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SIA Acoustics

The Mount Sinai Medical Center--a working hospital, not a venue--was host to over 1,400 guests for its 20th anniversary Crystal Ball gala. The annual fundraising event is held in the hospital’s acoustically-challenging I.M. Pei-designed atriums where conditions are far from ideal for event production and clear speech and high-quality sound are concerns: the spaces are constructed of concrete, steel and glass. Additionally, the design team was faced with a situation where the primary function of the location was not event-oriented but purely medical. A solution with minimal impact on the hospital itself was of the utmost importance.

New York’s SIA Acoustics enlisted New York’s Scharff Weisberg to provide the elaborate audio and video presentation systems for the event, which consisted of a special video program, VIP addresses and dancing with music by New York party icon Tom Finn. The gala extended across three separate areas of the hospital: the Guggenheim Pavilion, Cummings Atrium and Annenberg lobby.

SIA Acoustics and the event design team worked together to integrate acoustical treatment, audio, and visual systems as design elements in the overall aesthetic scheme. Overall, the design included 18 plasma screens, 16 projectors, two discrete sound systems and a series of acoustical treatments.

An Acoustical Challenge

A principle challenge of the Mount Sinai location was the acoustics of the Cummings Atrium. Applications of velour and a series of 624 acoustical panels were hung above the event area and effectively improved the room’s broadband reverberation time from over 3.5 seconds to a manageable 1.5 seconds. The acoustical treatments were especially effective at absorbing low-frequency energy and improving the overall tonal balance.

Two separate sound systems were specified to provide audio reinforcement for the event. The primary system provided coverage for the entire event space and was used for speeches and a small instrumental combo. The second system was designed to contain sound on the dance floor, and was configured to maintain a comfortable atmosphere for people at surrounding tables while creating a narrow strip of high sound-pressure levels for dancers.
The dance system consisted of six Meyer M2D/M2D-Sub pairs mounted on a custom rigging frame and aimed directly at the floor. In this manner, the dance floor was covered with high SPL direct sound and reflections from the floor were absorbed by the overhead acoustical panels. Overall, more than 100 Meyer Sound self-powered loudspeakers were suspended from a glass ceiling from more than 60 chain motors. An additional 81 Meyer M1D, 23 UPJ-1P, 10 UPM-1P and four MM-4 loudspeakers plus four Tannoy i9 column speakers were utilized to cover the remaining areas of the atrium and lobby.

“The long line arrays of M1Ds were for control, not volume,” says Sockey. “We wanted to design a system that really put sound where we needed it. With a line array, increasing the number of elements results in greater low-frequency pattern control. The acoustical treatment was designed to work with the sound system and create a great amount of overall directionality.” Meyer MAPP prediction software was used to predict splay angles for the arrays, determine off-axis loudspeaker response and ensure that excess sound energy was effectively absorbed. As such, array configuration and placement were able to be completely predetermined.

All loudspeakers were fed by BSS Soundweb 9088 and 9088ii processors, networked by a 9000 hub. These units were flown from the trussing in custom frames and distributed throughout the event area to minimize cable runs from the processors to the loudspeakers. Feeds from Schoeps podium microphones, the strolling musician and the DJ’s outboard mix were mixed with a Yamaha DM1000 digital mixing console.

“I can’t imagine doing a job of this complexity without the self-powered loudspeakers,” says Sockey. “We simply ran Cat-5 cable around to the network of Soundwebs. Without amp racks to deal with, we ran very short audio lines to the Meyer loudspeakers, nearly all of which we could control individually. It was a straightforward, elegant solution.”

Scharff Weisberg vice president Scott Schachter says, “Given the unique aspects of the space, having a distributed sound system of that size and proportion made it that much tougher to coordinate, set up and run. The quality of Meyer speakers and the quality of the preproduction Steve (Sockey) gives to every event allowed the systems to perform to expectation and beyond.”

In addition to providing all loudspeakers, processors and microphones for the event, Scharff Weisberg also supplied video and projection equipment. In the Guggenheim Pavilion, three rear-projection 9x12-foot Stumpfl screens were suspended from the ceiling and illuminated by Barco R12 and R10 projectors. Fifteen 42- and three 61-inch NEC plasma screens were also employed to help cover the audience area. Delay screens were also used with NEC XT Nighthawk projectors. Each screen had two projectors for increased image intensity and redundancy, and all projection was fed by a Watchout system, Digital Betacam decks, two Sony DXC-D50WSL cameras and one Steadicam, routed through a Grass Valley Kayak switcher.

Teamwork Pays Off

Despite the complexity of the project and the numerous audio and video components utilized, careful coordination between SIA and Scharff Weisberg allowed the equipment delivery, setup and breakdown to progress smoothly. “In my mind, Scharff Weisberg is the best company for a special event like this because of their attention to detail,” states SIA Acoustics Steve Sockey. “Even though I was pulling from different areas of Scharff Weisberg--audio, video and lighting (for electric)--the entire company worked as one. Nothing was lost, orders were filled verbatim and our needs were met without question. Scharff Weisberg really acted as a contributing partner to the team and made the entire job fun.”

Mount Sinai’s director of special events, Eileen Solomon, feels that SIA’s efforts were well-received by the 1,400 guests, who contributed a combined $3.2 million to the institution. “The positive feedback has been extraordinary. People were able to carry on conversations over dinner but then have the music just the way they wanted on he dance floor where it sounded as good as the hottest clubs in town.”

Scharff Weisberg specializes in audio, video, lighting and post-production technology for the corporate, social, arts and theater communities. For more information on Scharff Weisberg, call 212.582.4705 or visit its website at

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