On & Off the Record
To Mix or Not to Mix?

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. But mixing isn't the only production tool available to sound designers for voice reinforcement, where intelligibility suffers when vital localization cues from the stage are lost as voices are disembodied and mixed into a center cluster, L-R, L-C-R, or surround loudspeaker system.

Moreover, high quality sound and high intelligibility are separate goals, and are not necessarily coincident, as SynAudCon's Don Davis demonstrated back in 1986. Just listen to an aircraft cockpit radio, designed for maximum intelligibility of speech in perhaps the most critical application we know, but far from high quality sound.

To mix, or not to mix; that is the question for theatre sound designers. Our article appears in Lighting & Sound America.

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Mic cable wiring update

Induced noise in low level mic signals can be prevented by following some practical advice from the late Neil Muncy regarding mic cable wiring and choosing the right brand of connector for the job. Read all about it.

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SMPTE to Revise Cinema Sound Standards

For the first time in almost 40 years, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) is set to update standards and recommended practices to improve the quality and consistency of cinema sound.

"Improvements in measurement technology, digital sound delivery, and in sound reproduction equipment, as well as the greater detail and dynamic range of movie soundtracks, present a variety of challenges in providing quality cinema sound," said Brian Vessa, executive director of digital audio mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment and chair of the new SMPTE technology committee TC-25CSS. "TC-25CSS, the first SMPTE technology committee dedicated solely to cinema sound, will explore and standardize new sound measurement techniques with the goal of consistency in sound reproduction between the mixing stage and diverse cinema spaces."

TC-25CSS was formed following a study by the Theater B-Chain Study Group, which conducted tests of current test equipment and methods, measured reference and commercial theaters, and collaborated on observations and results. The committee currently has 130 members, representing more than 90 companies and academic institutions from 14 countries.

The cinema B-chain comprises playback systems installed in movie theatres, in contrast to A-chain equipment used by producers to make the soundtrack that is distributed with the film or digital media.
 
The committee's current activities include development of a recommended practice for measurement and calibration of B-chain sound systems using modern standards and measurement technology, creation of a standard pink noise test signal, a final report on data and findings from the Theater B-Chain Study Group, and work by two new study groups examining immersive audio systems and new electroacoustic measurement methods and target curves.

"This is the first time since the late '70s that cinema sound has been addressed in depth," said Mark F. Collins, director of projection technology for Marcus Theatres. "Over the past three decades, we've seen huge changes in audio technology, and our hope is that, through the work of the new SMPTE technology committee and its subcommittees, the tools used to measure audio signals will be brought into tune with today's technology."

Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers
www.smpte.org

 
Museums Benefit from new TiMax2 SoundHub-M

Museums, science centres, and similar attractions are the primary beneficiaries of the new TiMax2 SoundHub-M multi-channel audio server and multi-zone controller introduced this fall by UK-based Out Board Electronics.

The SoundHub-M’s unique audio localization and spatialization enhance the all-important visitor experience by heightening message impact and sense of immersion, while helping to cut through the noise and clatter that plague so many traditionally hard-surfaced facilities.

TiMax2 Soundhub-M

TiMax2 SoundHub-M multi-channel audio server and multi-zone controller, designed for museums, science centres, and similar attractions

“No other single device offers a similar combination of facilities for routing, processing, zone control with music and effects playback as well as spatialization and show control,” said Out Board director Dave Haydon. “The savings on hardware and installation costs are significant, particularly with the SoundHub’s optional interfaces for industry-standard networking, including Cobranet, Ethersound, Dante and MADI, and with a new AVB interface waiting in the wings.”

Intensive collaboration and consultation with museum and hospitality AV integrators resulted in the development of the new SoundHub-M, its first application being an installation for Belgium’s Museum of Original Figurines. The museum showcases highly-collectible figurines of comic strip characters as well as original drawings and plates, using multiple ‘windows’ into their heroic world.

The Soundhub was programmed by Stijn Vermeiren, engineer with Out Board’s Belgian distributor FACE, to provide multiple soundtracks localized for each of the different character zones and feature exhibits of the museum. He also programmed presets for visitor announcements as well as for music and public address for those occasions when the museum is used for corporate events and parties.

“TiMax2 SoundHub is the only processor combining spatial sound imaging with state-of-the-art audio matrix and playback functions in a single product,” explained FACE CEO Karel De Piere. “Previously, we would set up a full rack of equipment, spend most of our time making them talk to each other in sync and making sure it is all stable.

“Today, SoundHub gives us all the necessary features in one, plus the sound placement tools and playback tools as extra—all without having to make any compromise on speech intelligibility for announcement or evacuation messages if needed,” he said.

The TiMax2 SoundHub-M is fully scaleable to provide 16, 32, 48, or 64 audio-tracks and outputs, with 8 inputs for external sources such as show feed and paging. A simple drag-and-drop iTunes-style playlist creation facility has been added for the hospitality sector to allow snapshots to play selected background music compilations and announcements across multiple zones at pre-determined times of day, or even on specific dates, using the SoundHub’s internal date/time triggering.

