Performance Artists

Momentary—a 63,000-square-foot former cheese factory in Bentonville, AR, that has been recommissioned into a multidisciplinary arts center for visual and performing arts—features a d&b audiotechnik Soundscape audio system.
(Image credit: d&b audiotechnik)

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the prospect of hosting large gatherings, the performing arts industry faced its share of challenges.

As performing arts centers contend with shrinking physical footprints and the growing popularity of multiuse facility design, audio manufacturers have been developing solutions to meet both current and anticipated future needs. But with indoor venues heading outdoors and facility administrators improvising other atypical arrangements in efforts to abide by social distancing regulations, some venues are finding that products already exist that will satisfy their evolving audio requirements. 

Scroll through the gallery below to see the latest audio products for performing arts venues.

“With the need for high-performing, rider-friendly systems, d&b has made installation variants of our mobile systems a standard issue, established several series of dedicated installation loudspeakers, and formed a custom solutions shop that includes not only paint but texture, custom rigging, and weatherization options to suit architectural, aesthetic and environmental requirements,” said Marc Lopez, vice president of marketing for the Americas at d&b audiotechnik.

Soundscape may be d&b’s most ambitious undertaking toward that end. The software-based audio processing system specializes in room emulation and sound object positioning by creating and modifying reverberation signatures derived from acoustic measurements of “seven internationally renowned performance venues” and loudspeaker placements.

“Soundscape elevates the engagement and experience for an audience while also providing a huge amount of versatility for a performing arts space to accommodate artistic and acoustic requirements for a wide range of programming,” added Lopez. It accomplishes this “through precise aural localization, reverberation enhancement, and spatial immersion,” with the idea of making “every seat the best seat in the house” by “evolv[ing] and adapt[ing] to new challenges that a performance space may have.”

The system has found a home at venues like the Momentary, a 63,000-square-foot former cheese factory in Bentonville, AR, that has been recommissioned into a multidisciplinary arts center for visual and performing arts, culinary experiences, festivals, and artists-in-residence. Icelandic electro-pop group FM Belfast and Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett are among the artists who have performed there.

“Pop/rock acts realize there is an amazing amount of headroom for an impactful show due to [Soundscape’s] object-based mixing format,” he said. “Sound designers have detailed creative control and flexibility for a theatrical production, while choral groups and symphonies can perform in a lush concert hall-like environment.”

d&b audiotechnik’s latest entry in the performing arts center market is the just-released 44S flush-mountable loudspeaker. Loaded with two-way dual 4.5-inch drivers and dual 1.25-inch dome tweeters, the unit can be inset into stages or stairs for front fills, or surface-mounted into the ceiling of an under-balcony area. The low-profile 44S is designed to be visually unnoticeable but deliver impactful and consistent fill-in sound for the main sound system.

Pierre Germain, design manager for the Constellation solution at Meyer Sound, noted a trend away from building large concert halls in favor of medium- and small-sized multipurpose venues that predates COVID-19. He cited the Meyer Sound Constellation as a solution for these venues, “as it can create the acoustics of larger rooms, such as concert halls and large churches, not to mention optimizing the acoustics of venues for jazz, drama, soloists, and small ensembles.”

Constellation integrates loudspeakers, microphones, and digital processing in an algorithmic approach to controlling reverberation time, early reflections, and other ingredients vital to the sonic clarity, warmth, and resonance of a space.

“Working alongside traditional passive acoustic treatment,” he said, “Constellation allows end users to change a room’s acoustics at the touch of a button, instantaneously, to suit various types of performances, such as a longer reverberation time for a choral group, or short reverberation time for a piano recital.”

Constellation lets venues reconfigure the acoustic environment for each performance, whether they’re hosting symphony performances and opera or touring shows such as concerts and Broadway musicals. It’s currently used in 140 installations, including the largest deployment at the Steven Tanger Center for the Performing Arts in Greensboro, NC, which was designed to host touring performances and handle the relatively lower-capacity needs of the Greensboro Symphony.

“The symphony would have preferred a 1,600-seat symphonic concert hall, but [nearby] Guilford College’s Bryan series and Broadway series were selling double that number,” said Matt Brown, managing director of the Greensboro Coliseum Complex that includes the center. “We needed to acoustically accommodate both. That led to a thorough education on electroacoustic technology,” which led them to Constellation.

In a world transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Germain said the challenge musical ensembles face is having to play farther apart from each other because of social distancing rules. “Constellation can help musicians hear each other better through the use of our electronic stage shells,” he said, while “audience areas can benefit from Constellation’s Audience Enhancement, [which] makes the room sound bigger [and] provides the audience with the feeling they are among a larger group of people.”

Kevin Kimmel, a systems application engineer at Yamaha, noted a related need for these downsized performing arts centers: a smaller area calls for a more space-conscious audio solution. “The demand for more advanced technologies at performing arts centers has been on the rise, as well as the ongoing demand for a smaller footprint at FOH,” he said.

That trend led Yamaha to create the Rivage PM3 and PM5 mixing consoles, which are smaller in size than the PM7 and PM10 but carry the same mixing capacity. Each model in the lineup is outfitted with free low-latency plug-ins that don’t require an external computer or server.

“This allows for a small footprint and gives the mix engineer and sound designers a huge palette of tools to accomplish the growing demands of live sound,” said Kimmel. “Products with a smaller footprint allow more seats to be sold.”

In addition, Yamaha’s MTX and MRX series of matrix processors help meet the need for control and connectivity throughout a venue. “They’re ideal for programming background music, announcements, and power cycling, as well as enabling local wall controllers and iPad control in rehearsal rooms,” he added.

No matter how long the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, its effects are already obvious and significant. Kimmel noted that performing arts centers of all sizes will most likely have smaller budgets in the foreseeable future and will need to make those audio dollars work extra hard.

“Products like these, with smaller footprints but still loaded with features, make it possible to have a FOH system double as a portable system for auxiliary rooms and outdoor events,” he said.

Venues that open with capacity limitations and distanced seating arrangements, Lopez added, will require a consistent audio experience, even sound coverage, and balanced tonality throughout the entire audience area. “For venues that can offer performances outside, Soundscape can provide an audio experience that simulates the acoustics of an indoor venue.” 

Jim Beaugez is a freelance writer and content creator for the AV, professional audio, and music industries. His work has been published by Systems Contractor News, Pro Sound News, Mix, Radio World, and The Recording Academy, as well as Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Guitar World, Guitar Player, and other consumer publications. He previously worked in communications for the pro audio and musical instruments industries.