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PODCAST 182-1: Autograph Sales & Installations Outfits New Theater Sound System

The grids in the balcony and circle fronts were in, but there wasn’t a lot else there Pt 1



In this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Euan Mackenzie of Autograph Sales and Installations in London regarding their installation of the sound system for the new Adelphi Building theater at the University of Salford in Manchester, England. The venue has five separate seating layouts which provide quite a challenge for push-button sound system reconfiguration. At the center of the system is a DiGiCo SD9 mixing console and Q-SYS DSP.

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This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor Magazine with Euan Mackenzie of Autograph Sales and Installations. Show notes and equipment links for the podcast are on the web site of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at

The University of Salford in Manchester, England now has their beautiful new Adelphi Building, with its 350-seat theater. Euan Mackenzie of Autograph Sales & Installations is here to tell us how they came up with a sound system capable of handling theater’s five different seating configurations at the push of a button. Coming to you next on the SVC Podcast.

Euan, nice of you to join us all the way from London for the SVC Podcast, via Skype of course. Autograph Sales & Installations. Nothing ethereal in that name, it tells me exactly what you do. We’re going to be talking about the new Adelphi Building at the University of Salford in Manchester, England and the theater sound system that you completely outfitted and installed but let’s get into Autograph Sales and Installations and the projects you do there.

Well, we’re an audio integrator based in West London. We handle our clients from consultation to installation. We also pride ourselves on the training and backup support that we provide. We’ve got a sister company called Autograph Sound Recording who are a hire company so we’ve got a wealth of backup equipment should anything happen to go wrong with any of our clients. Most of our clients, I guess, would be across London, but there are many further afield throughout the U.K. so recent projects in Perth in the north of Scotland, for example, and obviously up in Manchester as well for the Adelphi Theater. [Timestamp: 1:48]

Very new building and the pictures of it are impressive so I’m sure it was an exciting job getting to work in there.

Yeah, absolutely. It was something a little bit different, I guess, when it comes to the varied orientations of the theater. It’s not just a traditional end-firing system. It needs to cope with many different types of theater. The new Adelphi Building is part of the University of Salford and it’s their new home for the School of Arts and Media. And we did the installation for the main theater space which helps in courses and theater performance, music and dance, to put on their shows. The intention of that is to host more and more music and dances as well as larger-scale musical theater productions and fashion shows. [Timestamp: 2:31]

An incredible range of things going on there now and I would guess that instead of any sort of retrofit you got involved in this project at a very early stage in order to make all of this work for a theater capable of so many different seating configurations.

Yeah, that’s right. It’s quite nice. My first visit to the theater was while it was still a building site and contractors everywhere, hi-vis vests and steel-cap boots. The grids in the balcony and circle fronts were in, but there wasn’t a lot else there. We were working with or were aware of the consultants for the theater at that stage who were Theatreplan, so we knew they were in good hands. They built up the overall design and specification for the theater, but the university technical team separated out the theater PA so that they could have a more hands-on approval of what goes in there and they could have talks with suppliers and installers directly. They knew at the university at an early stage that turning the theater orientation around show by show would be a pretty tall order. So they needed to ensure that they could do all of this as quickly as possible. There’s no easy way to move around steel decking and seating banks, but at least we were able to make their workload a little bit easier with the PA. [Timestamp: 3:44]

Since there are classrooms and quiet spaces nearby, did you need to do any sort of extensive acoustic treatment of the theater?

That was contracted out to other businesses via Theatreplan. So we came in and we dressed in the PA, and time-aligned and commissioned that. But overall yeah, the acoustics were very well-controlled in the room once everything was in. Just one of the joys of working with a new build and a specialized theatre consultant being involved. For example, the walls were acoustically treated with diffusion material and they also had drapes that could be pulled or drawn along the side walls so they could change the acoustics to suit each show. It’s a nice, simple but effective way of doing so. But we found no major audio gremlins during commissioning. It’s a 350-seat capacity and with the circle and balcony levels it’s quite an intimate feel. I think the main left and right hangs are only throwing about 10 meters forward, so it’s not a huge space but it holds a lot of people. [Timestamp: 4:45]

And I’m sure that one of the biggest challenges on this was the fact that it can be configured as a thrust stage, in the round and several other things.

