New Concert Hall - What would you do?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Cucco, Oct 12, 2007.

  1. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Fredericksburg, VA
    Hey guys -

    I've been invited to be on the board of directors and the steering committee for a new multi-million dollar performing arts center in Virginia and while I'm no stranger to concert halls or non-profit boards, I'm curious to see if any of you have any suggestions or ideas beyond what I've already thought of.

    My basic thoughts thus far in considering the acoustical aspects of the hall are:

    1 - Hire a dedicated acoustician to design the hall and to work directly with the architect. (This sounds like common sense, but in every one of the school auditoriums, this has been completely overlooked.)

    2 - Basic wiring schematics for wings, floor, and cat walk for mics, effects, speakers.

    3 - Interview and evaluate HVAC contractors to ensure that the contractor who gets the job can install a ventilation system which is capable of near silent operation and that has a local override capability.

    We'll be working with the money folks to make sure that an adequate audio system is installed as well and I'll have my ideas as to what should or shouldn't be installed.

    The primary purpose, as I understand it, for this venue is for concert events for orchestras and other ensembles as well as for theater productions that do not have HUGE props (in other words, no gigantic fly space). So it is a multi-purpose space.

    Any thoughts or experience would be very welcome!


  2. Costy

    Costy Guest

    Hey Jeremy,

    Here in Newport News, CNU build recently Ferguson Art Center.
    Very nice piece of work. Why don't you contact them ?
  3. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Fredericksburg, VA
    Thanks Costy - I will give them a call and come check it out.
  4. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Brisbane, Australia
    Home Page:
    Yes, yes, yes! This is the single most important thing. But! Make sure they are familiar with music, a lot of acousticians are just "noise" experts, they have neither the aesthetic or real abiding interest and knowledge in music performance.

    Goes without saying but needs to be well specified and drafted.

    This is the job of the acoustician, one of his main jobs in fact. Specifiy the sizes and selections of fans and ducts with enough capacity and attenuation to do the job. The secret is to make the velocity of the air as low as possible, this means big ducts and huge vents for both inlet and outlet. This means money, but don't scrimp on this or the acoustician, he will be the most important asset to the project.

    Go easy on this, its not that important in the initial stages of the project, certainly do not consume the initial budget with audio gear which then compromises acoustics or air handling. Audio stuff is limited life, will be completely replaced in 10 years after opening, whereas a duff sounding noisy hall will be there for 50 years.

    As they all are these days. Get the acoustics right, and your problems are solved. This is the area that is always neglected on these projects. When you come across a hall that's had money spent on design acoustics, its a revelation. People come out of bad halls, not knowing why they had a crap evening, sound is all around us but extremely misunderstood.

    You are lucky to be involved in this part of the project, now is your chance to get it right and influence the team. Good luck. Watch out for the bean counters wanting to suck out the acoustics design budget to line the carparks with italian marble! Get the priorities right.
  5. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Brisbane, Australia
    Home Page:
    Here are two of the best acousticians in the world at present.

    Sheesh, the man has just recently passed away, what a loss.
  6. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    My two cents.

    Addition to the other posts: work on the people in the board of directors as well as the main sponsors and other people in and around the project. Look at it as "ideas marketing", the idea you sell is that good acoustics is on the top list and if you ever will need to compromise on anything (as you inevetitably will) acoustics is not the place to do it.

    The idea is to make the board see the light of what good acoustics means to their reputation as good citizens and that their contribution will make the world a better place (now, this could take a bit of work). Some ideas:

    - Don´t expect the other board members to be able to discern good acoustics from bad ones. They probably haven´t got a clue and might not even be aware of that it might be important.
    - Avoid beeing the expert yourself. Instead bring in experts and let the rest of the board into the decision process. (Rehearse the experts presentations in advance, they can be sort of abrasive at times).
    - See if you can take them on a tour of really good places as well as some failures. A well planned tour should include really proud local people talking about how important their hall has been to the local place and perhaps also to the world, and perhaps one or a few expensive places that did cut corners and hence did not make it and afterwards has been left largely unused.
    - try to go for "the best acoustics in this part of the world" awards (are there things like that?)
    - make sure to have a lot of media cover on all the work done on acoustics and how good the result will be. Make sure the board people gets to read the material.
    - be prepared to work on the other board members pet ideas, they surely has some. Maybe one really wants an important art statement which will cost a lot. Another might think that environment friendly materials and low energy usage are the most important things. And so on. Sound them out, work with them to understand how you can place acoustics on the very top of the list -- actually the basic foundation for even doing the project.
    - see if you can cooperat with an experienced marketing person on how to approach the ideas selling process.

