“Systems are bigger, the pool is bigger, goals and expectations were bigger, as well,” says Francois Bergeron, sound designer for House Of Dancing Water at City of Dreams in Macau, China. “Like any other show we have done with Franco, the overall intent is to provide a sound system that is high-quality yet as flexible as possible and can turn on a dime. As many decisions as possible are made directly in the theatre. That’s the beauty of live theatre and Franco’s process of build-as-you-go.”

The initial coverage and placement of loudspeakers were determined in January 2007, as the theatre design was set by that time. For this theatre-in-the-round, there are essentially eight Meyer Sound M’elodie line arrays in the center, broadcasting directly to the audience below. “There are three vertical tiers of surround sound with variable delay times plus overhead imaging using the Meyer Constellation system,” explains Vikram Kirby, associate sound designer. “For most of the audience, most of the surround sound arrives at the same time as the front sound. The low rear positions need more delay, but as you move forward in the seating area, the delay delta decreases.”

The big reason for the three levels of surround sound is the huge amount of H2O. “The closer you are to it, the louder the water is, especially when there are loud fountain effects, so we worked on the sound to make it more uniform,” Kirby adds. “The system has two gain taper settings to deal with the fountain noise. We’d turn up the speakers covering the audience near the water’s edge to get a better sense of the music over the effects. The system was designed so coverage would be even throughout the theatre.”

Bob McCarthy of Alignment and Design Inc. tuned the system so that, wherever you are in the theatre, there are just a few decibels of difference. “The Constellation system was used in the traditional way of electroacoustic architecture to make up for the fact that the room is dead,” adds Kirby, noting that 10,000 acoustic panels hanging around the room make it as dead as possible. Alan Crockett, an acoustic vibration specialist out of Hong Kong, helped dampen the resonance of the overhead winch trolleys.

“We wanted to play with and manipulate the shape of the reverberations—even within songs—so we can alter the emotions, be more dramatic when it’s not just in-the-box reverb,” says Kirby, who quotes McCarthy as saying, “With the Constellation system, we are all in the shower together, rather than the band in the shower and the audience in the desert.”

Using DMX via Art-Net protocol, the sound system looks like an extra projector in the video system. “They send us DMX-over-Ethernet, and the data is converted from Ethernet to Open Sound Control (OSC), and then goes to the LCS console and Meyer Matrix 3 audio show control system,” notes Bergeron. “Even with the sheer size of the system, space maps can send sound anywhere in the house at any time.”

“We source, or counter-source, to the immersive video projections to help let the audience know where to look,” Kirby adds. “With the video, the creation process was very loose, very open to experimentation. The system is so big and so flexible, a palette is available at the snap of a finger in rehearsal, so we could play with various ideas and combine them quickly. Then at night, we would ferret it out programmatically.”

Bergeron and Kirby are part of Thinkwell Group, Inc., which played a continuous role from the audio system design to the sound design. “From a design point of view, we knew how the system would respond and what kind of soundscapes and effects we wanted to generate,” says Bergeron. They also worked in conjunction with Theatre Projects Consultants, Inc., providing the specs and schematic drawing package for the sound and CCTV systems, and supervising the install done by Solotech, who provided the sound gear, including a range of Meyer Sound speakers (M’elodies, 600HP subwoofers, CQ-2s, UP-Juniors, UMP-1Ps, MM-4XPs, SB-2s, UPQ-2Ps, and UPJ-1Ps. For the full gear list, see below).

“We also did the site acceptance for the owners at Melco and then moved on the sound design once we delivered the theatre to ourselves—or the owner turned it over to Franco—and we changed hats,” Bergeron adds. “That’s the advantage of the turnkey package and an advantage to the owner. We inherit any of our own problems, if there are any.” After four site visits in 2008 and 2009, plus a month to commission the system, the sound designers were then on site from March through September this year for the creation of the show.

The sound designers used full remote control via the JazzMutant Lemur, a wired multi-touch control pad, as well as wireless control via an Apple iPad, with a wired proxy server at the control booth. “It un-tethers you,” notes Kirby. “François was able to walk around the theatre and see what the operator was doing; every time a button was pushed, the screen would update. He was able to see and hear how the show sounded from another point of view.”

The sound varies, from really loud with motorcycles or fountains, to softer for love scenes, with a four-person band behind glass that is part of the projection surface (you can or can’t see them, depending on the lighting). There is no live singing or speaking on stage; only sound effects, amplified props, or grunts of acrobats are amplified.

“The band is acoustically isolated from the house,” says Kirby. “They link to the house electronically only, so we mic the audience so the band can be aware of the audience reaction. They also have good sightlines of the acrobats so they can follow the show. The advantage of this kind of show is that there is no acoustic bleed from the band going into the house and no feedback, which really helps us move the sound of the band around the house.”

“It is truly an immersive 360° theatre with an overall soundscape,” notes Bergeron. “Action comes from everywhere, as does the audio. There is no upstage or downstage—truly a surround sound experience. Performers and scenery come in from anywhere , horizontal or vertical, from above or below from the water, with fountains literally dancing in time to the music.”

Monitor System
1 Digico CS-D5
1 Digico Minirack
1 Digico Digirack
1 Yamaha M7-CL32
6 Meyer UPJ-1P
1 Meyer SB-2
1 Yamaha LS9-32

Constellation System
24 Meyer UPJ-1P
5 Meyer LX-300
12 Meyer Sound MS-CARD
20 Meyer Sound MS-OMNI
56 audio inputs (40 analog, 8 AES, 8 Cobranet), 96 audio outputs (40 analog outputs, 24 AES, 32 Cobranet)

Band Package
2 Neumann U87ai
4 Neumann TLM-103
4 AKG C-414 XLS
4 Shure KSM-44
2 DPA 4021
4 Neumann KM-184
4 Sennheiser MKH-8040
4 Sennheiser MD-421
4 Beyerdynamic M201
2 DPA 8011 Hydrophones
8 Shure SM-57
8 Shure SM-58
2 Avalon U5
13 RME Micstasy Mic Pre with MADI output
4 Buttkicker Shakers
3 Apple Mac Pro
3 RME HDSPe MADI
64 output MADI card for keyboards (one 48-channel Ableton Live system with full online backup, one 16-channel Mainstage keyboard output)
2 JazzMutant Lemurs
Lemurs running custom software for Ableton triggering (via LiveOSC API)

For the full story, check out the November-December issue of Live Design.