Long before the Disney Concert Hall made its mark on the Los Angeles landscape, there was the Hollywood Bowl. Built in 1929 as an outdoor summer home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl's curved acoustic shell is a beloved cultural icon located just up the road from the new Kodak Theatre, used for the Academy Awards, at Hollywood and Highland. At the end of last season, the venue was closed for major renovations; it re-opened in June with state-of-the-art technology and a new, larger shell, replacing a series of “improvements” that had been made over the years.

With seating for just under 18,000 people, the Hollywood Bowl is currently home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and a full roster of jazz, rock, and pop concerts that take place over the summer. The old stage was flattened last October to make way for a new and improved Hollywood Bowl whose stage is 30% larger than the old one, and now incorporates a 50' diameter turntable. Visually, the most apparent change in the look of the Hollywood Bowl is a 29,000 lb. (14.5 tons) acoustic canopy that “floats” over the stage, jutting out over the apron at a jaunty 10° angle.

The design architect for the renovations is Hodgetts + Fung Design and Architecture of Culver City, CA, with Gruen Associates of Los Angeles as executive architects. Fisher Dachs Associates in New York City served as theatre consultants, working closely with acousticians at Jaffe Holden Acoustics, based in Norwalk, CT, and the architects on the design of the acoustic canopy.


“We provided the acoustic requirements to the architects and theatre consultants, who translated those needs into what the canopy looks like,” notes Chris Jaffe, principal acoustician at Jaffe Holden, who has been fine-tuning outdoor acoustics for almost 40 years. “I have been at the outdoor game for a long time.” (His work goes back to New York City's Mosley Pavilion with Leonard Bernstein in 1965, as well as the Blossom and Ravinia music festivals.)

The new Hollywood Bowl canopy has a large ellipse, or halo, that surrounds four acoustic trusses that can be moved up and down. Each one supports a different number of moveable panels (there are 29 in total) that can be angled, or “tuned” for various sections of the orchestra (strings, woodwinds, percussion and brass, and a chorus, for example). “The goal is to balance one section of the orchestra to another, from the high powered instruments in the rear to the lighter strings in the front,” says Jaffe. “This allows the orchestra members to hear themselves better. I like to call it the art of applying the science of acoustics.”

“At the Hollywood Bowl, with that many people outdoors, you need a sound reinforcement system and a sound engineer who needs to mike each individual section so they don't bleed from one to another,” he continues. “The volume of the shell itself creates reverb and gives the orchestra more of an indoor feeling. This has a big impact on what is delivered to the box seats in the front of the audience. They hear a more natural sound. The sound reinforcement is blended from there back.”

The sound designer for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Holly-wood Bowl is Fred Vogler of Vogler Audio Media in Culver City. He revised the sound reinforcement system at the Bowl to include the Yamaha PM1D digital console that was used last season as well. “Now all the patching is on stage, with the control surface front of house like a giant, virtual mouse,” says Vogler. The brains are in the patch room on stage left, with a digital feed to the Lake Contour (an Australian company with US offices in San Francisco) processing system and Lab Gruppen amps from Sweden.

The loudspeakers, primarily L'-Acoustics V-DOSC, include a left/center/right array with 50' tall clusters with V-DOSC, dV-DOSC, and sub-woofers on the right and left, 21 dV-DOSC boxes in the center, and downfills on the front end of the acoustic canopy and along the apron of the stage. “There is a lot of V-DOSC in the air, and they cover the entire 450' to the back of the audience. You hear stereo effects all the way back and there is a lot of coherence in the system. The line array serves our kind of amplification better,” says Vogler. “Concert tours that come to the Holly-wood Bowl are beginning to use our speakers with their own consoles. They send a feed to the amps and speakers.”

The Lake Contour processing offers high-quality EQ. “The adjustments are very musical,” says Vogler. “There is a lot of flexibility and an infinite supply of filters. You can really shape the equalization using the control in your system.” The system also has a wireless remote and tablet controller, allowing Vogler to walk around the venue and EQ the system. “The pre-set modes are locked in,” he explains. “If a tour comes in and overlays their own EQ, they can make changes and not effect our pre-sets.”

In referring to the new acoustic canopy, Vogler notes, “the panels on the canopy can be adjusted for the orchestra to hear itself better, and the players are positioned for a perfect balance that is captured and sent out to the audience. When the orchestra is placed in a different position, we use a different pre-set for the canopy.”


The elliptical acoustic canopy is a complicated piece of stage machinery.

The Los Angeles office of MICE Creative undertook the construction management of the project that was designed, built, and installed by a team of specialists including Total Structures (aluminum truss system and acoustic panels), LA Propoint (theatrical rigging and show control installation), Proskenion Design (show control design and installation), JR Clancy (custom winches), Hopper Elmore and Associates (structural engineers), and International Rigging (temporary rigging and installation).

