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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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I was looking at some of the screenshots from that. It looks like they have a virtual 4-channel mixer. I guess the hardware is two ins and four outs.

It is, and there’s processing, of course, in there and delay and whatnot and some EQ. So we didn’t do much to it. I mean the speakers sound great. We just delayed everything so it was in time because I think I didn’t mention this before, but the left, center, and right clusters weren’t all in a straight line in a plane because of how we had to hang the screens. The center speakers are actually upstage of the screen. The screen is perforated. It’s meant to have speakers shooting through it. And the left and right are little bit more downstage but to the sides of the screen because I think you can see those big white columns on the photo in the middle of the stage. There are two of them and they divide the stage in thirds. So because those were right where you would want to put your left and right speakers upstage, we couldn’t put them there and if we moved them over to the sides of the columns, then we were kind of shooting into the proscenium wall. So it was important for us to get the speakers downstage of that a little so we’d have a clear shot at the audience. Luckily they hide very neatly in the drapes on the sides of the screen and we’re able to cover better from those positions. But that did mean we had a little more to do with tuning and balancing the system because we had to delay those to the center cluster, and we had to EQ the center cluster a little differently being that it was behind the movie projection screen, and the left and right were not. By the time we were done and we turned it over to the 3D cinema folks for tuning, everything sounded flat, had a flat response, and they were pretty pleased with the results. [Timestamp: 6:11]

What all do they do in there? I know they have the 3D cinema now, but do they ever have any sort of live sound or performances?

They tell me that they do on occasion. It’s not one of the main things they do, but they will have live music presentations. When we went into the space, there was already an analog snake infrastructure that was run between the front-of-house position and the stage. So for the install, they upgraded the sound console from analog mixer and we provided a Midas Pro One digital mixer. But it’s still run over the analog infrastructure to the stage, but it gives them a lot more processing power out there, a lot more plug-ins that they can use in a smaller package, and they can still do bands very easily with the analog infrastructure between front of house and the stage area. [Timestamp: 6:58]

What area are you covering with the 5XT fill speakers?

The 5XT fills; it covers basically the first two rows in the audience level right by the front of the stage.

And those are concealed right along the front edge of the stage?

Yes, they are. Yep.

I know they’re small but how did you go about hiding those?

There were mounting points underneath the stage where the previous speakers were and they ended up working out placement-wise for the 5XTs. We just angled them to the desired angle. They were pretty much sunk in the concrete that makes up the stage deck. So the electricians ran our speaker cable down there and we were able to access those pretty easily by crawling under a hatch under the stage. I could actually stand up down there. I’m pretty short, so it worked out. [Timestamp: 7:45]

You have so many different speakers in different locations in there. You probably have a lot of customized control so if they want to do something besides just the cinema they should have plenty of options.

There are. We have a couple of presets preprogrammed for them. One is, of course, the 3D cinema preset and the other is a preset for your corporate or music acts which takes the center cluster out of the picture being that it’s so far upstage and would be shooting into microphones of a band or a presenter. So that’s all controllable out front with the touch screen interface. And other than that it’s just pretty much you have control of the system from the sound console, but it should be a plug-and-play kind of thing. It should be ready to go. [Timestamp: 8:28]

How long after you got it all hooked up did it take to ring it all out and test it?

We were in there for about a day ringing it out before we handed it over to the cinema. It wasn’t really as difficult as we anticipated. It was actually pretty easy to ring out.

Well, that’s always nice when it actually comes out easier than you thought it was going to be.

We weren’t sure with the acoustics of the room how that would work out, but luckily we were able to get those speakers in places where the pattern was pretty controlled so we didn’t have a whole lot of bounce, no slapback to worry about. We got the placement pretty good at the first go so that made tuning a breeze. [Timestamp: 9:05]

Okay, and you’ve got this one done so what’s coming up next for Clearwing Productions? What have you sort of got in the pipeline?

The next major thing we’re working on right now is a church. We’re getting ready to get going on that. We’re doing the sound, light and video. It’s a new construction so not so much crawling around in the ceilings of old buildings or anything, so we’re pretty excited about that. [Timestamp: 9:28]

That’s going to take a whole different mindset when you can get in there during the construction phase and do whatever you want.

Definitely. It’s a different beast, but you know you have challenges with everything so we’re looking forward to it.

Alright. Megan Henninger from Clearwing Productions and the James Simpson Theater at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. The whole museum is fantastic. I’d love to visit up there sometime when everything is thawed out.

Don’t go to Chicago in the winter.

Alright Megan, that’s a great project and thanks for telling us the story.

Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate the opportunity.

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