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Treating the Crowden Music Center with Meyer Sound Constellation System, Part 2

Installing a Constellation system from Meyer Sound is a very complex operation with critical distances and precise setup.

Treating the Crowden Music Center with Meyer Sound Constellation System, Part 2

Feb 21, 2013 4:09 PM,
With Bennett Liles

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Part 1 | Part 2

Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

Installing a Constellation system from Meyer Sound is a very complex operation with critical distances and precise setup. AV integration firm BugID, from San Francisco, has done several of these. Matt Lavine and Paul Lomolino are back to tell us more about the one they set up for Crowden Music Center, coming up next on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Matt and Paul, thanks for being back with us for part two on the SVC Podcast from Bug ID in San Francisco. Talking about the Crowden Music Center’s performing area with the Meyer Sound Constellation system that you installed. These are amazingly complex systems that custom-tailor the acoustical response of a venue to make it sound like any one of your several presets. You guys had a lot to do, so what was the timeframe on this project? Did you have to work around things that were going on in there? What was it like working on that?

Matt Lavine: Well, the project started where we met with the architects at Meyer and being that it was a school, it was a non-profit school, there was a lot of different trades that were donating time. So we definitely had to work with individual schedules and, you know, really not much budget because everyone was kind of putting in their own time or resources to make the project happen. Once it was decided upon to do this system and how the system was gonna be done, then we did have some challenges working with the school because it’s a performance space. It is used for rehearsals every day, and even on the weekends. So we were definitely were challenged trying to work with the general contractor because we were making some other modifications. The general contractor was putting acoustic treatments in. We were trying to get wires pulled and, you know, there was no existing infrastructure that we could use. The actual install from the time we started was three to four weeks of physical install with lifts in the space. We had access to the entire space for about a month before anyone else could come back in there. So it was a pretty aggressive schedule for the amount of work that we had to do. [Timestamp: 2:24]

With a system that complex and critical on placement, that’s no small matter, even getting it done in that amount of time. I was wondering where the processing and controls are all located because you have so much going on behind the scenes. So where was all that happening?

Paul Lomolino: This is an historic building. As far as my understanding, it’s a 100-year-old-plus structure, so that was another challenge. They selected like a utility closet that wasn’t being used very much, so we took that over. But then you have to look at a full rack of Meyer processing gear generating a lot of heat and demanding a fair amount of power, so we did have to coordinate with that, you know, getting wiring in an old building for this new technology was a challenge and then also dealing with installing some spot cooling so that the closet didn’t overheat. They were going to start with just a vent in the door and we said, ‘No, I don’t think that’s going to make it.’ So we came up with with some portable air conditioning scheme that we feel solved the problem on their budget. [Timestamp: 3:30]

Sometimes I think it would be difficult to explain to those who’ve never had a system like that, and being able to actually see it work, on how hot all that stuff can get when it’s crammed into a little closet. So how long are the cable runs you’re dealing with on this? You said something in part one about that being sort of a situation.

Lomolino: Yeah, the longest runs were well over 100ft. So yeah, they are long pulls and had to be, you know, routed through existing walls and flooring. We actually dropped down through the choir loft, which was right above the equipment closet. So we created our own cable runs and paths and tried to make that all as aesthetically pleasing as we could, you know, given the fact that you can’t conceal it 100 percent. [Timestamp: 4:16]

Well, that’s where some of the real creativity comes in, when you’ve got all that stuff going on and making it look like it’s not there. So the main idea with a system like this, especially in a very reverberant environment, is to be able to distribute the sound by cable and lots of speakers rather than by acoustic throw, like you might have in something like a sports venue.

Lomolino: Yeah, I think the fact, yeah, that if they do so much monitoring, you know, reference mics analyzing and one of their goals is to have no bad seats in the house, which is a tall order in many places just as acoustics change pretty dramatically throughout a space. They’re trying to overcome that with that same philosophy with a wide distribution from many points. [Timestamp: 5:07]

And of course they have different settings on the system. There are presets you can call up. I think this one has five presets. You have speech, chamber, let’s see, what are the other ones?

Lavine: Opera, symphony and choir.


Lavine: You can pretty much program the system to have as many presets as you really want. And there’s also ways to adjust the system so you do have, you know, it’s controlled via an iPad that you can dial in certain settings if you want. So it’s not just presets. It’s not just preset-driven. [Timestamp: 5:34]

And between the presets on it, what are the differences? What are the different parameters that change between the presets?

Lomolino: That sounds like a Meyer question. Yeah, I think they just go through basically the uses of the room right there, in a nutshell. So they probably, you know, maybe optimize speech with some, you know, mid-level, you know, accentuation, maybe a little less reverberation to get more intelligibility. But, you know, like Matt was saying, it’s basically kind of anything goes as far as you want to make the space sound larger or you want it, you know, just to give the overall feeling of a different venue. That’s what they’re driving at. [Timestamp: 6:18]

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Treating the Crowden Music Center with Meyer Sound Constellation System, Part 2

Feb 21, 2013 4:09 PM,
With Bennett Liles

Yeah, there are sometimes when they would like to have lots of reverberation for some types of music, so you can just dial that up and make the place sound bigger than it really is.

Lomolino: Right.

So once everything was mounted and bolted down and connected, and you knew it all worked, how was the system tested and tweaked? What did they have to do with that?

Lomolino: They send their technicians, who travel all over the world, and they’ll come in and actually run for 24 hours a utility software program measuring the room through the installation to installed speakers and mics. I’m not sure what the voodoo or magic is, but they will process that for over a day just to really understand what the whole room and system is doing at that point in time. And then they spend just hours analyzing data and making changes and analyzing data. [Timestamp: 7:11]

And there’s a lot to analyze, but you pointed out earlier that the placement on all this is very critical. There were probably times when you had to put things into places that were hard to get to.

