The show goes on with a Soundscape enabled virtual acoustic shell at Edinburgh International Festival.

© Ryan Buchanan

Almost every summer since 1947, Scotland’s capital gives itself to the performing arts. The long-established Edinburgh International Festival brings audiences and artists together from far and wide for what is now undoubtedly one of the world’s most anticipated cultural events. For three weeks, festival-goers immerse themselves in live performance, in venues as illustrious as Usher Hall – the nation’s only five-star concert hall.

Like many public events, the outlook for the International Festival in 2021 was a little different. With Covid restrictions limiting the use of indoor venues, the festival looked to d&b Soundscape – and its acoustic shell – to unite the disparate worlds of classical music and sound reinforcement; to recreate the comfort and quality of the concert hall in a temporary open air environment.

Knowing they had a longstanding reputation for delivering exceptional classical performances, Edinburgh International Festival initiated an informal, exploratory, chat with sound design consultants, Sound Intermedia. With thousands of discerning listeners in mind, especially those accustomed to unamplified music, the necessary sound reinforcement would need to be imperceptible to the ears.

“A PA often brings an element of anxiety to classical musicians,” says founder Ian Dearden. “Of course, we’re always thinking about the audience experience, but you’re three quarters of the way there if you have performers who are comfortable and feel supported. And this year’s artists needed to feel at home playing in a tent.”

Early on Soundscape piqued the interest of Dearden and his colleague at Sound Intermedia, David Sheppard.

We’re forever watchful of who’s doing interesting stuff and have been following Soundscape’s development; we knew for this year’s festival it was the enablement tool we needed, especially the virtual acoustic shell.Ian Dearden, Founder at Sound Intermedia

“Generally speaking, the acoustic properties of a concert hall are essential for the natural amplification of acoustic and orchestral music,” explains d&b’s Adam Hockley. “So, what we’re really doing is asking audiences to suspend their disbelief. Not only to believe they’re sat inside a concert hall, but to experience music acoustically, as if it were unamplified from distances far greater than is typical in such venues. In this way Edinburgh has really demonstrated the power - and the subtlety - of the Soundscape toolkit.” 

Almost daily after a concert, Jonathan Green and Tim Hand received praise, thumbs up and compliments from departing audience members. On one occasion I witnessed two older chaps, who I would describe as experienced classical music purists, giving Tim an absolute raving review about how brilliant it sounded: ‘the best and most natural sounding amplified performance ever’. The press has also mentioned the clarity and subtlety of it all in several concert reviews.Tom Zwitserlood, Edinburgh International Festival’s Head of Sound

Zwitserlood describes further how the system can be used for everything from classical to cabaret.

d&b offers a lot of clarity, especially in the vocal range, which effects a lot of the shows we do. We’ve always found the brand a safe bet because it appears on so many artists’ riders. I know if I put d&b in front of them it’ll be something they are very comfortable with, they know it stands for quality. It makes their life easy, and stress free for the engineers, and that makes for a happy festival visitor.Tom Zwitserlood
© Ryan Buchanan
© Matt Beech

“Personally, I’m very pleased that everything worked out so well,” concludes Zwitserlood. “I think we can all pat each other on the back for the achievement. It was always going to be an International Festival year to remember for many reasons, but now, within that, it’ll also be a big golden positive memory for amazing sound too. Festival Director, Fergus Linehan recently touched on it, calling it a ‘miracle, universally lauded as an outstanding audio experience’. A big thanks to everyone for their hard work and dedication to make it work!”

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