A recent production of Tosca, seen in-the-round at London's Royal Albert Hall in February, represented the first public performance for Out Board Electronics' TiMax Talent Tracker system, which uses precision short-range radar — based on ultra-wideband RF technology developed in conjunction with Cambridge, UK, technologists Ubisense — to locate and track the performers as they move around the stage. The tracking system controls a TiMax audio imaging matrix that continually modifies time delays to the vocal reinforcement system in relation to where the performers are in space. Directed by David Freeman, designed by David Roger, with lighting by Andrew Bridge, this is truly a Tosca for the 21st century.

Autograph Sound provided a sound rig, including gear by Meyer Sound, d&b audiotechnik, and DiGiCo for sound designer Bobby Aitken, who has designed the last nine years of arena-style opera productions for producer Raymond Gubbay, with the assistance of Out Board director Robin Whittaker. The TiMax Talent Tracker system is the latest addition to the source-oriented reinforcement (SOR) audio system configuration used for these productions. This is based on a multi-channel speaker system driven by a TiMax audio matrix that applies varying amounts of precedence delay to each of the performers' radio mics as they move around the stage. This ensures all audience members perceive the vocal performances to be coming from the opera singers' mouths and not from the multiple speakers distributed around the grid above the stage and beneath grills in the stage floor. For Tosca, the wireless mics were 32 Sennheiser SK5012s with a mixture of DPA4061 and MKE-2 capsules, using Sennheiser 1046 RX receivers.

“This is groundbreaking, never-been-seen-before technology,” says Out Board director Dave Haydon. “In the past, you would have to manually run through cues on a playlist. With this tracking system, the manual playlist is eliminated, and the imaging is now totally automated and operator-free. Only recently have we been able to track people reliably on a continuous basis.” For the sound designer, SOR might mean a more complicated set up than for a traditional system, but in the long run, it delivers more subtle and unobtrusive application. And as Haydon points out, “It leaves you free to mix creatively without having to worry about missing cues.”