On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Brian Bird, Audio Director at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. They discuss the installation of an L-Acoustics Kara sound system in the university’s Lindenwood Theater, an upgrade that enables the J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts to accommodate a huge variety of touring acts and teach students to design and operate live sound systems.
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Lindenwood University’s J. Scheindeggar Center for the Arts has become a very busy place with classes and hosting a wide variety of touring acts. They needed a new sound system that could be configurable and handle the load. Theater Audio Director Brian Bird is here to tell us how the Lindenwood Theater got the system they needed. That’s right here on the SVC Podcast.
Brian it’s good of you to get with us on the SVC Podcast from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri and the J. Scheindegger Center for the Arts. We’ll be talking about the sound system upgrade in the Lindenwood Theater but the arts center is a big place. What else do you have going on there?
Well first, thanks for having me. I appreciate the invite. And yeah, it is a big complex. The Scheindegger Center houses a whole lot more than just the Lindenwood Theater. We have a traditional black box theater called the Emerson Black Box Theater. It’s about a 60 x 50 foot black box, very true to the black box name, and it can be configured any way we want. We also have a couple of dance studios, a large choir rehearsal space, orchestra rehearsal space, tons of private rehearsal rooms for the music department. The building is home to the theater department, the dance department, the music department, the fashion department, as well as our film and our media studies departments. So there’s a lot going on, a lot of classrooms, a lot of rehearsals going on simultaneous as well as events. [Timestamp: 1:30]
So students can be majoring in several different things and be working in that place.
Absolutely. From music to theater to even some film students, some music production students. We have a small recording studio in the facility as well and some of the music production students cross over as well and learn some live audio, and some of my students will cross over and learn a little bit more in-depth recording than what we traditionally do live. [Timestamp: 1:57]
Well that sounds like it keeps you pretty busy so as the Audio Director, what do you do there on a daily basis?
So on a daily basis I essentially supervise all live sound that happens in the facility, whether that’s in the Lindenwood Theater, the Emerson Black Box. We do a lot of fundraisers and events out in the lobby. I also have some video duties; pretty much all of the projection that happens for our theatrical shows or any of our touring events that come through. I don’t do any of the film – we have a whole film studies department for that – but I deal with live projections as well. And then I supervise a small staff of students. They’re student employees; they’re part-time employees that are students at the university. I supervise them, train them, and we use them as much as possible on the events, but I also have to bring in contractors from time to time on our heavier times of the year to fill the void. [Timestamp: 2:48]
The university wanted to do a big sound system upgrade in the Lindenwood Theater which is the centerpiece of the J. Scheindegger Center for the Arts by installing an L-Acoustics Kara system.
Yeah, so what kind of improvement were you looking for? What did you need to accomplish with this?
Well, we were looking for quite a few things. First and foremost, our students always come first so we wanted them to have a system that they could not only learn on, but something that’s going to be real for them when they graduate and L-Acoustics is one of the sought-after speaker systems out there today. It’s kind of what everybody’s reaching for. And so for us to be able to get the students hands-on training with an L-Acoustics system – and in our case, the Kara system – was one of our priorities. We really wanted them to know not only how to fly that system, because we reconfigure it on a regular basis, but also how to design a system from scratch. So we utilize the 3D modeling software that L-Acoustics has called Soundvision in that. So that was extremely important to us, but we also have a presenter’s series where touring acts come through and so we also had to be rider compliant. And L-Acoustics fits that bill hands down. The system’s been in right at a year now and I have had zero complaints from touring artists. In fact, the exact opposite. They love the system. They’re excited about it and they really enjoy mixing on it. So it also had to fill that need and it had to be something that everybody would take. We were spending a lot of money on rentals for the touring shows with our previous system and it needed to be something that weren’t going to have to go out and rent a PA on a regular basis. And the Kara has really taken care of us and really fit that bill. [Timestamp: 4:30]
And to assist with the installation I think you called in Chip Self at Logic Systems Sound and Lighting.
I did. Logic has a long history with Lindenwood as being the systems provider for rental equipment for the touring shows and other special events – graduations, things of that nature that we do. So we had a long relationship with them and called them and couldn’t be happier. [Timestamp: 4:53]
That place could be interesting. How are the acoustics in the Lindenwood Theater? Was any type of acoustic treatment needed? I think you’ve got a ceiling height issue and you have wood walls so I would think that could present some challenges.