Lavine: Definitely. Well, and especially on this project. Meyer wanted to try hanging mics on the side walls, which they’ve never done. So Paul actually had to design a custom mount to rig these small DPA mics coming off from the side walls and I want to say you came up with it through lamp parts and various pieces of metal to get it to sit perfectly the way Meyer wanted it to. You know, you do have to get creative on these Constellation systems and you want the whole system installed with like basically a 1in. tolerance. So when you’ve got, you know, dozens and dozens of speakers and mics over 100ft. long and by, I think it was, 50ft. wide? Or 60ft. wide was the room, then it gets tricky. And the roof pitch was about 30ft. at the top of the pitch.

Lomolino: I think that actually was the challenge with the microphones was that normally we kind of pendant-hang them like a choir mic, just on its own cable. But the length of the cable coming down from the vaulted ceiling would have caused that mic not to stay where it should or maybe blow in the wind or in the breeze. So yeah, I think they do take opportunities to try things on these projects and see if they can’t overcome these physical obstacles. [Timestamp: 8:43]

Well, and for you guys I guess that’s where the fun comes in. You get to try some things and maybe have some input that the Meyer people haven’t had before. Were you there for the first performance to see the system work?

Lavine: Unfortunately not. It’s very typical that projects we build, we build ‘em, we test ‘em, we make sure they work, and then we’re onto the next project. [Timestamp: 9:06]

Were there any tweaks that you had to do after the first few performances? I mean, did everything work just the way it was expected?

Lavine: Everything’s been working great. So far so good. That’s the one thing, usually if there’s some tweaks, maybe there might be some software tweaks, but usually with these systems, once we proof it all out with Meyer engineers at the end of the project and everything’s been tested and calibrated and calibrated and more calibrated with those guys, usually there’s not much change that we need to do. We get through all those little tweaks during that phase that usually you’re not tweaking any hardware after the fact. At least we haven’t. [Timestamp: 9:43]

What was the reaction from everybody there? Did you get any word back from them on how everything worked out?

Lavine: I think everyone’s been ecstatic about having a performance space that you’ve got these acoustics that sound so much better than they did before, and they still have the same look at feel of their historic hall. [Timestamp: 9:57]

And you apparently work very well with the Meyer people.

Lavine: We do. We’ve done three Constellations so far with them, and all three systems have been in different environments.

Well, that keeps it interesting. So what’s coming up next for BugID?

Lavine: We’re doing some new screening room projects for Dolby Laboratories and doing some sound studios for Sony PlayStation. So we’ve got our plate full for the next year, which is great. [Timestamp: 10:21]

And this is in the Berkeley area, is that right? That’s pretty much your base of operations?

Lavine: Yeah, we’re located right in the heart of San Francisco, right across the Bay Bridge.

You know, you mentioned something, Paul, that’s since the distances between components are so critical, how did you deal with measuring those?

Lomolino: I would say one of the things we take a lot of advantage of laser technology—modern lasers—to do alignment of the actual physical elements, you know, as far as striking lines in these crossbeams and that. That’s one thing that we’ve found that you needed something a little more than a tape measure to pull these systems off. [Timestamp: 10:56]

Yep, with measurements being so critical, I guess you would have to be pretty heavily into the laser ranging and all that.

Lomolino: Yeah. In fact, the building, because of its age and construction, you can’t really count on any particular point of the building being as accurate as they want their system to be within it. [Timestamp: 11:14]

And Matt, I would think that the placement of one piece of gear really affects the locations of the others.

Lavine: I was gonna say because the other thing is, when we start these projects and we’re out there installing them, the challenges come across. Like we can’t put a speaker somewhere or it needs to shift by a couple inches. Sometimes we have to do that, but it shifts all the other speakers around it a few inches, too. So the system needs to get laid out and you’re going back to that same speaker location, you know, six times because you lay it out, you mark everything, but then you’ve gotta really see how that whole system lays out with everything else. And if one zone or quadrant has to shift a little bit because there’s a structural beam or something that’s not there that we need to put a speaker, you’re shifting everything. So you’ve gotta lay out the system multiple times. It’s not just taking one floor plan and saying, ‘Go.’ And we’re working closely with Meyer saying, ‘Hey look, we can’t do the speaker here.’ They’ve got to go back and analyze, well if we shift the speaker a foot this way, what does it do with all the other speakers? and they’ve got to remap everything. So it’s [inaudible]. [Timestamp: 12:21]

Yeah, so you can’t move one thing without it affecting everything else.

Lavine: No. No. And they definitely, you know, their engineers could tell us when we’re dead on or they can tell if a mic is a few inches off position; they can analyze that. It’s pretty incredible.

Lomolino: Yeah, it’s a lot of consultation with their engineers through the process. It’s not just like here’s your marching orders, we’ll see you when you’ve got it in. It’s a whole process, you know, through the installation that we work very closely with them so that they’re not surprised by anything and they know exactly, you know, what’s happening and give us feedback on what has to happen, you know, when we face a challenge. [Timestamp: 13:05]

All right. Well Matt and Paul, I appreciate you being here to give us the lowdown on this one. I always like talking about the Constellation system because you never know. They go into the most challenging environments and come up with results that are just beyond me sometimes on how they come up with it. You two at BugID have had some experience with that and when you get another one of these maybe we’ll talk about that one too. Thanks for being here.

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