Fitting the mood
Feb 1, 1999 12:00 PM, Jack McLean
Steve Wynn's new $1.5 billion Bellagio Hotel, occupying more than 120 acres(48 hectares) of property along the fabled Las Vegas Strip, is among themost lavish and expensive venue of its type ever built. Set on an 8 acre(3.2 hectare) man-made lake, it reflects what can best be termed Europeanluxury. All 2,600 rooms and 400 suites offer traditionally styledfurnishings, European art and antiquities. The Bellagio also features animpressive array of technology and systems assembled by leading systemdesigners and integrators. Two centerpieces in this regard include nightlyshowings of "The Fountains at Bellagio" as well as a theater hostingperformances of Cirque du Soliel's latest production, entitled "O".
The "Fountains" show originates in the front lake. Musical selections serveas the inspiration for original performances by more than 1,000 high-techwater fountains combined with underwater lighting spanning a good portionof the lake. Each fountain, with its own lighting fixture, can shoot waterin a variety of patterns in a number of directions and at heights in excessof 200 feet (61 m). It is all based on mechanical structures that can beraised out of the lake for a performance and submerged until the next show.To enhance the mood of a particular show, a separate lighting system canchange the color of the face and tower of Bellagio, which serves as thebackdrop. The primary viewing area, established on the walkway runningalong the front of the lake on Las Vegas Boulevard, can accommodatethousands of spectators. A wide sidewalk along Bellagio Drive, leading tothe main entrance of the hotel, can host even more viewers. With the entirespectacle based upon matching the fountain's action with music, audiopresentation needs to be more than just solid across the huge viewing area.Further, the expectations of facility management-Wynn is renowned to bedirectly involved with virtually every facet of his venues-adds to thechallenge to supply supremely pristine sound quality.
Larry Spurgeon of Entertainment Technology Group (ETG), Las Vegas, metthese challenges and expectations with the creation of a widely distributedaudio system, and ETG's Scott Marcellus contributed his talents on severalspecific aspects. Meanwhile, the system was implemented by the WesternOperation of Signal Perfection Limited (SPL), Columbia, MD, now aProduction Resource Group (PRG) company, Las Vegas. Operation presidentSteve Rypka oversaw this process, and Project Engineer Kent Corbell took ahands-on supervision and development role. Senior design engineer PhilipDiPaula provided support from SPL's base.
Custom solutionsAnother challenge of the sound design was fitting the system's loudspeakerswithin the aesthetics of the venue. The main viewing area is separated fromthe lake by a Romanesque railing with lampposts mounted atop pilastersabout every 50 feet (15 m). At regular intervals, the railing curves intoward the lake, creating cutouts that enhance the look and increaseaudience capacity. It was decided that the system's primary loudspeakerswould be attached to the lampposts and housed in ornate metal housingsabout 10 feet (3 m) above the sidewalk. This location limited the size andshape of the loudspeakers, which, in turn, could have impacted expectedperformance and output.
"Sometimes the demand for exceptional sound quality is at direct odds withother factors," said Rypka. "Here, they didn't want to see the loudspeakersat all, let alone ones of the size that would normally be associated withdelivering the desired level of quality and output throughout a hugelistening area. It didn't make for an impossible situation, but it didincrease, to a great degree, the required level of creativity, imaginationand technical acumen to pull it off."
In devising the solution, Spurgeon worked with Apogee Sound, a processwhich resulted in a custom two-way loudspeaker called the MTO-30. Providing180 degrees horizontal coverage, the MTO-30 includes three baffle boardssplayed horizontally at 60 degrees. Each baffle board includes an 8 inch(203 mm) cone driver and a 90 degrees x 45 degrees high-frequency horn with1 inch (25 mm) exit compression drivers. The horns are inclined downward at15 degrees.
The cabinet includes a recessed channel in the center/rear, making it easyto mount securely to a pole. A passive device, the MTO-30's performance canbe further enhanced with a companion processor also providing driverprotection, an option selected on this project. Frequency response is 85 Hzto 19kHz (+/-3dB) with continuous SPL of 118 dB @ 1 m.
