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Theater Acoustics Aboard Oasis of the Seas, Part 1

Jun 14, 2010 12:00 PM


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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes Timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the Timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

Oasis of the Seas

Mix high-diving acts, underwater performers, and music with ocean, wind, and waves on the world’s biggest cruise ship, and you’ve got a formidable challenge for sound. Mark Turpin and Russ Cooper from acoustics and audio design firm Jaffe Holden are here to tell us how they helped harness this beast.

Russ and Mark, thanks for being with me here on the Corporate AV podcast. This project on the Oasis of the Seas cruise ship, I think the biggest one around—it seems like you have the odds against you with problems of acoustics and something that’s moving and is open air, and all kinds of possible noises from different things. Russ, how did Jaffe Holden first get involved with the Oasis of the Seas theater sound installations?
Russ Cooper:
Back in the mid ’90s, Royal Caribbean decided when they were going to come out with their Eagle-class series—which at that time, was the largest cruise ship in the world—they made the leap to improve patron experience and decided to go outside the sea-based designers and look for architects that were primarily land-based architects in theater design. In the end, they interviewed several architects, and Wilson Butler Architects in Boston won the commission. We were subsequently brought in as acoustical and audio consultants, and Fisher Dachs as theater consultants, and so we were treating it as sort of a land-based theater at sea. [Timestamp: 1:55]

Well, that certainly makes sense in the case of one of the theaters, but you have one back on the fantail of the ship—I think that’s the Aqua Theater—which, from the pictures that I’ve seen, Mark, looks like a very different animal.
Mark Turpin:
Oh, it’s a very different animal. [Timestamp: 2:08]

Especially acoustically.
Turpin:
Well, both acoustically and technically. I’ll let Russ speak to the acoustics issues there. But it’s very different because it’s taking a number of things that normally get incorporated into some of the water shows in Vegas, and then trying to build a pool big enough to do that on a ship and incorporate high-dive water aquatics. Basically a sound and light show that goes with that plus the ability to do some live entertainment, all on the fantail with the ship moving, with the ship rolling at umpteen knots. There’s a lot of wind back into one of those ships when the ship’s moving. [Timestamp: 2:51]


Yeah, I was thinking that something that big doesn’t just slide through the ocean silently.
Turpin: Huh um. Well, all the stabilizers work great; the ships are typically pretty pretty stable. But it did produce a whole number of interesting problems—mostly for Fisher Dachs [FDA], actually, less so for us. FDA, and with them Boyce Nemec on video, have been working with this team ... since the ’90s—Andy Smith at Boyce Nemec; Peter Rosenbaum at Fisher Dachs. The audio in some ways is pretty straightforward for the Aqua Theater because it is primarily playback; there is some live voice, but it has to also be capable of doing live entertainment because it’s sort of like building a theater in a school. The theater department thinks it’s theirs until everybody sees how cool it is, and then everybody wants a piece of the action. [Timestamp: 3:43]

Oh yeah, that’s always the case.
Turpin:
And so as soon as they saw what a show piece it was going to be as an entertainment environment the scope of what was going to happen there started to expand a little bit. From an audio point of view, fortunately, it is played back, so you can deal with a relatively fixed dynamic range. You can set the levels above a relatively high ambient noise level. And that was a lot of our—Russ could speak to this—a lot of our input at the beginning was, “Well, exactly what kind of levels are we going to have to achieve? How is that going to work? How do we try to constrain the level from a pretty high-energy show from being something that traveled halfway down the ship?”

