'The Raft of the Medusa' in an airplane hangar: Immersive sound experience with d&b Soundscape.

The Raft of the Medusa, a powerful oratorio, was performed over the course of seven evenings in the fall of 2023 in a hangar on the grounds of the former Berlin-Tempelhof Airport. The main playing area was a water basin flanked by tiered seats. Audio solutions from d&b audiotechnik ensured that the audience could enjoy an impressive sound experience with precise localization in the acoustically challenging setting. The use of d&b Soundscape played a key role here.

Sound engineer Holger Schwark, who was responsible for the production’s audio design, reported that when he first saw the stage layout and the stands facing one another, it quickly became clear to him that a conventional L/R or L/C/R setup would not be the right solution for the sound system.

Schwark opted to use a d&b Soundscape system, citing the fact that “the central DS100 processor can provide several independent multichannel sums simultaneously and at the right time” as a particular advantage. “The sound system is particularly inconspicuous when the sound reaches the ears of the audience at the right moment together with the original sound event,” says Schwark. “Wherever possible, unamplified and amplified signals should not arrive more than 15 milliseconds apart. In this case, the synchrony in the hangar is different for the stand on the west side than for the stand on the east side, changing with each new position of the performers.”

The sound system in the hangar consisted of four different segments:

  • West stand: Four main arrays, each featuring nine d&b T10 loudspeakers, facing inward
  • East stand: Four main arrays, each featuring nine d&b T10 loudspeakers, facing inward
  • West orchestra: 2 x 4 d&b Y8 loudspeakers facing the west stand as a two-channel Soundscape system for localization, plus four flown Y-SUBs to complement the bass
  • East orchestra: 2 x 4 d&b Y8 loudspeakers facing the east stand as a two-channel Soundscape system for localization, plus four flown Y-SUBs to complement the bass

“The decision to position four main arrays either side of the central water basin can be regarded as hitting the sweet spot between localization accuracy and budget in terms of the desire to achieve the best possible result,” said Holger Schwark in response to the question about the otherwise rarely encountered quadruple Soundscape constellation as the main sound system. The number of subwoofers was perfectly sufficient for the musical content; particularly low frequencies were produced by the electric bass, electric organ, and large drums rather than the voices. As such, the subs were flown with appropriate time alignment on the side of the hall close to the orchestra.

For monitoring on the wet main playing area, the sound designer chose eight point source loudspeakers (d&b Y7P), which delivered sound to the performers from above. The amplifiers used were d&b D20s, distributed across two amp cities. d&b ArrayCalc was used for planning and simulation.

The Soundscape system installed in the hangar included two d&b DS100 processors connected to the two engines of a powerful digital console via Dante cards. The redundant setup provided additional peace of mind; only one system was actively used for The Raft of the Medusa.

The Raft of the Medusa was staged over the course of seven evenings in September and October 2023. The sold-out performances were part of a project initiated by the Komische Oper Berlin, with the idea of staging a major production at an unusual location in the city on the Spree at the beginning of each season while work continues to renovate the main building. Hangar 1 on the site of the disused Tempelhof Airport was chosen for the opening event. With an area occupying 6,000 square meters, the location gave director Tobias Kratzer, set designer Rainer Sellmaier, and conductor Titus Engel plenty of space to realize the monumental work with 83 choral singers, over 40 extras, 20 choristers from a boys’ choir, 82 musicians, and three soloists.

The hall, which is normally used for other purposes, was completely emptied for the performances, enabling the set designer to create a new world in the hangar, the central element of which was a basin measuring 24 x 20 meters, filled knee-high with water, flanked on the long sides by stands. Each of these stands provided seating for around 700 guests as well as members of the choir. When empty, the hangar had a reverberation time of around 9 seconds, which was cut to less than half that figure thanks to suitable measures.

The audio design concept for The Raft of the Medusa was developed by sound designer Holger Schwark in conjunction with Sebastian Lipski, who is head of the sound department at the Komische Oper. MMT was commissioned with the task of optimizing the acoustics in combination with the immersive sound reinforcement concept, which included managing the planning and tendering process. Neumann&Müller secured the tender for the sound and video, while TSE AG provided the rigging and lighting. The role of system technician was shared by César Catalan and Ivo Lange.

Tracking solutions were not used in The Raft of the Medusa. Instead of automatic tracking, manual work was therefore called for in the hangar: “Snapshots and cross-fades only help to a limited extent, not least because the positions of the performers change with each performance,” explained Holger Schwark. “Accordingly, sound engineer Simon Böttler is supported at the FOH by Kaspar Schwabe, who controls the object positions of the solo microphones in d&b En-Scene based on the action during the performances.”

On behalf of d&b audiotechnik, Stefan “Serge” Gräfe (d&b Soundscape Enablement Team) was on hand in an advisory capacity during the production. “Only a few questions arose in the course of the project, mainly concerning the En-Snap cue automation software from Gareth Owen Sound. d&b issued the appropriate licenses for the project,” Gräfe reported. “It is perhaps also worth mentioning that we used experimental firmware for Soundscape to assist Holger with some specific tasks. Such a project is also interesting for us to see whether certain features could also be of interest to a wider group of users in the future.”

Our aim was for the audience to perceive the sound as if no amplification had been used. That is why we opted for a special sound reinforcement concept that worked amazingly well. If you closed your eyes, the localization was excellent despite the difficult ambient conditions: You really believed that the voices were coming from the actors’ respective positions, even though the sound information in any given location may have mainly come from the loudspeakers.
Simon Böttler, Sound Engineer
I don’t know how we could have managed it as well without Soundscape. The use of d&b Soundscape on The Raft of the Medusa was a first for me, and I have to say that with Soundscape, the sound is very natural and just feels right.
Simon Böttler, Sound Engineer
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