Made primarily of aluminum, the elliptical canopy stretches 78' from front to back, 66' across, and has an integral catwalk along the outer ring accessed by a technical bridge from the back of the shell (this allows up to three stage technicians to access lighting equipment). The underside of the aluminum perimeter ring is covered with fiberglass panels with a burnished gold finish (made by Projex International).

The four acoustic trusses are designed with end sections that lower by motorized hoists to form an arch. Once this is done the trusses can fly up and store inside the baffles of the shell. The outer ring stage left and stage right has removable sections each 44' long. “When lowered to the stage they split into two 22' long sections. The sections have their own wheeled storage carts that cradle the unit and allow the crew to store the sections backstage,” says Chris Patrick, MICE Creative president and general manager. “When this is complete, the new Hollywood Bowl has a 60'×60' center stage space for a rock and roll rig or large scenic elements. When the drop-out sections are removed the downstage ring over the front of the stage and the upstage section remain in place.”

The entire canopy is supported at a 10° angle below the main roof structure by inclined tubular steel struts. The canopy is hung from the underside of the shell by sixteen 8” diameter steel tubes that locate onto eight steel node positions on the outer canopy ring.

Inside the ellipse are the four cross-stage, 4'-tall triangular trusses that support the acoustic panels, plus three lighting battens, also fabricated by Total Structures. The acoustic panels are clad with 3/16” thick semi-opaque Makrolon sheet. A fourth lighting batten is flown under the access bridge to the acoustic canopy at the back of the shell. One more lighting bar is located on the inside radius of the ring. There is also a track inside for a sunscreen that is used during daytime rehearsals. “One of LA's best kept secrets is that anyone can sit in the auditorium and listen to the rehearsals for free,” says Patrick.

The 29 adjustable panels on the acoustic trusses add flexibility. “These open like butterfly wings to help control the sound,” Patrick continues. “The panels can be positioned to achieve the best possible acoustics for the new Bowl. Each panel is hinged at the bottom of the truss and rotates with the use of electrically powered actuator arms from 15° below horizontal through to vertical (for storage). The system can be preset in different configurations for orchestral, choral, jazz or special event.”

“This is the only outdoor canopy of its kind,” says John Dunne, senior project manager for MICE Creative. “It is fully automated and more articulated than some indoor canopies. You can move all 29 panels on the four trusses together, in groups, or solo. Once the panels are set you can record the locations and do a pre-set. Initially, 20 pre-sets were programmed in, but this can be increased to 80 or 100,” he adds.

“This is one of the most complex, challenging and ultimately rewarding projects that we have been involved with in recent years”, says Peter Hind, vice-president for engineering at Total Structures, “The finished product is stunning and John Dunne's contribution cannot be underestimated. He was under enormous pressure and stress which lesser men could not have handled.”

The acoustic canopy is automated using a custom-configured Mitsubishi show control system which employs the use of a Mitsubishi PLC with touch screen user interface and touch screen hand-held pendants. The System was designed and installed by Duncan MacKenzie of Proskenion in Ranier, OR, who also designed the electro-mechanical actuation and articulation system for the end sections of the acoustic trusses. The main user interface control panel is at stage level downstage left. The handheld pendants can be plugged in at stage level as well and/or in the upper ring level so that full visibility of all moving elements can be provided to the crew when moving the panels or the drop-out sections in and out of show position.

“This was a very unusual rigging project because of the shape of the canopy,” says Mark Riddlesperger of LA Pro-point. “There are 70 rigging points in the roof of the bowl,” he points out. “They had to put in extra steel in the new shell to support the loft blocks, mule blocks, and head blocks.” Each truss (the four acoustic trusses and three lighting battens) has four lifting points, as do the dropout side sections of the canopy ring, for a total of 36 points. In addition to these 36 lift lines, there are nine head blocks and 25 mule blocks for a total of 70 points.

“The mule blocks are used to route cables around steel, HVAC ducts, and other things that were put in the way of cable that needed to be routed to the trusses for lifting,” says Riddlesperger. (He notes that for future projects that have started to put “no fly zones” on their drawings to indicate that nothing should be hung in certain places to avoid this problem, or at least point out to the other trades and contractors that a warning was issued.)

“The really challenging thing was attaching all the mule and loft blocks in exactly the right places. You have to be able to move the trusses up and down in a fixed position within an arched shell and an elliptical ring oriented in the horizontal plane at a 10° angle. This magnified the intensity of the project,” says Riddlesperger, who worked with JR Clancy on a series of custom-made drum winches used to raise and lower the trusses. “These winches have a redundant braking system, which is capable of holding 200% of the fully intended load,” he notes. “These brakes are redundant to the internal electric motor brake, and are pneumatically actuated caliper brakes used to hold or park the cable drum when it is not actually in use.”