    If you can get the rest of the people on the board and the sponsors with you on this trip it will be sailing down the river instead of trying to go up the rapids.

    Just remember that selling ideas is an art and takes a bit of training.

  7. Costy

    Costy Guest

    I agree with DavidSpearritt, acoustics should come first. The cabling
    and AC, it seems, should come along as default.
    I think, as recording expert you can make an unuque conribution:
    make sure that the place has not only good performing but also
    recording facilities. Like dedicated control room, wired up, acoustically
    treated and such. Who knows, might happen you'll end up running it...
  8. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    An other acoustian

    Larry Kirkegaard

    Great person to work with and really knows musician's and audio engineer's needs. His credits are amazing and a really nice person to work with.

    Also a very good architect. William Rawn

    He just did the new concert hall at Tanglewood. I have worked with him and he a very nice person as well. He also listens well and is very keen to do things correctly for the musicians as well as the audience members.

    Both of these men are OUTSTANDING! You will not be disappointed.
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Fredericksburg, VA
    Thank you guys! Keep it coming.

    I've definitely decided to recommend that they keep the recording/sound equipment at a minimum. This shouldn't be a problem since I was brought in for my experience in both acoustics (I'm not sure why they think I have an acoustics background...sure, I do physics, but not much in the way of acoustical physics!! BIG difference!) as well as for audio equipment.

    The *only* problem I foresee is that there is the potential that one of the other invitees is a theater person with whom I've worked in the past. Her solution to hall acoustics is throw more Audio Technica Wireless mics at the problem and it will get better! I'd go into some of the scary details about this woman's approach, but it would become readily apparent that I was talking about her if this post were discovered!

    My advice, in fact, is going to be (based on initial information and some basic assumptions) to go with a --basic-- audio system. A handful of lavs with wireless, a handful of SM58s, some PCC160s and a good quality live mixer (probably a Yamaha or A&H but likely the Yamaha)...oh, and of course some basic amps and loudspeakers.

    I don't think it will be a problem to impress upon them the urgency for a quality acoustic venue. Our town is devoid of anything remotely resembling "good." Even our $2 million school auditorium is plagued with horrible standing waves (in the name of aesthetics) and loud A/C and lighting systems.

    I'll keep you guys posted. The kick off meeting is this coming Tuesday.
  10. lell010

    lell010 Guest

    As an acoustician myself I can only endorse what David and Thomas have said. All of the companies they mentioned are first class and would also consult on audio systems. Whatever you do do not even consider design built HVAC - Concert Hall’s need very low background noise PNC20 or lower and the skill to design to this level is beyond most HVAC contractors.

    In projects like this, it is not unusual for the Client to appoint an acoustician before an architect - in fact this is the preferred approach.

    I will add one more name to the list - Acoustic Dimensions.

    Best regards

    Larry Elliott
  11. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    The college I worked for renovated a space to be used for concerts, lectures, dinner parties and meetings. It was a giant room with lots of natural daylight and very high ceilings. I did some wonderful recordings in the fall and spring in that room. In the summer and winter the HVAC was so loud you literally could not hear yourself think. The HVAC had been contracted out to a company that installed HVAC systems in commercial buildings. They paid NO attention to the needs of the space and only to the CFM specs and temperature differentiation which they would quote ad nauseam every time anyone asked what could be done about the noise.

    The noise sounded like a turbojet sitting on the tarmac at full throttle. The company said they did not understand what all the fuss was about since this noise was mild compared to the "factories" they normally worked in. ENOUGH SAID!

    Find yourself a good mechanical contractor or let the architect find someone who is good at designing HVAC systems for concert halls and DON'T let the committee look for the lowest bidder or local HVAC contractor or you too may be dealing with a lot of problems that are almost impossible to fix later.

    As someone else said. Minimum velocity + maximum airflow = larger ducts and a properly designed system including suspending all air handlers on springs or iso couplers.