A custom Apogee subwoofer-the MTO-31-was also developed especially for theneeds of this project. Single MTO-31's, which include an 18 inch (457 mm)excursion cone driver in a critically tuned enclosure, are positioned inthe pilasters beneath each lamppost. Additional mid- and high-frequencyenergy is provided by Apogee ACS-1 compact two-way loudspeakers mounted inpilasters at the corners of each cutout section. All of the pilasters arecovered by a perforated metal grille matching the lamppost loudspeakerhousings.
"Even though the ACS-1's are located below waist level, they do a nice jobin providing additional energy and fill that enhances the mainloudspeakers," said Corbell. "They also help eliminate localization, makingit seem that there's more of a wall of sound rather than specific sources.The experience is one of immersion."
Coverage to the long entrance walkway viewing area along Bellagio Drive issupplied by the JBL Control 28T loudspeakers, also concealed withinpilasters. All of the system's loudspeakers are divided into four zones fora bit more individual tailoring and control, and the overview lamppostloudspeakers are delayed in relation to those on the main walkway.
"Larry did a wonderful job in creating a system that allows the musicalprogramming to match the magnificence of the fountains," said Rypka."Management of Bellagio has relayed to us that Steve Wynn loves this sound."
Remote solutionsThe scope of the lake audio system presented other logistical challenges.The show's control position is located in the hotel above the casino level,more than 1,500 feet (457 m) from the loudspeakers. As a result, a remoteequipment room housing the system's 40 Crest CKS power amps and Apogeeprocessors was constructed beneath the main walkway, accessible via a trapdoor. The room is independently climate controlled.
The two locations are linked by fiber optics running in conduit around thelake, and QSC Rave Model 188 A/D and D/A converters facilitate signaltransport. Crest NexSys computer control allows system operators to monitorand control the amps from the master control room. A Peavey MediaMatrixmainframe handles all digital signal processing with audio source suppliedby an Alcorn McBride [Bin-Loop] system with V4+ controller.
Marcellus formulated a way to gain access to the system's computers in themaster control room from the walkway, allowing tuning and adjustment of thesystem and source material in real time. A panel installed in one of thepilasters provides access to a 100-base T Ethernet computer network withhubs on both ends and fiber in between, creating a network capable oflinking four computers. The panel also contains intercom connections to themaster control room, and an audio line-level connection to the Rave unitsin the remote room.
A mobile cart with two Fostex DAT machines, two computers and a Yamaha 03Ddigital mixer can be rolled out to the walkway and patched into the panel.One of the computers on the cart interfaces with the computer supportingCrest Nexsys and Alcorn McBride protocols, while the other computerinterfaces with the Peavey MediaMatrix mainframe. Original source materialis loaded on one of the DAT machines and played through the system withchanges made. This altered mix is stored on the second DAT machine where itcan be downloaded to a third DAT machine feeding the Bin-Loop system. Otherchanges, like processor alterations, can be done via the computer network.The process is entirely digital.
"We could sit at the street and fine tune the system as we listened,"Corbell says. "The MediaMatrix could be adjusted, individual amps turned onand off, channels, zones and levels adjusted and distortion monitored allfrom the remote location."
A total of 12 shows were programmed at the time of the Bellagio's openingwith others added since then. The remote adjustment capability continues tocome in handy as the number of programs grows. The show's master controlsystem, a combination of Allen & Bradley PLC and RA Gray technologiesworking together, feeds SMPTE cues to the Alcorn McBride V4+ audio showcontroller, which activates appropriate audio programming at theappropriate time. The V4+ controller also interfaces with MediaMatrix viaPeavey's Pasha serial control software, which activates the correct signalprocessing presets for each show.
Bigger than lifeOne of the final challenges of the project occurred three months prior toBellagio's grand opening. The audio system, fully operational and almostcomplete, was literally swamped. A flood of water from a major thunderstorminundated the remote equipment room. Three weeks from the date of theflood, however, the system was again fully operational.
