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From the Fire

Oct 15, 2013 3:50 PM, By Cynthia Wisehart

Restoration AV

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All the DSP is concentrated at the front of the church via a simply configured BBS Soundweb BLU-link backbone driven by a Crestron touchpanel. “There’s actually an awkward path from the front to the back of the church, and it’s a very long distance, which ruled out copper,” Chollet says. “We decided to have the distributed system up front and run traditional analog across the remaining 600ft.”

As it turned out, analog served the church’s purposes in more ways than one and for video as well as audio. One key element of the worship program involves organ duets for two organs that are positioned at a great distance from either other. “As far apart as you can imagine,” Chollet says with a laugh. The organists are on a DSP intercom/headphone (which they can run independently from the full network for practice sessions). “This made us think about latency more than we normally would have,” Cholett says. He says that the small network delivers very low latency, and with the organ and feedback monitor wedges all analog to the network, the organists have no problems syncing.

The same kind of time-critical monitoring system was necessary for another of the worship configurations in which the choir and choirmaster are at the front of the church—600ft. from the main organ. Designers specified a video system to allow the organist to see the conductor; digital HD/SDI cameras with good lenses delivered the resolution, but with “very visible delay.” So once again analog was right for the application. “It was not very satisfying from the technical view—there is a big visual difference between analog video and full HD. But the organist doesn’t need to see a lot of detail; she needs to see the conductor’s hand move. They know each other well and she can read him without seeing detail—it was more important that there was no delay.”

When it came to installation (in collaboration with the architects and installer Stefan Gfeller of Gfeller Licht- und Tontechink AG), the driving force was the fourth member of the team: the cathedral’s historical committee. “Every choice we make on something that is visible needs to go through this committee that is going to have a completely different set of criteria,” Cholett recalls. “They don’t care about speech intelligibility; they care about the visual impact and the location of columns.”

For instance, he says, the WSDG team had been considering a freestanding solution, but in discussions with the committee, it was ruled out because the speakers would have had to be too far out of optimal left/right for aesthetic reasons. “Also,” he says, “the church has rather massive pillars that produce large areas that have direct acoustic energy—1/3 of the seats are in the shadow and have no direct acoustic access to the main speaker. We had to add in additional line arrays to each of the columns to blend into these areas.” However, those speakers then required a custom mount, fabricated with the integrator, to deliver the right angle without visible metalwork, something that’s fairly typical in these types of installations.

The most dramatic intersection of aesthetics and technology occurred around St. Ursen’s High Altar. Since this was where the fire started, the original altar was destroyed—both physically and spiritually. It was not enough to replace the structure of the altar; it needed to be brought to life with an entirely new energy. The commission invited a team to design the new altar; the spectacular winning design was a monolith comprised of 11 kinds of marble forged into a single 7-ton block. “It is truly a work of art,” Chollet says. But it is also a vast, acoustically uncontrolled surface for the microphones. “The first problem was actually cabling. We found a 4in. recess at the bottom so we could get the cables in there.” But the larger problem was intelligibility. The microphones do not have a fixed position and there can be up to 2ft. between the speaker and the microphone—in an application with high gain requirement. Reluctantly WSDG turned to feedback suppression. “We had hoped to get away without it, it really is a last resort as a designer, but the Bosch unit that we use does frequency shifting instead of notching, so it’s a good solution.” Chollet says they also got a good surprise from the new wireless Shure microphone they specified. “It just came out at exactly the right time, and it’s the most natural sounding mic,” Chollet says. “It’s now my go-to choice. Usually you have more control issues with the headworn and the lapel mics than the wired mics—here it was the other way around. We had those control issues with altar mics, but when we mixed the room, we had no problems with the wireless mics.”

The final noteworthy aesthetic challenge was where to satisfy the church’s long-held desire for an induction loop. It wasn’t practical to use the cable duct—which was 20 meters overhead. “We found a solution to put individual induction loops around the main seating areas,” Chollet says. “The wood benches sit atop a little platform and we decided to lift that platform and put the induction loop underneath—we got 90 percent of the area covered that way with four loops. It was an outside-the-box idea, kind of a nutty idea, but [integrator] Stefan Gfeller pulled it off.”

It was just one of the many small acts of creation that grew out of one act of destruction that ultimately strengthened the voice of St. Ursen.

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