Benaroya Hall: as good as it gets
For all its soggy rain swept days, Seattle is still blessed by its geography. Nestling on the Pacific coast, the mountainous hinterland of the Cascade Mountains to the East produces along the Columbia River valley, arguably some of the finest wines anywhere in the world. The Cabernet Sauvignons in particular, resonate with notes of red fruits and subtle tones of silky tannins that are frankly divine. Down in the city, the silky tones of the Benaroya Hall, the S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium in particular, resonate with the fundamentals of the Seattle Symphony in all its glory. And while the notes contain no red fruits, their articulation is effortless.
Opened in 1998, this is one of the last concert halls to be built in the US that was entirely devoted to the acoustic delights of a full orchestra; as such it has in recent years fallen foul of the irresistible movement towards multipurpose concert venues. As Mark Turpin from acoustic consultants Jaffe Holden so aptly pointed out, "You can’t build concert halls like that anymore; it's just not financially viable." The nub of the problem is when sound reinforcement becomes a necessity, "In Benaroya Hall there were two or three issues," continued Turpin. "Perhaps the most important consideration was that visiting productions could not easily, nor very successfully, fly a touring rig in the Hall. So whatever the final solution, an installed system needed to be rider friendly."
The resolution... led eventually to local specialist Carlson Audio Systems supplying a system founded upon the d&b audiotechnik V-Series. "We first thought about using the d&b T-Series," said Turpin. "We'd used this system in other locations and had good results. The Hall specifically wanted a small footprint and T-Series certainly fit that bill. We also needed a well behaved system, one that did what it said it would in the published performance data. A determining factor was that the V-Series is still relatively small, meaning that the left and right arrays determined by vertical coverage were long enough to give defined pattern control down to lower frequencies; that was important in a lively hall such as this."
As such installation designs go, this one is an essay in the benefits of Jaffe Holden's collaborative approach. "We obviously entered a dialogue with d&b's office in North Carolina," explained Mark Anderson, Audio Manger at the Hall, "But Mark Turpin already had lots of experience in other venues with d&b systems. He made the installation design calculations, and tuned and commissioned the system, sharing and discussing every decision along the way." Jonathan Stoverud-Myers who led the project for Carlson was likewise involved, "We already knew the room well, having taken audio equipment in there for many shows. Our familiarity with the V-Series on a day to day basis meant we could proffer ideas to Mark and he was open to that, so for us it was a delight to work with such a complementary talent as his; we learned a lot in that respect." It's worth emphasising how central that 'collaborative' element is to the Jaffe Holden ethos. "Our best systems are ones where we can work hand-in-hand with an established operating team," commented Turpin. "At the end of the day they are the ones who will run the room, not us."
There was one other criterion that made the V-Series solution attractive to the Hall, as Anderson explained. "Carlson was a good choice for us because of their close proximity to the venue. Mark Turpin was familiar with all the vendors, several were from out of state and all were considered, but a determinant was the limited time to make the installation. Benaroya Hall has a very busy schedule, so being geographically close meant such vendors had the ability to pop round for a few hours when time permitted, to do things like route cables, or fit amplifiers, prior to main installation. We did however allow one week in May for the main hangs to install, but everything else was pretty much piecemeal as time allowed. In fact that May week saw three days to install the loudspeakers and complete final wiring, giving us ample time to tune and familiarize ourselves with the new system."
Turpin is not one for hyperbole, but he was pleased with the outcome, "The response to the new system has been as good as it gets." Anderson is more illustrative of just how good that response was, "The first symphony event was a sort of Cotton Club era presentation, with many local talents performing in front of the Seattle Symphony. I mixed it and had a blast. The letters we got afterwards were amazing, just so many positive comments, 'I usually can't hear all the words, now I can hear every word.' The Seattle Symphony's Executive Director Simon Woods came to me after the first show and said, 'This has transformed the Hall.' Now that really is as good as it gets."