The third revival of the Puccini opera Madam Butterfly staged in the round at London’s Royal Albert Hall sees the introduction of ground breaking new audio technology.
As in previous years, sound designer Bobby Aitken specified a TiMax Audio Imaging delay matrix to dynamically control time delays from each performer’s radio microphone to the vocal reinforcement loudspeaker system, to make all audience members localize to the actors onstage and not the PA. This has previously been achieved by a relatively lengthy and complex process of blocking out the movements of the actors on the stage in rehearsal and manually recalling presets on a cue-by-cue basis.
While the outcome was successful in previous years, it was prone to inaccuracy for a number of reasons; for one, there are two casts of principles and they may not always be in the same place on stage at a particular point in the show. Also, as the show progresses through the production process director David Freeman changes the actions and movements of performers around the stage, and keeping up with these blocking changes can be difficult and lead to programming errors. Last but not least, stepping manually through these multiple “imaging cues” is a task that mix engineer Richard Sharratt has stacked onto his already very full plate.
Out Board director Robin Whittaker comments, “We only have four or five rehearsals in the RAH and it can be very difficult to know what you are listening to, for example, if an actor is not where they were blocked, or Sharry misses a couple of movement cues because he is focused on getting the orchestra mix right or EQ-ing a mic, then the delay scenario from that actors mic could be way off.”
This year sees the cueing process fully automated and the scripted blocking process that takes place during rehearsal completely eliminated. An automatic tracking system that can “see” where the actors are on the stage seamlessly applies in real-time the appropriate delay configuration, or Image Definition in TiMax speak, to that actor’s radio mic.
Bobby Aitken comments, “Using the tracking technology with TiMax allows us to spend more time on the creative aspects of the production as we are not so burdened with functional setup tasks.”
The audio engine is still a TiMax Audio Imaging delay matrix while the tracking system, developed in conjunction with Norwegian company TTA, has been specially designed to integrate with it. TiMax manufacturer, Out Board have international distribution rights for the co-branded TiMax Track The Actors system.