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Acoustics Tailoring with Meyer Sound Constellation System, Part 1

Apr 1, 2010 10:11 AM

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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.

Most people know less about acoustics than they do about alchemy, but for modern churches, a one-size-fits-all solution just may not work. Steve Ellison from Meyer Sound is here to provide all the details on the Constellation system and how it made the difference for Southern California’s Laguna Presbyterian Church.

SVC: Steve, thanks very much for being with me here on the House of Worship AV podcast. This is a very interesting system. I am going to be talking in part two about the actual installation of it with the church folks, but I was kind of curious on this thing as to how this all works because it looks to me like it almost is a substitute for having a lot of physical work done inside of a venue where you’ve got to change the acoustics around, install acoustic panels, clouds, and so forth. This supposedly, from what I’ve read, maybe does away with all of that. But first of all, what does Meyer Sound do and how long has that company been around? I mean, if there’s anybody who seriously doesn’t know that by now.
Steve Ellison: Thanks, and it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting us. Meyer Sound started in 1979 with John and Helen Meyer, who established it. It’s a private company in Berkeley, Calif. We create products for audio professionals, ranging from loudspeakers for large installations to very small installations and digital control systems for spectacle shows like Cirque du Soleil all the way to acoustic systems such as Constellation that we will be talking about today. [Timestamp: 2:00]

Yeah, that’s an interesting system because it looks fairly complex on the installation, but from what I’ve read it’s fairly simple in operation, which I guess is sort of the Holy Grail of audio systems anyway. So what’s the general concept behind Constellation, the Constellation Acoustic system?
Well, Constellation is a system that electronically changes the room acoustics that’s in the room, and it was developed to allow venues to have a wide range of acoustics that could help support various types of activity—performance audio—that takes place within the venue from spoken word to reinforced sound to choir and organ. All these uses really have various optimal reverberation time ranges and optimal acoustics, so it’s very difficult if not impossible to create a single space with physical passive acoustics that can be changed into wide range that lots of venues, including houses of worship that incorporate contemporary and traditional music, could benefit from. [Timestamp: 3:07]

Yeah, the churches, especially the larger ones, are really into a lot of stuff now. I mean, it’s not just the pastor and a choir and maybe a church organ. They’re doing dramatic performances. They’ve got live music going, and you can’t, I wouldn’t think, design a church—which usually they’re not designed originally, if they’re particularly in an older building—for all that kind of thing anyway to suit all those different kinds of music and speech and everything. So the ability to change all of that or the characteristics of the acoustics in the venue there, particularly for churches, I would think would be a really valuable thing.
Sure, it does, because we start with a room that is acoustically nonreverberant or dry. I don’t like using the word “dead”, but that’s another word people use. So in a nice dead room for which intelligibility—speech intelligibility—will be optimized and that’s important for spoken words with sermons and readings so that the church—the parishioners—can hear what’s being said, but at the same time, when a choir sings an anthem or the congregation is involved with singing a hymn or a song with the praise band or with the choir, they want to hear themselves, the choir wants to hear themselves, the congregation wants to hear themselves, so everybody sings better and is more connected so the technology. Constellation technology for houses of worship allow that connection to really be supported acoustically. [Timestamp: 4:32]

Yeah, there’s, like I said, a lot going on in these churches now a days and a lot of times, on short notice, they decide to change things. I’ve talked to a lot of pastors and tech guys for churches who sometimes even when they come in that day to do a service, there might be something else going on that they didn’t know about before so hopefully they have a little lead time. I would think that would be a good thing to know how to operate a system like this and have it set up or preset, and I guess that’s what you guys do when you come in and do the installation.
That’s right. Yeah, it’s the key part of the process. I want to talk a bit about the process of developing a system for a room briefly and then how it is that it’s used on a day-to-day/week-to-week basis. From the beginning, we sit down with all of the parties involved—the end user, the consultants or our dealers, the installers that we are working with—to discuss what is the range of acoustics that are required for the room. What is the room starting like? Sometimes when we put a system into a room, the room might need a little bit of acoustical treatment to bring it down a bit first, then we can bring it back with Constellation. So we’ll talk about the goals and then work as a team to determine what locations in the room we can use for loudspeakers and microphones. It is an electronic system, and there are a lot of microphones and loudspeakers that have to be hidden within the space so that the focus of being in the space is not on seeing the microphones and loudspeakers but it’s on experiencing being in the room and listening from all of your senses, including visual and aural of course. So once that plan is done—once it’s been [decided] where the processing equipment is going to be located, [if there is] a sufficient air conditioning/HVAC for that for the equipment to run etc., etc.—once that’s all planned and designed, the installer will install the system, and then once it’s all installed, we’ll come in and calibrate the system and voice it, but this tuning process we kind of split into two phases: One is the calibration, which basically brings the system up and normalizes its performance and optimizes its behavior and power distribution and so forth, and then the subjective part, when we dial in the various presets, this part we’ll do in conjunction with the end user and bring in musicians, and with the consultants or installers involved, and that’s a real fun part is when we are able to adjust the presets for the various uses from speech to bands to choir and organ as well, and we have different settings. Once that’s all done, the settings are stored in our system and are controlled via a number of ways. The most common of which is a touchscreen controller such as would be used in other AV systems, and this controller may have five or six buttons on it that would be the various acoustic conditions for the various types of performances that would happen in the room. So once it’s all done—It’s a complicated process to design the system, install it, calibrate it, tune it—but once it’s done, it’s really easy to use. It’s just pushing a button on a controller for sermon—in the case of Laguna Presbyterian, which we’ll be talking about in part two—a sermon or band or choir or organ. So when the system is done, anybody who volunteers within the church can operate it, and it’s a very simple system to control. [Timestamp: 8:11]

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