Known for decades as an artistic innovator, Berkeley Repertory Theatre now becomes a world-leading innovator in theatrical technologies with the recent installation of a Meyer Sound Constellation® acoustic system. When it reopens for its first production, the renovated Peet’s Theatre will be the first venue designed principally for dramatic presentations in North America to provide audiences with the sonic advantages of Constellation.
Constellation instantly transforms the acoustics of a performance space, enabling a venue to enfold audiences in a host of different ambient sonic characteristics. Constellation’s ability to provide an optimum balance of late reverberant sounds for musical performances makes it invaluable for multipurpose halls such as UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall or Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room, but the technology is proving increasingly popular in solving noise problems in restaurant settings, cavernous open office plans, and lecture halls.
According to Peter Dean, production manager at Berkeley Rep, Constellation’s enhanced intelligibility will allow greater freedom for directors and actors to block and play scenes. “This is a 270-degree thrust stage, which means that actors are directly facing only a third of the audience at any given time,” Dean says. “Without Constellation, the actor has to be acutely aware of projecting out to the audience. We’re now eliminating some of that complexity, which makes it easier for the actor to react to the emotions in the scene.”
James Ballen, Berkeley Rep’s sound supervisor, expects that Constellation will also benefit older patrons with marginal hearing loss. “We will still offer the mandated ALS systems, but with Constellation’s enhanced intelligibility, some patrons with borderline problems may find they no longer need to wear headsets.”
Constellation will be pre-loaded with a number of presets for different acoustical environments, with others custom programmable for each production. “Even though you are sitting in a relatively small, enclosed room, we can make it sound like a castle or concert hall,” says Dean.
Constellation’s loudspeakers can also double as a sophisticated surround sound system. “This will revolutionize the way we think of sound design in drama for regional theatre,” says Ballen. “With the comprehensive loudspeaker coverage provided by Constellation, the possibilities are practically limitless.”
Developed following decades of research into exceptional listening spaces, Constellation employs a combination of patented algorithms, advanced digital processing, and miniature transducer technology to replace cumbersome mechanical methods for variable acoustics. Constellation systems are in use at performance venues throughout the world, including the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox, Finland’s Logomo Hall, Norway’s Fosnavåg Konserthus, and Estonia’s Nordea Concert Hall. Systems are also currently being installed in the newly redesigned San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and San Francisco Opera’s Wilsey Center.
Constellation’s unique voice lift capabilities have been successfully applied in a number of corporate and university conferencing and teaching applications, including Louisiana State University, Jyske Bank headquarters in Denmark, and Enbridge in Calgary, Canada. Cala, named the Bay Area’s best new restaurant of 2015 by the San Francisco Chronicle, is the latest in a series of eateries using Constellation to create an optimized aural environment for diners with the desired level of “buzz.”
Constellation in Peet’s Theatre is a dual-zone system dedicated to both enhancing early reflections from actors on stage and creating reverberation characteristics appropriate for any production. Digital processing is hosted by the D-Mitri® digital audio platform, which hosts the patented VRAS™ acoustical algorithm. This works in conjunction with 24 microphones and 23 HMS-5 surround loudspeakers, 11 MM-4XP and six MM-4XPD self-powered loudspeakers, 18 UP-4XP and 12 UP-JuniorXP VariO™ loudspeakers, and eight UMS-1XP subwoofers. Once programmed, Constellation’s acoustical environments can be changed instantly with the push of a touchscreen button. When required, direct sound reinforcement is supplied by a separate system of six Meyer Sound loudspeakers suspended over the stage.