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THE SVC INTERVIEW: Seth Waltz, AVL Designs

A new sound systems transforms Glens Falls Civic Center in upstate New York

SVC: In addition to today’s project what sort of things do you do at AVL Designs?

Seth Waltz: Our company is primarily a theatrical company. So we do an awful lot of theater renovations. We’ve probably got 10 or 12 theaters that we’re in the process of doing renovations on. We do not only audio, but we do acoustics, lighting, stage rigging. We also just did an interesting police academy for the New York State police department – completely new multiple auditoriums that are connected with video, audio, cameras.

And they called you to come up with a sound system design for the Glens Falls Civic Center.

Yep. It started out as a testing project initially and then it proceeded after testing. We established some issues and they decided they wanted to go for a new system.

Okay. And I don’t think that was their first idea but after you clarified the situation that’s the way they decided to go?

We went up initially to do perceptual testing where we put on voice information. We just walked the arena and looked for what were noticeable intelligibility problems. Then we actually did testing to verify those with numbers and then created a model of the existing system to verify that a model would actually produce those results so we would be able to look at possible solutions. They were initially just hoping we would add some things to their existing system. After we started modeling it we realized that with the budget they had it wasn’t a viable option. Then they got into wanting to look at a replacement.

And what general type of system did they have that wasn’t working quite the way they wanted it to?

The system had been put in a number of years back and the contractor did it on a budget that was incredibly tight, so my guess is they covered everything they could for the money they had. But one of the problems of being a line array is there is no individual amplification or processing. Each array was one amplifier basically driving the entire array so you couldn’t modulate anything. You couldn’t control pattern coverage or frequency anywhere in the array. They really should have used 12 boxes in an array. They used seven and there were basically four clusters that they should have put in that were not put in. So they stretched the coverage. It was way beyond normal and the reverb time of the room is in excess of four seconds. So you really can’t get away with it in a room like that. They were given a lot of parameters that we are not privy to, so I never like to critique anybody’s work. They were probably told hey, here’s where you can put things, here’s what you can do, here’s what you can’t do, and here’s your money and they probably did the best they could. I think they got a great value in their original system, but it just wasn’t doing the job after about five years. They determined they really wanted to do something to upgrade.

Were you on any sort of restrictions regarding where you could run cabling or rig speakers?

There were in their minds. We decided to ignore all of that and look at designing something to go where it really needed to go. The existing system was rigged off of steel directly where the steel happened to be. We decided to look at spaces as being flexible and then figure out where clusters should be and then figure out a way to rig them later. They finally accepted that approach. It was something a little foreign to them. They were looking for it to be a typical—just walk out on the beam and hang it right where it was. And we ended up with things that were irregularly spaced between structural steel.

I would think that’s a pretty common situation: a client decides they want something, they think it is going to be easy, and it turns out to be more involved than they thought.

Yeah. But there are benefits too. For example, they used to have to take the old system down every time a touring show came in, so they had it rigged in a way that it was easy to take down. We decided to design in a way that they would never have to take any new system down, whether it was line arrays or something else. So we pushed out to locations that were, like I said, not exactly simple for rigging, but they made more sense in the big picture.

They have a lot of different things going on in there. Obviously a lot of hockey games since this is the home of the Adirondack Thunder, but there are plenty of other things, too.

Yep. The very first thing that happened in there was a WWF event which is kind of unique. We expected them to bring their own local PA for down on the ice because there was no ice coverage in this system design. There was no budget for it. And this system, even though it wasn’t aimed at the audience, everyone down there said they were getting intelligible audio and they liked the way it worked. So that was the first event and since then there’s been rodeos, circuses. They’ve got basketball series finals coming up, hockey. I guess they do some ice shows here and there. And in some cases they said they wanted to be able to tie in concerts so we gave them that ability to zone and delay and basically tie in where they need to.

With the new sound system going in, did you keep any of the existing gear and incorporate it into the design?

Our new design turned out to be all new Danley loudspeakers. We were going to reuse some of the existing amplifiers. We were providing a lot of new amplifiers because the layout just didn’t make sense for what we were doing. So there was a trade over period where the existing system was still running while they installed all the rigging and wiring for the new system. And they got all the speakers up for the new system before cutting the whole thing over. So the old system was able to stay in place because we weren’t rigging anywhere near it. So that was kind of a plus. They could work through their season that they were in without having to lose their system in the process.

And you decided to use Danley SH96s for this?