    Best of Luck!
  12. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Everything they said, plus:

    Because it is a multifunction venue, you should consider variable acoustics so that the reverberation time can be controlled.

    Theatre has very different requirements to concert halls.

    Also, being able to deaden the room for an Annual General Meeting of a large corporate sponsor, and then liven it up for an orchestra or string quartet after the keynote speakers, is truly multifunctional. The speaking people will require deader acoustics and amplification, the string quartet or whatever will want acoustic amplification.

    Get it right and you'll have a very successful venue. This will prove to be far more important than the board of directors may realise, if multifunction use is required.

    Two of my favourite recording venues in Sydney (City Recital Hall in Sydney, and the West Recital Hall at the local con) both have remote controlled acoustics, in the form of absorptive 'curtains' that are automatically lowered or raised. Fantastic.

    Make sure they choose the right kind of seating - where each empty seat has about the same acoustic absorption as a seated person. This will help to keep the room reverberation a bit more consistent between soundcheck (no audience) and showtime (audience). It's still going to change because the empty seat can't emulate the volume taken up by a person, but it's preferable to having an acoustically schizophrenic room.

    Furthermore, I'll second (or third, or fourth) the suggestions for keeping the audio equipment component simple and fundamental. Gear can always be hired for larger jobs, with the cost passed on to the client. You might even consider setting up your own local equipment hire business, tooled up specifically to cater to the needs of the venue (but that has ethical issues!).

    They'll also need to consider a video projector and screen.

    Regarding wiring, consider getting it all done with 110 ohm AES cable/multicore rather than standard audio cable. Its lower capacitance gives it better HF response over distance, and it's very handy for transferring digital audio signals around the place. Consider running some optical and CAT5 as well...


    As for electrical wiring, make sure they use someone who knows about creating separate earths for audio and so on, and use colour-coded plates (green or red seem common around here) to identify audio power.

    Venue lighting that does not physically vibrate and fill the silence with buzzing...

    Sorry for this scatterbrained message, so much to consider...
  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Jeremy; you surely know you'll never please EVERYONE when designing something like this, but don't let that stop you! :twisted:

    Russell Johnson (RIP) and Artec are indeed a big, well known design firm/company. They did the Kimmel Center, where I record several times per month during the regular season. Google "Kimmel Center Acoustics" and see what you come up with in terms of current discussions on the acoustics of the big hall (Verizon) and the smaller venue (Perelman Theater). Both are Artec designs with adjustable acoustics. Contact me privately about both. Lots to tell.

    As for wiring and technical designs, contact or visit all of the working halls and stage managers that you possibly can, time permitting, of course. Chat with the stage managers, sound and lighting techs and see what they have to tell you. Propbably the number one comment/complaint is: "Gee, if we had it to do all over again, we would have....." You'll never run out of folks who are smarting over the DUMBEST and simplest things that could have/should have been designed into a multi function hall. (Don't forget loading docks/access, and LIGHTING!!!)

    I just returned from a weekend recording a Celtic Festival in Lake Charles LA., and had the most wonderful surprise when working in the Rosa Hart Theater in the Civic Center down there. They did a redor/redesign of the wiring & sound system there after Hurrican Rita (after Hurrican Katrina) and one of the very cool things they did was completely redesign the audio wiring in the facility. Amazingly, they had a 32 channel mic line distro system installed, with THREE (3!!!) transformer splits (with separate ground lift switches for each) for FOH, Monitors, and Recording out. (I'm told there's a fourth for Video production as well.) Everything is custom Whirlwind-designed parts and multipin connectors, breakouts, fantails, the works. All of it brand new and working flawlessly. All I had to do was patch in their multiline fantail to my gear, and I was up and running.

    The gig was flawless from my end of things; I had a clean, robust 1 to 1 split of EVERYTHING coming off the stage, no buzzes, no noises, and plenty of gain. I tracked everything that was mic'd or DI'd without the FOH or Monitor people involved whatsoever. (Although we DID have a good time between acts and enjoying all the usual insanities of a three day festival with almost round the clock entertainment.) Electronically, everyone lived in their own world with no glitches or problems related to the splits.

    Again, drop me a note or give me a call about this place. I can put you in touch with the guy who designed it all, I'm sure he'd love to give you more info on the whole wiring layout, etc. etc.

