Raymond Gubbay’s perennial opera-in-the-round offering at London’s Royal Albert Hall in the spring of 2006 featured a ground-breaking sound automation technique which combined Out Board’s TiMax Audio Imaging delay matrix with a new automated tracking system developed by Norwegian technologists Track The Actors (TTA). Autograph Sound provided the Meyer, XTA, and Digico D5T sound system, supervised by Andy Brown.

Sound designer Bobby Aitken uses TiMax to create a “source-oriented reinforcement” (SOR) system that employs Haas Precedence delay psychoacoustics to ensure all audience members perceive the vocals to be coming from the opera singers and not from the multi-channel sound system distributed on a grid above the stage and behind grilles in the stage itself. The libretto is translated into English to help it appeal to a wider mass-market, so principals and lead chorus members are close-miked to make sure they’re heard, especially by audience members they’ve got their backs to half the time due to playing in the round.

To satisfy the opera purists, Bobby Aitken and sound engineer Richard Sharat have concentrated on achieving a high degree of subtlety in the sound reinforcement and focus everyone’s sonic sensibilities on the performers themselves. The simple objective is to ensure every audience member receives an acoustic wavefront from each performer about 10-20 milliseconds before the reinforcing energy from the speakers. Within this short time difference the brain integrates the two arrivals together but focuses the listener instinctively into localising to the precedent arrival coming directly from the performer.

TiMax achieves this by setting up multiple Image Definitions, which are unique delay relationships between every source (i.e. radio mic) and each loudspeaker reinforcing it. These relationships are changed every time a performer moves to a different location on stage, to maintain the acoustic precedence that makes the localisation happen. In previous years the movements of actors were blocked out in rehearsal as a series of TiMax cues which the operator would step through manually during the show. New for this year’s La Boheme show, the TTA system tracked each actor’s movement whilst TiMax responded automatically to move their radio mics onto the corresponding Image Definitions.

A small TTA radio tag worn by the actors communicates with a TTA Tracker panel above the stage which continually sends positional data to the TTA software so it can identify where the actors are on stage. The TTA software sends MIDI messages to the TiMax ShowControl software which then converts them into level/delay instructions in the TiMax delay matrix to place the actors’ audio images in the appropriate localisation zones. This all takes place automatically and in real time, so represents a substantial reduction in Cue pre-programming effort and totally removes the need for any intervention by the operator during the show.

Out Board has worked closely in a joint venture with the TTA R-Series Norwegian developers over the 18 months to help refine the accuracy and response of its integration with the TiMax delay-imaging system. TTA has also conducted exhaustive tests with Scandinavian sound designers and venues to fine tune the system. At the same time as the La Boheme opera shows, a production of Les Miserables has also been running in the Trondelag Theatre in Trondheim using a TTA / TiMax combination.

It is perhaps a testament to the success of this technology partnership that both of these initially experimental installations ended up remaining in place for the full production runs of both shows.

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