Yep. We’d looked at a line array solution. We looked at adding WideLines since they were already there and we found the solution that worked well, but by the time we had enough processing amplifiers, clusters and extra speakers, it was just way out of their budget. So we looked at some other people’s line arrays; couldn’t really find anything that made sense. We’ve had a lot of experience with Danley; some of their boxes cover a very large footprint with an awful lot of fidelity and a lot of output. So we did an array design with SH96s alone and found that 14 clusters could cover the entire arena. But when we looked at where we had to rig them, it pushed them up into the seating enough that we ended up with some high-frequency dead spots right along the glass for hockey. So we ended up taking some existing QSC WideLine modules and dropped them down 14 feet below the Danleys to get direct field coverage and time-delayed them and it worked extremely well. We’d had that all approved by the owner from a visual standpoint. Ultimately they decided they didn’t want the QSCs down there because a couple of season ticket holders didn’t like seeing that little module in their sight lines occasionally. So we’re now going to be taking Danley SBH- 20s and installing them up three feet below the SH96s because they have a pattern that will allow us to get that amount of direct field behind the glass without any of those issues with sight lines. We didn’t do that originally because it was out of their budget. And then after the fact, they saved money, I guess, on some other factor and they said they thought they could afford to do that upgrade. So that’s being bid now.

Well, good luck on it. I’m sure that once they saw the speakers in place they decided that it would be best to just get everything up there where they would expect to see speakers.

Yeah. We’d done renderings for them, like 3-dimensional renderings. They signed off on it. But when they did see it, a couple of people were immediately like, “Oh, that’s not going to work.” They really aren’t an obstruction for a hockey game because everything’s moving, but certain other events I can see where they might have issues. At the time it was a budget-driven decision. We couldn’t find anything else that would get us that kind of direct field effect behind the glass without dropping the box way down because these things are 50 feet in the air to start with. And with the reverb time in the room, we found we had to get it close to get it to work. But the SBH-20 is a product that has incredible pattern control. It behaves like a full line array all by itself. They’re just expensive enough that we never looked at using them initially. But we’re hoping that upgrade will make everybody happy because in hockey games, with the whole audience behind you, it’s pretty loud behind the glass and that’s about 3 dB down from the rest of the seating area because of the positioning of the SH96s.

So who did the actual rigging and installation?

Well, the primary contractor was Brown Sound out of Syracuse, New York. They have since become a company called PCC AV. They merged with another company, still in Syracuse. BMI Supply out of Queensbury did the rigging; they’re a stage rigging contractor that we’ve used on a lot of our theater projects. And we were actually glad they chose these guys because this was a complex rigging job to get these speakers to hang the way they needed to because it was oblique hanging. It was really unusual rigging techniques and they did a great job.

And we mentioned before that you had a little bit of an advantage in that the old system didn’t have to be taken out before you got started on the installation of the new one.

Right. And the good and bad of that is that the true install time, if they had started on day one and ended the job when they were finished, it would have been about six weeks total install. But because the other system was still operational they kept scheduling events so the contractors had to start and stop quite a bit. It ended up taking quite a few months even though the linear time was about a sixweek install.

When did you get to really ring out and test that system? I would think before anybody else was in there.

Yeah. We did one day of commissioning where we came in with the contractor. We basically equalized the system, which in this case is very easy because all 14 clusters are EQ’d exactly the same. And we did intelligibility testing to remap the room and compare it to the original. So areas where we had STIs of .4 were reading in the .8 range. The entire room was in excess of .8 even with the high reverb time. We did all of that on a day with nobody else in the place, but our first real day of working with the console and everything else they had a rodeo in the room operating while we were trying to get all of that done.

Yeah, you may have gotten more cooperation out of the animals that the people on that one. Exactly. What did they do for mics in the new setup? Did they get new mics?

Yeah. Their existing wireless are all Shure with SM58 heads which we did keep because the guys who use those, they just are comfortable with them. They already owned them. The primary announcer for hockey is a broadcast announcer. We met the guy. He’s got a great voice and he’s used to using real microphones so we got him an Electro-Voice RE20 and he was thrilled. It lets him work the way he’s used to working and we don’t have any proximity effect problems. So that mic sounds dramatically better than any of the handhelds they have. We blended them so they all sound enough alike that you can make it all work. What did you give them for a house mixer? We ended up going with the Midas M32, the compact version. I think they call it an M32R. We could color code and label everything on the console and the scribble strips in a way that lets the various users really use this thing without getting lost. Because we have everyone from maintenance people to real sound people running the system, depending on the event. We programmed a lot of presets for a lot of different uses of the room. Since the system was installed and finalized it’s probably been, oh, it’s got to be nine months now. We haven’t had a single call, which is really good with a digital console to not have any phone calls for ‘how do I do this?’ They’re able to take the iPad and go down to the seating area, to remote the console. They love the fact that they can actually do level verification and minor EQ tweaks during an event down in the seating area. Yeah, real nice when you’re first getting the system up and testing everything. It is. And we also were able to give them a remote that lets them turn off individual clusters. So if they have a hockey game that literally nobody is sitting in whatever seating area it might be, they can shut any cluster down that they want to off of the iPad so that they’re not generating more reverberation in the room.

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