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Chicago Field Museum of Natural History’s James Simpson Theater, Part 2

Mar 25, 2014 10:46 AM, With Bennett Liles

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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.

The grand and beautiful James Simpson Theater at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History got a new 3D cinema system, and they needed a new sound setup to go with it. Clearwing Productions was called in on the project and Megan Henninger is going to tell us how they got the job done. That’s up next on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Megan, welcome back for part two on the SVC Podcast and we were talking about the James Simpson Theater in the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. Fantastic theater, very old building and you were not allowed to do much that might alter the beautiful look of the place, but you got a new L-Acoustics sound system in there to go with their new 3D projection. When they called in Clearwing Productions what was the first thing on your to do list when you got into the place?

We crawled around in all the spaces to see what our options were for hanging speakers—speaker placement—because obviously, looking at it the first thing they said is, “We don’t want to see anything; we just want to hear them.” So definitely that was the biggest challenge, trying to assess out where we can actually put things that would work, that was feasible, that we were going to be able to hear things well. So it was definitely a challenge as far as compromising on placement versus the aesthetics of the room and trying to figure that all out. [Timestamp: 1:48]

And with such a grand old pristine white interior, you probably had a few somewhat nervous people from the facility looking over your shoulder to see what your people were doing.

We definitely did. The management from the museum was extremely concerned about it, and they checked in with us often during the course of submitting the proposal and of course, putting everything in. [Timestamp: 2:09]

What was the timeline on this whole project? You actually had to get some elements of the old sound system out first, right?

We did. Going in, from the time the contract was signed until opening was less than a month, so it was a pretty tight timeline. We really wanted to open the 3D cinema at the beginning of summer, so Memorial Day weekend in May, and we signed the contract the first of May. It was a pretty quick timeline. And as things go with older buildings, you run into the unexpected and have hang-ups along the way. We tried to get going as early as possible, anticipating that we would find some of those and we got it in on time, and it was up and running. [Timestamp: 2:51]

And did you run into any architectural surprises in that old place when you were running the wiring for all of those speakers? You used a lot of them.

We did, and luckily the museum staff, electricians, and carpenters helped us out with that because they’re so familiar with the space and because it’s so old and kind of delicate. They did a lot of the wire running and a lot of the infrastructure rigging for us, especially for the surround. We were very thankful for their help with that because it would have taken us twice as long to figure out what was going on up there than someone who was familiar with the space already. [Timestamp: 3:24]

A whole different approach with an old building where you have to be so careful and then other projects where you get in during the construction phase and you can run all your stuff and just sort of let the sawdust fly. Now, when they’re using the theater, how and from where do they control the new sound system? They’re using the LA-4 amplified controller?

Yeah, the LA-4; there’s a rack backstage, and luckily there’s kind of a control room off the stage so we didn’t have to put it onstage. We were able to save them room for their events on stage that way. So that’s all kind of backstage right. Everything runs from there, and that was pretty easy. The electricians helped piping power in for us and conduit for the speaker wires, so partnering with them on that was a fairly easy part of the job. [Timestamp: 4:12]

And I think L-Acoustics has a network control software application for that.

The L-A Manager, yeah. We certainly used that for setup and tuning of the room.

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