We still need to do some acoustical treatments. Some was done four or five years ago before my arrival that helps it out a little bit. It’s a very live room. We don’t want it to be too dead because we do a lot of traditional orchestral music as well as choral music in there, so it still needs to be somewhat live. But there are definitely still some acoustic treatments that are coming in future projects. We took great care in keeping the energy off the wood walls with this system and it’s helped immensely. [Timestamp: 5:36]
And I’ve talked to people with the Kara system before and there are somewhat different ways of setting them up. There are different places you can put the amplified controllers. So where did you locate the LA8 amplified controllers that I think power the system.
Yes. So we use a combination of LA8’s and an LA4 amp. All of the LA8 amps are up on our catwalk, which are roughly at the same height of the speakers themselves to limit the length of copper run. We use the L-Net network that they operate on and are able to control them from front of house even though they’re tucked away a couple floors up in the facility. But it eliminated long copper runs which helps with the sound quality. It also kept the amplifiers off the deck which keeps things out of the way for set pieces and touring gear that comes in and out on a regular basis. So all the LA8’s are upstairs just in a room just off the catwalk and then our LA4, which powers our front fills, is actually downstairs in our patch bay room to also keep copper runs short to get to the front fills. [Timestamp: 6:40]
And where do you control everything from on the mixing?
From the mix position we have a Mac mini at front of house that uses the network manager software that L-Acoustics provides and we’re able to control every single driver. We have kind of our standard house EQ already set up there, but if a touring engineer comes through and wants to change it we can. We really haven’t had anybody have that need yet. Almost everybody has been real pleased with the tuning of the room and how it reacts in the room, but we have full control right at front of house at our fingertips. [Timestamp: 7:13]
Now, I read that you have a little bit of a limitation on how much weight you can hang on the ceiling. Was there a problem with that or did the weight of the L-Acoustics system pretty much fit in?
It did. It fit in really well. It’s actually a little bit lighter than the self-powered system that was in the building previous and so there were no worries about it with weight issues. The steel in the building is a little light compared to a lot of facilities our size, but it’s not terrible. There’s a lot of what they call sound clouds, these wooden clouds to help project acoustics for the orchestra and choir, that limit where we can hang the speakers. So there was some limits there, but again the Soundvision software allowed us with knowing exactly where we could hang them, what access we had, to use that access and know exactly how many boxes and what angle to put them on before we ever even ordered the system. We already knew it was going to work and where it was going to work best. [Timestamp: 8:12]
So you have a multi-use facility. One is as a teaching area, a classroom and then you have theater productions going on and I would think that the sound system requirements for those are vastly different.
They are. You know, one night we might be doing a rock show and the next day we’re loading in a theater production so we’re constantly changing the system and the setup of that system. And so we’re able to reconfigure the system however we want. We had a show called The Threepenny Opera last year that one of our students completely refigured and redesigned the system to fit the needs of that production. There’s some extremely tall set pieces that were going to be as tall or taller than the PA and directly under it, so we weren’t seating in the balcony. She was able to use fewer speakers, higher trim heights, still cover the main level, and allow for those set pieces to be there without being in the way or really being visual. They were seven or eight feet above the set pieces. One of them was a deck and we had some live mics on that deck just seven or eight feet below the speaker system and it worked out well. I told our director I think the speakers kind of defy physics sometimes. It was so shocking to me the way they handled that. [Timestamp: 9:23]
And it’s interesting to note here that you’re not just training students to operate the technical systems but you’re teaching them sound system design as well.
We do quite a bit of system design and then we do a ton of traditional sound design where they’re allowed to create an entire soundscape if necessary, do all of the special effects, etc. for systems as well so they get a full breadth of training. Some of my students will concentrate more on the technical side and be more of a technician and systems designer and others more on the creative side, being more of a traditional sound designer in a theatrical sense. [Timestamp: 9:58]
OK, well in Part 2 we’re going to get into the specifics on the Kara enclosures, the Soundvision modeling and that’s got to be a blast when you sit down and really get creative on that. We’ll talk some more about student training on the tech part of it. We’ve been talking to Brian Bird, Audio Director at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. It’ll be great having you back for Part 2.
I look forward to it.
Lindenwood Theater has the system it needs to handle so many different shows and give students the start they need with modern sound technology. Next week Brian will be back to take us through the system installation and design with the L-Acoustics Soundvision modeling software. Get back with us for that on the SVC Podcast.