Associated Buzz Creative's Alan Hardiman previously used the SoundHub-S, featuring full timeline-based editing, to localize performers in an immersive soundscape for the Redpath Waterfront Festival's The Wharf at York interactive theatre presentation earlier this year in Toronto.

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The Wharf at York: Immersive-Interactive Theatre Recreates 1812

Immersive-interactive theatre is alive and well in Toronto. The folks who brought us the Tall Ships extravaganza in Toronto a couple of years ago mounted a 4-day re-creation of the outbreak of the War of 1812 at the end of June, entitled The Wharf at York. The 3-hour show, a component of the Redpath Waterfront Festival, was staged three times daily for four days in Toronto's Harbour Square park. Featuring 16 actors portraying historical figures, along with a collection of tradesmen (blacksmith, cooper, sail-maker, shoe-maker, sword-master, coppersmith, etc.) in period huts teaching their trades to "apprentices" from the audience, the show included the arrival of a tall ship bringing news of the imminent outbreak of war, and concluded with a rousing sword fight—fought with real swords wielded by members of Rapier Wit—that surprised one over-excited spectator, leading him to exclaim, "I just sh*t myself!"

Up close with the actors       The actors onstage at the wharf       American spy unmasked and disarmed

left to right: The audience gets up close with the actors; onstage at the wharf; American spy unmasked and disarmed

Full story here

Krista Slack, artistic director for The Wharf at York, developed the creative concept, and brought me on as sound designer to produce a historically accurate soundscape that would transform 2012 Toronto back into Muddy York of 1812, and to bathe the audience in a subliminal sonic environment. With 14 wireless mics, a surround soundscape replayed from 14 mostly concealed loudspeaker locations, including loudspeakers rigged on the tall ship itself, I saw this as an appropriate opportunity to employ the technology of TiMax source-oriented reinforcement.

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Opening Ceremony, 2011 Arab Games

David Atkins Enterprises delivered the Opening Ceremony at the 2011 Arab Games in Doha, Qatar in December, 2011. The production included a number of firsts, including the integration of video projection with an LED audience net. Some 55,000 LEDs were installed in the seating, and the entire stadium seating bowl was used as a surface. I covered the production design in detail in Lighting & Sound America. Here's video footage of the Opening Ceremony.

Khalifa Stadium 1

 Khalifa Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the 2011 Arab Games. The earth cracks open to reveal the fires of Hell. (photo: RobbieKlaesi)

Khalifa Stadium 2

A monster of evil arrives to seduce the tribes with deadly sins. Note the integration of projection on the field of play with the LED audience net. (Photo: Robbie Klaesi)

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The Montréal Symphony Orchestra's new Maison Symphonique de Montréal is a welcome addition to the Place des Arts complex in the heart of downtown, and Québec's first Public-Private Partnership in the Arts and Culture sector. In Montréal for the inaugural gala in September, I caught up with architect Jack Diamond, acousticians Tateo Nakajima and Bob Essert, and music director Kent Nagano. Read all about it in Lighting & Sound America.

Inaugural gala of the Maison Symphonique de Montréal

Inaugural gala of the Maison Symphonique de Montréal, September 7, 2011 (photo: LuceTG)

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Sound for the Montreal International Jazz Festival

In Montreal for the 32nd annual Montreal International Jazz Festival—the largest ongoing festival of its kind in the world—photographer Doug Cotton and I caught up with festival sound reinforcement sponsor Meyer Sound, and sat down with co-sponsor Solotech's founder and president Denis Lefrançois for a chat about the company's origins and strategies for growth in a highly competitive industry. Read about it here.

The B-52s on the Main stage

The B-52s perform on the main stage at the 2011 Montreal International Jazz Festival. (Photo: Jean-François Leblanc)

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New radio spots

Our audio and music production departments have teamed up with John Evans Productions to produce two exciting new radio spots for the Muskoka Bay Club, a four-season community with an abundance of recreational and social activities just a 90-minute drive north of Toronto in cottage country. Listen to them on our Spots page.

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Dalhouise Medicine New Brunswick Wins Spotlight Award

Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick project—perhaps the foremost exemplar of the innovative thinking and brilliant design work of Toronto's Engineering Harmonics consultancy—was honored by Infocomm as the "best healthcare AV project."

In line with the consistent architectural look and feel in all connected teaching rooms, the systems feature two-way interactive HD video conferencing, dynamic microphone queuing, programmable lighting, and live host transfer capability, all enabled via software written by Engineering Harmonics.

ProAVlogo      Lecture Theatre A with 3 screens  

Large 11' projection screens in Theatre A at Dalhousie's Halifax campus show lecturer (left), course content (centre) and students in the remote classroom (right).

For more on the project: New hi-def distance education system links 19 sites in 2 provinces. Download a complete project description: Taking Down the Walls of Distance Education.

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