Yeah, Russ, describe the Aqua Theater.
Cooper:
It’s pretty loud, but if you’ve ever been on a cruise ship, in that portion of the ship, there’s a lot of things going on that you don’t really think of as noise. In other words, you’re not used to hearing a show; you’re usually having a drink or you’re lounging or whatever. So the noise of the wind, the water, and the engines is all part of the experience and is usually not a problem. So they knew pretty much how loud that was because they keep real close track of patron comment cards and if somebody complains enough that, “Boy, you know, we couldn’t hear ourselves think back there,” then they have to adjust that in the next design or even in the next cruise. So they gave us the noise levels of what the engine was going to be doing—and they’re new engines, of course, so they had to predict that—and the speed that it might be traveling at, and it was upwards of, I would say, in the mid-60dB range on a normal type of experience cruising at a certain speed. There was really nothing that we could do to tell them that they needed to make it quieter because these were the engines that operate the ship and they’ve already pretty much gone down the road that that’s what it has to be. So we just had to confirm for them that this was the location of the theater. Is it a good idea; is it a terrible idea; is there anything that we have to do? And we did the calculations and pretty much found that the audio system could get up over that level and not be overly loud or uncomfortable for the patrons that are sitting there listening to it. And Mark will tell you that there’s also a bunch of terraces that you have staterooms that also have patios that look out and watch the show as well. [Timestamp: 6:22]

Yeah, you’ve got a theater on the back end of a ship that’s got a swimming pool in the front of the stage, high-diving acts, people splashing around in the water. And it’s open-air with wind, sea waves, performers, and staterooms near by where people might want to be watching the show or might want to be sleeping while all that’s going on. So I don’t think you could find a more challenging acoustic environment in your wildest nightmares.
Cooper:
Well, there were under-balcony speakers, and we didn’t have to blast sound all the way up into the staterooms if I remember.

Turpin: Right, yeah. What we wound up doing, and this is still something that is being discussed about moving forward—I should mention that when a cruise line, any cruise line, builds a ship, generally they build multiple copies of the same design. I think they built three or four equals; they had built each of the Eagle series, the Voyager series, the Millennium-class, the ...

Cooper: Variations on a theme.

Turpin: Yeah, they are each variations on a theme. So our involvement, typically, is with the initial design of the first ship. As our relationship with Royal Caribbean has matured; they also have contractors that they go to—Funa in Germany, and now what used to be Teledimensions is now part of Funa. They also have had a long-standing relationship. So rather than the nuts-and-bolts design that we often do—we are doing a level that for the cruise ships now, for Royal Caribbean—but more and more as the economics of that situation get tighter and tighter, we devolved some of that responsibility to the contractor because it’s just an economic reality for Royal Caribbean. Also, there is not really any point in us being very much involved other than answering questions about any potential changes as they move from addition one to addition two, addition three of a particular class of a ship.

Now, the Aqua Theater was different because all of the indoor theaters also have been variations on a theme. What they’ve done is they’ve taken what worked in the previous ships, and as they build a new class of ship, they try to massage that into something that will do more, better, bigger, bolder, brighter, contemporary work. The Aqua Theater, though, is a whole new bag of worms because of all the things that you have mentioned before. We did use cross-firing line arrays to try to very tightly control particularly the vertical dispersion of the sound in the theater. As with any ship or theater, the Aqua Theater is relatively shallow and wide. That’s also true of the indoor theaters; they tend to be relatively shallow and wide, and that has to just do with the geometry of the way a ship is built and where you would locate a theater in a ship. In talking vertically, you think about—the Aqua Theater is at roughly deck six, give or take. The top staterooms are at 12, I believe, or 14—12, I think. So that's a pretty big vertical jump as you go up from that point on the ship. We try to keep the primary sound very tightly controlled over the audience—cross-firing the arrays to limit the amount of energy that’s traveling down the center of the ship, past the sail bar, and into the promenade—and then we provide individual audio for each of those stateroom balconies so that they can watch the show or not watch the show. And if they sit out on their balcony, they can watch the show from there and have control of their local audio. If they close the doors and go into the stateroom, there’s not a lot of sound that actually gets in there because the vertical pattern control is there so that the stuff that you would find really egregious—the mid- and high-band stuff—you can’t hardly hear it at all in the stateroom. [Timestamp: 10:05]



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