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The SVC Interview: London Philharmonic Orchestra, Chris Austin

Home to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Cadogan Hall also hosts a wide range of other performers. They needed a new sound setup to increase seating and make the hall more versatile. Autograph Sales and Installations put in a new LINA speaker system from Meyer Sound and a Yamaha CL3 digital mixer. Technical Sales Manager Chris Austin has the story

SVC: Alright, we have a complete sound system renovation for London’s very busy Cadogan Hall. Before we get to that tell us about Autograph Sales and Installations.

Chris Austin: Autograph Sales and Installations is the sister company of Autograph Sound. They’re well known for theater rental work, we focus on sales and installations, or increasingly integration. Our core market is theater, but we do a lot of work in education, house of worship, corporate stuff, and into more varied markets like retail and hospitality.

I’ve been through a bunch of YouTube videos on of Cadogan Hall and they have a lot of very different performances all happening back to back. It looks there’s been a new seating arrangement and a big update to the sound system.

We’ve worked with Cadogan since they opened back in 2004. The building itself has been there since the early 1900s, but it was a church until it was converted to a concert hall in 2003-2004. We didn’t do the original install but we worked with the integrator that did, so in our capacity as a Meyer Sound partner we helped them come up with the design for the original PA and some of the surrounding systems. I believe we were also involved in tuning it back then. Between then and now, the programming has become a lot more diverse. They’re the home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and they still do an awful lot of classical and orchestral program, but they also do a lot of contemporary jazz. They do a little bit of private-hire/corporate-hire events as well. So what originally went in was a very good system at the time, but the brief of what it needs to cover has evolved; that brought around the desire to upgrade.

I think they’re up to about a thousand seats now?

Yeah. They had a very large and luxurious front-of-house position at the front of the balcony that accommodated their old desk, and racks and racks of equipment. That came out as part of the changes and a new upper balcony was put in purely for technical services–for the lighting desk and a small sound console and video bits. So that gave them lots of seats back on the balcony and then they added infrastructure for a temporary front-of-house position in the stalls.

I think a new Yamaha CL3 was selected for the front of house mixer. Why was that particular one chosen?

So the old desk they had, there’s some history behind it. It was one of the first Yamaha PM1Ds in the country installed permanently in a venue at the time. So that’s something they were very comfortable with. For the type of shows that came in, Yamaha is a very recognized name that everyone can get behind quite easily. The other parameters that informed that choice were the Dante networking and the flexibility of being able to put the consoles and the stage racks in a variety of places. The stage racks are fairly fixed. They’re hidden into enclosures around the stage and there are some in the patch room. But because they now have a movable front-of-house position, the ability just to plug in the CL at the back of the stalls on a couple of cables rather than huge looms and multicores is very convenient. If the shows aren’t very demanding from a sound point of view – like a more unamplified orchestral show that just has a bit of a speech from the conductor or maybe a corporate presentation – they’ll be mixed from the balcony so they don’t lose any seats at the back of the stalls.

The install appears to have been done in stages and the most recent change was the addition of the new Meyer Sound LINA speaker system to deal with the more broad range of musical shows.

We’d been talking about a PA upgrade for a long time. It evolved from whether more boxes got added to the old system, whether it got rearranged, whether we moved it. But then the LINA was released and we did a demonstration in the hall because we thought it would be right up their street. And it worked very, very well. Things moved quite swiftly from there. We were very lucky in that because we had already been having conversations about a PA upgrade, we’d already done some infrastructure work when the seating was changed and the front-of-house position was moved. We had upgraded some of the infrastructure to the arrays in the roof and added some cabling into the front of the stage ready for a potential upgrade, which made the actual process of doing the upgrade this summer very simple.

And that probably saved considerably on space and maybe opened up the stage a little more for better sightlines.

A bit of both. So what they had previously was Meyer M1D flown in two hangs on either side of the stage as well as some point source boxes, so CQ1s and subwoofers on the stage, to provide more energy into the stalls when they were doing louder, contemporary, amplified shows. The aim of the new design was to take away the need to have large fill boxes on the stage and to cover the whole system from the flown arrays. The LINA is a lot narrower than the M1D it replaces, albeit it’s a little bit deeper, so even though there are more of them and the array is longer, it’s thinner which helps with sightlines – not to the stage, but mainly to their projection screen. They have a very large projection screen at the back of the stage which they use for some events. So it improves that, but it also frees up some much needed stage space because when they’re doing something like a semi-staged opera and you’ve got a full orchestra on the stage but also the need for a loud PA, losing space on the stage to piles of speakers and subwoofers is undesirable. It’s also fairly uncomfortable for the musicians, which is becoming a hotter topic all the time.