There’s five main layouts for the theatre. So there’s your traditional end-firing or proscenium setup. There is thrust stage. There is long traverse or catwalk style traverse. A short traverse, which is perpendicular to the long, so 90 degrees on that, and in the round. So there are some scenarios where you’re seating on the stage that we have to cover and others that are not; some where there are side delays that you have to cover under balconies and those positions, and then sometimes not. So yeah, we had to have something that could be configured at the drop of a dime and the technical team were pushing for the fact that they did not want to re-rig any speakers whatsoever. So we had to make sure that every seat was covered. [Timestamp: 5:40]

That need for versatility must have been one of the reasons you selected the DiGiCo SD9 mixer.

Yeah, absolutely. In a space like this the console has to be very flexible. So yeah, the ability to change system structure during preproduction, for example, is something that’s very helpful to have. And the DiGiCo lets you – if you need more auxes you just dial them into your system structure and you’re away. The SD9 specifically was chosen because it’s got a small footprint. The real estate within the control room is pretty high and the ability to get that many channels in a small space is very helpful. And also the ability to upgrade the desk to theatre-specific software for musical theater, which is going to be one of their focuses moving forward is a big advantage. Not all of the DiGiCo’s have the ability to go to the theatre-specific software, but it certainly makes things a lot quicker and easier to preprogram a desk for a show such as that. [Timestamp: 6:36]

Yeah, I know that’s got to come in very handy with the flexible seating they’ve got and the wide range of events they have in there. Another central part of that necessary versatility would be the QSC digital signal processing so how is that set up?

Yeah, absolutely. That’s really what helped us do the smart stuff and make things as simple as possible. So we’re using the Q-SYS DSP, for routing, level, delay, room EQ and input limiting the amplifiers. The IO for the main PA is all transported over Dante and we also used an additional 8-in, 8-out analog audio for the surround sound speakers, which are used for spot effects and cinema system. There’s a dedicated touchscreen in the control room which allows for status monitoring of the DSP and Dante. They can also mute to the balcony speakers if there’s nobody seated up there, if the seats haven’t been sold, so they’re not adding additional excitement to the room using speakers that don’t need to be on. And of course the seating orientation they can choose at the push of a button from the touchscreen. And finally there’s also a dedicated cinema mode which can be commissioned for them as well, which re-times all of the surround sound speakers and allows for a more consolidated center array of speakers rather than front fills across the stage. [Timestamp: 7:59]

That’s an amazing range of different things to have to cover and make sound right. Maybe all the way from a panel discussion where you want no reverberation and need speech clarity all the way to something like a big choir where you want them to sound reverberant and just very big.

Absolutely, yeah. I mean the open architecture of the Q-SYS DSP really lets us, and the sound designers, do what they want. So I mean we’ve put in a signal chain, which includes everything that they might need, as mentioned before. And we’ve popped in a dedicated Wi-Fi network to allow the sound designers or the technical team to reconfigure the DSP to suit each show from anywhere in the auditorium. And as a backup, if anything should go wrong that’s out of the hands of the in-house technical team, we’ve got remote access over the Internet to monitor any faults or to reprogram anything that’s a little bit more intricate. [Timestamp: 8:52]

Really gives you the ability to help the clients out on very short notice. Well, it’s been great hearing about this part of the theater setup. You know, I have nothing but admiration for the guys who get in there and take responsibility for these projects because there’s really a lot at stake with everything working right. In a brand new place people expect to hear the best.

The first impressions do count a lot. When you’re talking about live performances and ticket sales, then the system has to work the first time every time. So things like Dante with the primary and secondary networks for redundancy is something that’s very helpful to have and sets a lot of people’s minds at ease. [Timestamp: 9:30]

And in Part 2 we’re going to get into the speakers and mics and the more nuts and bolts part of this thing. Great hearing about it. Euan Mackenzie from Autograph Sales & Installations in London and the new multi-configuration theater layout in the Adelphi Building at the University of Salford in Manchester, England. See you again next week.

Thanks very much, Bennett.

Thanks for being here for SVC Podcast. Show notes and equipment links are on the website of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at Next week we’ll be getting the story on the mics, amps and speakers for the new Adelphi Building Theater in Manchester. Be here for that on the next SVC Podcast.

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