    Most of all, good luck, and make sure you leave plenty of room in your design for that fellow named Murphy. :wink:
  14. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member


    This is the community facilty that we use and was just built about 5 years ago. There's some very nice aspects of it and we perform a number of our concerts here, but the sharing aspect really impacts rehearsal time.

    I know a number of the people on the board, they could certainly give you references as to who the firms/people were that were used.


    history of the center here
  15. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Fredericksburg, VA
    Thank you all VERY much.

    The kick off meeting is this evening. I'm cautiously optimistic.

    I'll keep you all posted.
  16. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Another thought, not immediately important but nonetheless...

    Make sure whoever plans the audio wiring does it thoughtfully. One of my favourite venues to record in is generally fabulous all around except for one thing: the mic cable run, from the winches to the recording booth/control room, is estimated at 300m!

    Very few microphones suitable for hanging on a winch can drive that length of cable *properly* without some sacrifice in audio quality.

    The logic behind the wiring makes sense from a flexibility point of view. The cable travels up to the roof above the stage (where the winch is), then to a patch point in the bio box at the back of the hall, from where it is patched to the recording control room beside the stage. I have often considered getting up in the roof and seeing if I can take a feed directly from the winch. Or setting up in the bio box, and taking the signal from the patch point...
  17. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:

    Putting Microphone Preamps in the line????? :wink:
  18. Simmosonic

    Simmosonic Active Member

    Which is what lead me to the long, costly and momentarily rewarding process of designing a custom cable driver/preamp combo for the Royer SF12 many moons ago! But that story has been told here too many times...

    Actually, there are more and more remote controlled preamps hitting the market that also solve this problem.

    The Sydney Opera House has an interesting system. They have small racks on wheels, and each houses a 24 input mic preamp, followed by 24 channels of AD conversion, followed by an optical converter outputting all mic signals via MADI. The preamps, converters and optical converters are all part of the Euphonix system, and all functions are remotely controlled via Ethernet connection (CAT5 or similar). Optical and Ethernet wiring runs throughout the venue, so they can simply wheel one (or more) of these racks to where the performance is happening, and connect it to a Euphonix console. Because the primary section of the Euphonix control surface is relatively small, they can bring one of those with them too.

    A nice system...
  19. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Fredericksburg, VA the kickoff meeting occurred last night. Here's what I gathered while there.

    1 - The organizers/board of directors have consulted with and have retained the volunteer services of the marketing director of the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts (University of MD- VERY nice facility -

    2 - The proposed budget for the facility is $55M USD

    3 - The arts center at CNU (Newport News) is considered a similar/target venue

    4 - Provided that the county supervisors approve the use of the land, the land has already been allocated and potentially provided which includes direct rail access nearby, large area for parking and new developments of homes/businesses/restaurants as part of a planned community.

    5 - There will be 3 different spaces; Black Box theater (seating roughly 150), Proscenium Theater (seating roughly 700) and concert hall (seating roughly 1500). Each space will be use specific and an acoustician will be consulted during all phases of construction. I've offered to handle initial consultation with the acousticians and will be contacting the folks you recommended. The board is seeking quotes - I'll have to explain that the acoustician needs to be an integral part to the whole process and can't just submit one initial quote. I'll let the pros handle how they want to deliver the quotes though.

    6 - The organization seems to be organized - they are incorporated, have retained legal council, submitted for 501(c)3 (tax exempt) status and have retained leadership and assistance from executives of one of the area's largest land developers and builders who will consequently be developing the land and the neighborhood associated with the arts center.

    7 - (Perhaps a bit out of order) They have developed a business plan as well as goals, vision and a reasonable timeline.

    I've decided to be a "volunteer" with this process but not to be on the board. Not to seem greedy, but if this thing takes off, I would exclude myself from business if I were a member of the board.

    So far though, I'm a little more optimistic than I was a few days ago.

    Cheers -

  20. lell010

    lell010 Guest

    Great News - however it is ESSENTIAL that the acoustician be an integral part of the design team, rather than only being consulted when someone considers it necessary. I can assure you from experience as an acoustician on several similar projects that being involved early and as part of the design team results in a much better end result and is usually more cost effective that trying to fix things, or get money for essential items after budgets have been set.

    Good luck

    Larry Elliott

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