more detail on the Q-SYS, the intercom and all of the other things you got done. We’ve been talking to Mike Jonas, Operations Manager for Clearwing Systems Integration about the big AV systems renovation for Overture Hall at Madison, Wisconsin’s Overture Center for the Arts. Thanks for getting with us on it, Mike.
Absolutely. Thank you.
Now Overture Hall is set up for the future with new technical infrastructure thanks to Mike Jonas and Clearwing Systems Integration. Next week Mike will tell us about the Q-SYS routing, the assisted listening system and how the whole operation was checked out and tested. All of that on the next SVC Podcast.