"We opened up the remote room to find about 9 feet (2.74 m) of watersubmerging all components," Rypka said. "You might say that we wereafforded the opportunity to build the system twice, only the second time wedid it in about three weeks. This included pulling and terminating about68,000 feet (20,726 m) of wire, refabricating the racks, and reworkingeverything but the loudspeakers."
Working in 120degreesF (49degreesC) heat, Corbell and crew were able topull off the task. Concurrently, other crews headed by SPL's Craig Schickfinished up systems in the theater and three lounges, the race and sportsbook, wedding chapels, executive offices and boardrooms, and broadcastcabling running throughout the entire complex. Not to mention the head-endof the Mirage race and sports book system to accommodate feeds to theBellagio.
"It would be safe to say that this project, like the Bellagio, was a bitbigger than life at times," Rypka said, "but the opportunity to rise to theoccasion and to see how it all came together on opening day made it aworthwhile endeavor."
Theater oasisCirque du Soleil's "O", appearing in the new Bellagio Theater, uses wateras its stage. Most of the performance occurs around, above and in aspecialized 1.5 million gallon (5.7 million liter) pool fabricatedespecially for the production. Reaching a depth of 28 feet (8.5 m), thepool is outfitted with several motorized lifts, aqua-masking and waterproofloudspeakers for monitoring, hence the title "O," which represents theFrench word for water, eau.
Sound Designers Jonathan Deans and Francois Bergeron combined talents on asurround sound system design for the production, and SPL handledinstallation and custom engineering duties. The room includes more than 30surround loudspeakers alone with others specially placed for effects. Theyare distributed behind the balcony, on the face of the balcony but firingforward to cover the main floor and even some built into side walls.Meanwhile, the proscenium framing the stage/pool contains two loudspeakerclusters with more loudspeakers along its sides. Finally, a series ofcompact loudspeakers contained in the stage lip bolster coverage to thefirst few seating rows not getting complete mid/high output from theclusters due to logistics.
The show's musical score, performed by a live orchestra for each show, wasclosely integrated with the sound design during months of productionrehearsals. The orchestra includes standard instrumentation-keyboards,percussion, cello, guitar, saxophone, flute and vocals-as well as offeringsfrom exotic instruments like tiplet, African koras, an assortment ofancient English and French reed instruments, bagpipes, various Chinesetwo-stringed erhus and even an accordion. Typically, a system is created tomeet the needs of a show and is simply integrated. With Cirque, however,the system changes constantly, and there is more matching of sound to theaction on stage than with other typical live theatrical productions.
Portable studioDuring production rehearsals, a small recording studio was established atthe house mix position centrally located on the main floor. The keycomponent in the studio, a DigiDesign ProTools digital audio workstation,facilitated creation of custom sound effects loaded onto samplers. Thesamplers and reverb units are MIDI-linked to the hub of the audio system-anetwork of Level Control Systems LD-88 digital mixers that works in tandemwith a Cadac automated mixing console. Each LD-88 digital mixer supplieseight channels of 20 bit audio I/O, as well as eight audio processing DSPsand a control DSP. Here, there are enough LD-88s to supply 80 inputs, 80outputs and 32 buses, forming a matrix where any input can be routed to anyoutput.
The LD-88's were linked to a PC running the BE operating system at the mixposition. Loaded with LCS CueStation software, it allowed the designers tomove the effects and live musical programming throughout the desired areaor the entire soundstage. The SpaceMap technology in the softwarefacilitates the design of custom panning curves to fly sound between anyimaginable loudspeaker combination.
All actions and movements of sound facilitated by the digital matrix areprogrammed and saved as cues, which are then triggered by the show's mastercontrol system via SMPTE time code at the appropriate moment. In additionto spatialization control, all signal processing functions such as EQ anddelay are also accomplished.
The Cadac gives Mark Dennis, the house mix engineer, the ability to feeland adjust sound during the show while everything else is programmed ascues into the LD-88s for distribution to the power amps and loudspeakers.The cues are automatically recalled at the appropriate moment by the show'smaster control system and at certain times by the Cadac.
