Few outdoor amphitheatres around the world are as instantly recognizable and respected as the Hollywood Bowl, which only three seasons ago underwent both a complete rebuild of its band shell and installation of a full L-Acoustics amplifier and loudspeaker system. Over the course of those three years, the 18,000-seat Bowl has carried the distinction of being awarded by Pollstar as the ‘Best Major Outdoor Concert Venue’ three consecutive times—certainly a testimony, in part, to the new high-quality sound reinforcement system.
However, understanding that precision sound is a process of continual refinement, the audio crew at the Bowl has made a number of changes over the past season—a process that was initiated by creating a more detailed model of the facility in Soundvision, L- Acoustics’ real time 3D acoustical modeling software.
According to Fred Vogler, sound designer for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which has called the Hollywood Bowl its summer home since 1922, “Paul Freudenberg (L- Acoustics vice president of sales and marketing) and I walked around and literally mapped the entire seating arrangement to the square foot last year, which gave us a more accurate depiction of the physical space in Soundvision and enabled us to tailor the system’s coverage even more precisely than ever before.”
As a result, Vogler and Freudenberg altered the box count on the main left and right P.A. hangs to feature a decreased number of V-DOSC® enclosures on the upper section of the array and an increased number of V-DOSC yet decreased number of dV-DOSC on the lower section. The new arrays now comprise eight V-DOSC at the top, eight SB218 subs in the middle, and another ten V-DOSC with a four dV-DOSC downfill tail below. The revised box count also came with an increase in LA48a amplifiers supplied by North Hollywood-based US Audio & Lighting, which also assisted with the installation.
“The guest mix position here at the Bowl is located 95 feet from the stage, as opposed to our fixed FOH position, which is 220 feet back,” says Vogler. “With so many tours coming through, the idea behind changing the box counts was to deliver a little more impact to the lower seating area via the larger V-DOSC boxes, as opposed to the smaller dV-DOSC. We also aimed the crossover point between the upper and lower arrays farther back behind the mix position. It evened out the coverage a little more and gave us a more accurate depiction of what the engineers and audience were hearing down closer to the stage.”
Based on the improved Soundvision model, the L- Acoustics and Bowl crew also opted to slightly tighten up the array angles and lower both of the hangs by approximately five feet. “By dropping the arrays, we are better able to blend the acoustic and electro-acoustic energies,” Vogler notes. “My experience over at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where I also spend much of my time, has been that the more sound you can reproduce or amplify to the acoustic ensemble, the better – within reason, of course. If you want to properly blend the two, you have to fly the loudspeakers lower and closer to the ensemble. It can present some opportunity for feedback, but you definitely have a more realistic mixture if you can find that ideal proximity.
“So the idea was that when people are listening to the LA Philharmonic, they don’t know how much is being amplified and how much is simply acoustic off the stage. This past summer was the most consistent and loudest season we’ve ever had – even the Philharmonic was up anywhere from six to ten decibels from our prior summer. But that noticeable increase in level really engaged the audience. Even the purists were caught up in it – the same people that usually sit there and complain about orchestra amplification! We mic’ed everything tighter and had much greater levels than ever before and it really proved to be quite successful.”
Other system revisions included removing the three 112XT loudspeakers that were originally flown off the catwalk and 17-enclosure dV-DOSC center array hung from the peak of the proscenium, replacing them with a mini center array of nine dV-DOSC flown from the leading arc of the ‘halo’ over the stage. “The lower center hang of dV-DOSC nicely gives us the ability to fill to soloists and ‘smear’ some of the strings and other elements that I want to blend across the proscenium so people get the sense that they’re not just hearing sound from one side,” Vogler notes
Not all of the Hollywood Bowl’s changes have been from an equipment perspective, however. “One thing that we’re now doing a little differently is to make mixes that vary from the dV-DOSC at the very bottom of the lower array all the way to the V-DOSC in the upper array. The upper section has a pretty balanced mix, but as you move down the array, we’re favoring more of the instruments that don’t project so well. For example, the dV-DOSC at the bottom don’t have much brass in them because the audience in the lower seating area typically gets a lot of that sound directly off the stage. We had started to play with this approach a couple of years ago but really perfected it last season and it worked very well.”
Vogler sums the Hollywood Bowl’s continuing sonic evolution up by adding, “We certainly have learned a lot in the last three seasons, and this past year I feel like we’ve really been rewarded for the time and effort spent evaluating and making changes to the system. That impression was certainly underscored by all of the guest mixers and colleagues that came in and told me how great it sounded. There were even a number of shows this last season where I thought to myself, ‘Wow, how could it possibly get any better than this?’”