I think you also added at some point a QSC Q-SYS DSP core in there so how does that work for the versatility of the hall?

We put the QSC in at the same time as putting the first Yamaha CL3 in. It replaced an old Media Matrix system that had served them very well for a long time. We replicated quite a lot of the functionality that they had before and then added some extra bits. The main benefit of it is system processing to the PA. There are an awful lot of speakers in the room. It’s a horseshoe balcony but there’s still a small overhang so there are a lot of delay speakers under the balcony which were retained from the original system. The Q-SYS also handles some building paging functions. It generates all the show relay feeds that go backstage into the dressing rooms. So it provides them a lot of sound management functionality.

They’re relying heavily on the LINA speaker system. With over 300 shows a year that doesn’t allow much down time for adjustments and fixes.

No, exactly. We try to keep that in mind with all of our installations because there’s not many people that can afford down time. But Cadogan in particular is a very, very busy venue so it is tricky to get in and do major maintenance if you need to. We did the infrastructure install with that in mind in order to address some of the issues they had in the past, but also just to be very well prepared for what the worst case could be. So in order to try and keep things as reliable as possible, for example, the audio from the Yamaha system into the Q-SYS is actually AES – it isn’t Dante –so that means if a visiting artist brings their own console, if it’s a Yamaha console they can just pick up the venue’s rear rack that’s in the patch room and they don’t have to repatch. Or they can patch into XLR inputs direct into the Q-SYS but don’t have to do any work that could compromise the audio network.

How much time did you have to get this whole project completed? I think it was done in several stages.

The LINA part of the project was done basically all in one go. It was done over their short summer shutdown period. But we had plenty of time in advance to get exactly what we were going to do and in what order. We had a head start from our previous infrastructure work and didn’t have to pull too much extra new cable. We did quite a bit of preliminary work offsite as well, for instance all the looms into the back of the line array were manufactured offsite and made off to a multi-pin so that onsite all we had to do was make off the other end. That also makes it quite easy for them to take the arrays out without having hundreds of meters of cable to manage.

What was your first step after you got access to Cadogan Hall and everybody else was out of the way.

Before we turned up en masse, we sent an advance party that came in to modify the rigging. Ideally I think we wanted to move the array. But because it’s a listed building and a heritage building, there’s a restriction on how many holes you can put in the ceiling. So there were different options of which hole we could use, but after doing all the predictions we concluded that if we couldn’t bridle between two holes, which we ruled out as being aesthetically undesirable, the hanging point that we had was the best fit. But it didn’t quite have the right angles and needed to be re-rated. So our rigging partners came in and made all those modifications, so when we got there the client had dropped the system for us, which was very kind. We could get straight on with making the cabling changes and getting the new system in the air. There was a fair amount of wiring done down at stage level as well, because as part of the system we put in new front fills, with that cabling hidden within the stage itself. We also changed the subwoofer configuration so there’s now flown subwoofers. There are also subwoofers along the front of the stage. There’s a hole for them under the stage but we decided that didn’t sound the best. We also added a brand-new delay position. The shape of the venue means there are some side balcony seats which sit behind the PA, so there’s a little fill in there for those areas. That needed new wiring that was all chased into the plasterwork and plastered in.

Ok, were those the Meyer UP4-P speakers? The little ones?

Yeah, the UP4-XP. A lot of people are quite familiar with the MM4, the little four-inch cube. The UP4 is a more powerful version of that. It’s got a very, very nice, pleasant coverage that blends very nicely with other parts of the system so it makes a very handy front fill and a good fill anywhere because it’s very well behaved.

Let’s talk a little about how the Meyer Sound system is controlled. How does the RMServer work and what does that provide for you?

The Meyer system, like all Meyer systems, is self-powered. The amplifier is in the back of the speakers. It’s a design decision. Some people like it, some people don’t. But one of the downsides, is you can’t necessarily get to your amplifiers while they’re up in the air. So the RMS, the remote monitoring system that Meyer provides, lets you see exactly what’s happening inside the speaker even if you can’t physically get to it. It runs over an extra pair of conductors in the multi-core. That then runs back to a network interface box which then connects to the rest of the system over LAN so it lets you see how hard each box is working, if it’s limiting, that all the drivers are good, and the amplifier is healthy. It even lets you remotely mute individual speakers, so even if you were using a looping input, you can actually go straight into the amplifier and mute them from there.