"The cues are programmed into LCS, defining when a sound is triggered, howit sounds, and where it's going," said Deans. "A lot of this work is donelate at night, into the morning, when everyone is gone and we can then playaround with sounds for the entire room, getting each just right for eacharea of the room."
Dennis said that the system developed for "O" is complex and powerful withseven computers used at the front of the house to run Cadac cue control andbackup, LCS CueStation software and backup, Crest NexSys amp control andmonitoring and backup, Smaart-Pro Acoustical Analysis software, andrecord-keeping and administrative tasks. All mics used by the orchestra andperformers are first fed to Aphex Model 107 mic pre-amps located in abackstage equipment room. All power amps are Crest Professional seriessplit between two equipment rooms. They are also linked to a PC at the mixposition where Crest NexSys control software lets the system operatormonitor their status. The main loudspeakers, Trap 42s from Renkus HeinzCo-Entrant design, offer a natural point-source and controlled directivity.Many of the surround loudspeakers and nearfield and fill loudspeakers arealso from Renkus. In addition, the company supplied a customized version ofits SR-81 loudspeakers with their size reduced to allow them to fit inlimited openings along the stage lip. Renkus C2 subwoofers are concealedwithin an upper level of the proscenium, and an additional pair of subs aremounted in the ceiling for certain effects. Meanwhile, Sound Advance SA2loudspeakers are mounted in the side walls, completely invisible, with theloudspeaker complement filled out by several small JBL surroundloudspeakers distributed around the house.
"In an opera house, you have more reverb and spatial sense, so we sendcertain cues to the side loudspeakers to add a bit of liveness," saidBergeron. "The audience can't see the loudspeakers, so they don't expect oranticipate that sound will be coming from their direction. One song mayemanate primarily from the front loudspeakers, while in the next, we'llroute it more to the side speakers for expanded perspective and addedreverb. It creates the impression that you're in a much larger room made ofmarble. Then, the focus of the song will suddenly be shifted to the front.That's why there are so many cues established in the LCS, to take theaudience up and down, left and right, back and forth, with the action onstage."
Independent mixesThe Crest LMX monitor console, manned by Pascal Van Strydonck, affordsmonitor mixes for each of the 10 musicians. The mix stems provided by theoutputs of the Crest console are fed to each band member's own YamahaProMix, giving each member control over their mix with presets that can berecalled on a song-to-song or cue-to-cue basis.
Both the aquatics department with its many divers and the performers,including synchronized swimmers, rely heavily on what they hear underwater.To this end, what is termed the "Neptune system" was developed. It providesnot only show music throughout the pool, but also the ability for stagemanagement and aquatics safety officers to communicate directly to thosebeneath the surface. Vocal cues and instructions can be given during theshow. A Clear-Com KB-111A and KB-112 loudspeaker station was adapted withwaterproof switches and enclosures. A TW-40 connects the Clear-Com systemto Dive-Com underwater beltpacks and a wireless cue system to communicatewith crew under the water. To reach the crew, 196 lines connect beltpacks,MS/RM-220 two-channel and MS/RM-440 four-channel intercom stations,loudspeaker stations, underwater interfaced stations, and wireless radios.Also, a system of warning signals was established where a unique sound istriggered by any movement of the lifts within the water. A click track usedby the musicians is fed into the system as well, providing the cast withtiming and tempo. The system is mixed with a Soundcraft Spirit mixer routedthough various EQ, ducking and dynamics processing and fed to Crest 1600amps.
A total of 12 underwater loudspeakers in the pool, provided by ClarkSynthesis, are bolted to custom mounts designed and installed by theBellagio audio department. They supply increased frequency responseunderwater and increased energy transfer by acting as a sound board. Twocan be moved closer to the cast.
"The theater is an acoustic paradox," said Bergeron. "The audience musthear each other applaud; it heightens their involvement. At the same time,the room can't be too live because we need it to be fairly tight to producethe type of music and sounds as they need to be heard. It's difficult, butthey've done a good job with this room."