MECC upgrades for convention centre flexibility and Soundscape ready arts hub.
Mackay, Queensland, is located about 380 kms south of Townsville and just shy of 1000 kms north of Brisbane. For the record, no one’s quite sure if Mackay is in Central Queensland or North Queensland, since there’s no real line on the ground to define these regions, but it’s certainly in the tropics. Mackay has been growing fast over the last fifty years and in 1988, with the community expanding rapidly, the Mackay Entertainment Centre (MEC) was opened.
With its 1100 seat, single level, raked auditorium, the theatre immediately became an important cog in Stage Queensland (previously NARPACA), a string of performing arts centres stretching from northern NSW right up to Cairns which is definitely in Far North Queensland. It was a ready-made circuit that hosted almost every regional touring act in Australia.
Next, the need for a convention-style building to complement the theatre was recognized, and so constructing the Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre (MECC) began in 2008. The end result is a single, large, flat floored venue that can be divided into two spaces, Hall A, and Hall B.
Fast forward to 2017 and the rigours of constant use, and the humid climate, had taken their toll on all the PA systems, and MECC’s Head of Audio, Mark Blake, began to sow the seeds for replacing the sound reinforcement equipment throughout the entire complex.
Right from the beginning, the MECC worked closely with d&b Partner NAS Solutions to design a networked system that could cleverly cater for both the convention centre, and the theatre where possible, to avoid doubling-up on components that could otherwise be shared by the two venues.
As far as Mark is concerned, the real challenge is the future. He’s a strong advocate for identifying what will be expected in technical terms in ten years’ time, rather than opting for what may be the best of current thinking now but risks rapid obsolescence.
Blake firmly believes immersive audio systems like Soundscape will become the norm rather than the exception, and that programming any kind of performance be it music, theatre, even corporate extravaganzas will be a priority for producers in the future - with the expectation that immersive audio will often be available.
Right from the beginning, the MECC worked closely with NAS Solutions to design a networked system that could cleverly cater for both the convention centre, and the theatre where possible, to avoid doubling-up on components that could be shared by the two venues. Eventually the system design was finalised and part one of the project, the theatre install, was completed in 2018 by HME.
Next came part two and Diversified won the contract for the convention centre and the vital task of linking everything together via the network. It became a matter of working around the MECC’s crowded schedule and accommodating tight windows of opportunity to get the projects done. “I think a few people got a bit nervous on occasions,” Blake admits, “wondering if we were going to get away with the short time-frames.” Diversified gets a big thumbs-up. “Diversified were so easy to deal with, they solved problems fast, and if I wanted something done differently, they never questioned that and just got on with the job.”
As for what caused those tight time frames, Diversified wins the prize for the best explanation. “The biggest challenge was the impact of the 2021 Suez Canal obstruction,” says Hodge. “This caused the d&b shipment to be delayed meaning the PA wasn’t available to install as originally planned but arrived during a busy events season. We had to work around MECC’s packed calendar to deliver the project on time.” Yep, that’s way better than the dog ate the project plans.
With the theatre being much more of a traditional performance space, the audio is a truly modern configuration to take advantage of the added Soundscape capability when it’s employed. The left, right, and centre speaker placement of Y-Series line source loudspeakers is augmented by flown cardioid Vi subwoofers either side of the centre array, a pair of B22 floor subwoofers left and right, and a spread of six E6 loudspeakers as imaging front fill across the lip of the stage. The E6s can be derigged if the stage apron, which doubles as an orchestra pit, is raised flush with the main stage, and on rare occasions are placed around the front lip of the raised apron as front row fill for low level events such as lectures or business presentations.
The convention centre is a huge flat floor space that can be divided into Halls A and B, although you could say that both ‘halls’ and ‘convention centre’ are something of a misnomer when you consider the full, state-of-the-art PA installed. A complete system of flown left and right arrays, a pair of flown subs plus floor subs, left and right front imaging fills and two centre fill loudspeakers all combine into an impressive concert rig that has absolutely everything covered — you can leave the touring rig back at the motel. A pair of flown delay speakers halfway down the room can be used as a main PA in Hall B if that space is created (by deploying a moveable, dividing wall that allows for two separate venues at once), and a portable d&b system is on site as a more practical solution for smaller events.
Everything is networked together and Blake with his team, through the R1 software, can configure the entire system throughout the theatre, Halls A and B in the convention centre, and the main foyer into any variable required. It’s clever stuff.
Given the different MECC spaces and their uses, it’s a triumph in system innovation and design, and a large feather in the cap of NAS and Diversified to complete a complex and significant project with a professional minimum of fuss.
Blake is still looking to the future by running workshops with local music and theatrical groups about the possibilities of Soundscape and how immersive audio can be incorporated into upcoming productions. He’s not going to wait for touring productions to arrive with immersive audio designs; the system is there for everyone to get excited about and use to its full potential. Along with everyone at the MECC, Blake’s aim is to establish the Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre as an industry leader, and one of the most sought after venues for conventions and touring performances alike. Thanks to the MECC’s vision, NAS Solutions, Diversified, and Soundscape, that’s already well and truly achieved.
Thanks to for NAS / AV Technology Asia Pacific Magazine for letting us reproduce this story