And what is the software app for that? What do they call it?

You connect to it through Compass, which is the same program that you configure the speaker processes through.

I’ve seen some videos of that and that’s a very interesting screen layout. It shows what’s going on with the sound system in a lot of detail.

Yes. It’s one of my favorites to use. It’s very, very well thought through as a workflow. Everything you need is in front of you, nothing you don’t. It’s also very, very stable so it’s a pleasure to use. Moving gain values up and down, delay values up and down with the mouse has been really well thought about so they don’t shoot off to +20 dB when you move the mouse slightly too far. No, it’s all very well put together and solid as a rock.

I think you’ve got four sound zones on each side of the hall. The wrap-around balcony must present a little bit of a challenge in getting the right sound in the right place.

It does. The wrap-around balcony is difficult because it wraps around so far that you get to a point where some people are just sat behind the PA, and in some cases sat behind the orchestra. So from a timing point of view that’s an impossible challenge. You can’t time align it to something that’s in the wrong direction. So the fills up there are a compromise in the way that they’re timed, but they do the job very well. We’ve actually improved the number of seats that are covered by the array over the old system so the arrays are toed out slightly more than the old system and the dispersion of the LINA allows it to hit more of the side seats. So it’s really only a corner of one seating block on each side that the fill is there to just eject a bit of HF back into and to overcome some of the timing oddities.

There are so many different types of music being performed there. How do they handle stage monitoring?

They handle stage monitoring on a gig-by-gig basis. They have a few boxes in house and I believe they rent depending on what the artists’ rider is, so there’s nothing permanent because it’s so variable depending on the type of content they have.

From the pictures I’ve seen of it, the hall appears to have a lot of hard surfaces. I guess that might help the symphony performances but for other music it might go the other way.

Yes. So the ideal acoustics for a concert hall are generally at odds with the ideal acoustics for a theater-type or an amplified show; but the hall has been very nicely set up so it can do both. When it was converted into a concert hall in 2004 they did an awful lot of work on the acoustics, so a lot of the hard surfaces that you see are not as hard as they look. There’s a lot of absorption hidden within the walls and the ceiling, particularly at the back of the hall, and they’ve put in a lot of tuned resonators in order to fit their acoustic that had been designed. So the hall sounds wonderful acoustically when you’ve got the orchestra in there. We obviously designed the line array to hit as many seats as possible but nothing more because it is still a reverberant space and you don’t want to excite that big domed ceiling, and the big stained glass windows at the sides. We’ve designed the PA to be as sympathetic to that as possible and it works. The result is very good. The sound is very intelligible. It’s very present. It’s not drowning in the reverb of the hall.

And I think that part of this project involved moving the control point in the house.

Yes. There was a control point on the front of the balcony when it first opened, which got moved to increase the seating capacity. As part of that they built an extra balcony, a very shallow balcony at the very back of the hall which is where the lighting desk and the projector and some video control sits. And then an extra control position was put at the back of the stalls in a more traditional place. You take out a few seats, there’s a hidden panel in the floor that the network cables pop out of, and then you can connect the desk up and go from there.

The Yamaha CL3 is quite a bit smaller than the M1D that you had in there before. Is that because they need to move that mixing console every now and then?

A variety of reasons. The CL3 is considerably smaller, yet has more capability. So the fact they can do the same job or a better job with less footprint helps, but certainly the fact that the desk is so small and light means rather than them having to have a permanent control position they can pack it away. They added an extra QL1 which is permanently connected to the Dante network, which sits up in the technical balcony so if they’re doing speech or presentation or something that doesn’t need intensive mixing they can pack the desk away completely, put the seats back and it can be mixed from up on the new technical balcony.

Thanks for walking us through this great upgrade, it sounds like the coordination went really well to deliver some really important upgrades.

Thank you, We always try and get the planning right. We like to think that doing a technical installation or an integration project is not that different from putting on a show. There are lots of different people all trying to achieve the same goal. If you can all pull together and realize that you’re not competing with each other you’re all trying to get a good result, you can get it done early and the client is always very happy.

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