Another thing unusual about the rigging is that four lift lines are wrapping onto a single drum. “Typically there would be a single cable per drum, but in this case we opted for a direct simultaneous lift with all four cables, thus eliminating the need for synchronizing multiple cable drums or winch motors,” Riddlesperger explains. The winches have various capacities, ranging from 2,000 lbs. for the lighting battens, to 6,000 lbs. for the first two acoustic reflectors, 4,500 lbs. for the next two reflectors, and 6,000 lbs. for the end sections of the ring. “We used a Dyform-6 extruded cable just 3/8” in diameter. It is a non-rotational, high-strength cable typically used for cranes. It has twice the strength as normal aircraft cable typically used in theatrical rigging applications,” adds Riddlesperger, who notes that the cable was purchased from Ver Sales in Burbank, CA.

“Since this type of cable is not typically used with Nico Press swaged terminations, additional load testing was performed to verify that the standard Nico Press fittings would work with the DYform-6 with no slippage,” says Riddlesperger. “We had to specially prepare each connection point above and beyond the norm prior to swaging a sleeve into place. It was quite a learning experience, but at least we know it can be done safely and reliably.”

MICE Creative rented Playa Vista Film Studios (the home of the famous Hughes aircraft hangar, on the west side of Los Angeles, where the Spruce Goose was constructed) to test build the acoustic canopy. Each element was trucked by Production Transport Services to Playa Vista and assembled using chain motors to put the pieces in place and flown for the first time at the 10° angle. “We did all the pre-wiring there, and as much other pre-assembly and install work as we could before we took it to the Bowl. We showed it to the architects and design team,” notes Riddlesperger. “We are very proud of this project. It was quite a feat.”


The new stage lighting system at the Hollywood Bowl was designed and specified by Richard Hoyes of Fisher Dachs, with a fiber-optic backbone between major control components and an extensive Ethernet DMX distribution system with 40 ETCNet 2 dual port nodes located throughout the facility. This allows any DMX device to be added and controlled from the 4600-channel ETC Obsession II with dual processors and a wireless remote focus unit. “This gives outside events the flexibility to bring their own control console and DMX devices and tie in to the system,” says Hoyes. The system also includes seven ETC Sensor dimmer racks and two portable 2.4kW dimmer packs, as well as an ETC Unison processor for the house lights. The electrical contractor was Dynalectric of Los Angeles, with Insul-8 providing cable management reels.

Now in their 16th season as in-house lighting directors for the Hollywood Bowl are Edward Kaye and Jay Winters of JK Design Group of Granada Hills, CA. “We do a rep plot for each season that is used by almost every show produced by the Los Angeles Philharmonic,” says Kaye. “The renovation allows rock shows to use their own rigs, with limited impact on the rep plot.”

Kaye also points out that this year, the lighting rig was enhanced in support of the in-house produced rock concerts. “We purchased 100 High End System Color Commands, and are going to order 20 more. They are hung in two components: on the shell itself, to light nine concentric baffles that are part of the design of the white structure; and as side wall and back wall washes,” he explains. “We are going to add another section of these fixtures on the floor to complete the lighting of the arc. This mimics something we always did before with conventional color changers.”

Kaye and Winters also work with other designers at the Hollywood Bowl, including Mark Meisenheimer, who lights the jazz concerts, and Kathy Pryzgoda, who lights the world music series and helps Winters with the Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts as well. Winters also does the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra concerts, with Maura McGuiness as his assistant. The head electrician is Bob Sockolich who has been with the venue for over 30 years. “His experience was put to use in the transition to the new stage,” says Winters.

The programmer and assistant electrician is Gil Sameulian (who also works frequently with LD Bob Dickinson). He uses a Martin Professional Maxxyz console, and the house plot also includes a variety of Martin automated luminaires including MAC2000 Profile and Performance units. The conventional fixtures, mostly PAR cans, have Wybron CSI color changers. “The addition of the CSIs and automated fixtures is important from a lighting design standpoint, in terms of color mixing,” says Winters. “It is most gratifying to shift fluidly from one color to another.” The rental portion of the rig comes from Fourth Phase/PRG in Burbank.

“The crew works hard to pull it all together, as there are very short turn around times,” notes Winters. “We also had to find a way to make the lighting battens in the canopy work for us. There is not a lot of space to hang fixtures. They also need to clear the acoustic reflectors when the panels are open. It requires careful coordination on the part of the riggers when things are moving.”

While there are many aspects of the lighting that have been improved, one unresolved concern is a lack of front lighting positions as the new canopy with its elliptical shape gives the LDs less linear footage parallel to the stage front. There may be other bugs to work out as well, but sitting out under the stars, listening to a classical music concert or rock and roll at the new Hollywood Bowl that has maintained its iconoclastic curved shape, audiences seem happy with the improvements to both stage and acoustics. Maybe it's not worth asking, in this case, if form should follow function.