11 July 2017

Neutral sound reinforcement preserves unique concert hall character

At the heart of Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center is the Laura Turner Concert Hall, home to the Nashville Symphony. When musicians perform in this 1,800 capacity room they relish its warmth and clarity. Mark Dahlen is the resident front of house sound engineer: “This is a purpose built shoebox concert hall. It’s definitely very lively acoustically, and it’s as much a player in what the audience hears as the sound reinforcement system.”

However, in recent years, as the hall’s concert activity has increased with popular music shows, the Nashville Symphony has learned that sound reinforcement can itself be a challenge in such a responsive acoustic environment. Steve Brosvik is the venue’s Chief Operating Officer: “The Schermerhorn is a fine symphony hall, and that’s what we are first and foremost. But we also want to have a comparable reputation for concerts involving amplified sound. We want to be the best at both. The Schermerhorn is now ten years old. The audio solution we had in place previously was state of the art when it was installed, but we knew there had been great advances and wanted to stay at the forefront of providing the best listening environment for both audience and musicians.”

Brosvik explains the route to what ultimately became a d&b solution, designed and installed by Spectrum Sound. “When you amplify an orchestra, it’s usually very easy to identify that it has been amplified — string instruments can often sound processed. What determined our choice was this: we went to a local sound convention here in Nashville and listened to twelve different manufacturers’ systems. From that experience, reinforced by our other research and discussions with our original room acousticians, we selected a shortlist of several that had potential and asked them to give a listening demonstration in the hall. For the whole team – musicians, technicians and myself included – there was no question: the d&b boxes were the ones – they just sounded extremely natural.”

“Everything we installed had to improve the listening experience,” adds Dahlen, “but also to complement the aesthetics of the room. Then we apply ArrayProcessing to hit the front row without disturbing the performers onstage. These seats and the ones to the side now have a completely different listening experience, almost like being in a different room.”

Brosvik: “Throughout the development process, we have been in constant communication with the musicians and their leadership and asked them what they could hear and what they thought. The flexibility of this system has allowed us to stop sending unhelpful reflected sound energy back to the stage. We want our musicians to only have to focus on making music. When the environment onstage feels uncomfortable or even oppressive, they have to resort to ear protection and are not able to focus as well. We know from our regular discussions with the musicians that they are playing in a much more comfortable environment, and one they can enjoy.”

“Most important,” Dahlen concludes, “the essential character of Laura Turner Concert Hall remains thoroughly intact — an important consideration, given the venue’s reputation and its loyal audience. The room hasn’t changed; it still responds the same way, but now we are able to address it in a much more efficient way, and everyone, audience and orchestra alike, is able to enjoy that.”