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Overhauling Florida State Senate’s Sound System, Part 1

Feb 12, 2013 12:06 PM, 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.

With every session, state legislatures have even more bills and issues to deal with and the need for modern sound and video systems is crucial in legislative bodies. The Florida State Senate called on Music Masters to overhaul its systems, and Les Stephenson is here to tell us all about it coming up next on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Hi, Les. Thanks for being with us on the SVC Podcast from Music Masters down there in Tallahassee, Fla. Your outfit was called in for this sound system project in the Florida State Senate Chamber, so tell me about Music Masters.

Les Stephenson: Music Masters is a diverse place. We’ve been a business in Tallahassee since 1981. We take care of school instrument programs. We have a full professional audio and standard music instrument type stuff—guitars, amps, keyboards, everything like that. And then we have the pro AV systems group, which goes out and designs and installs sound systems, video systems, lighting systems, and control systems. We work with churches in the area, courtrooms, commission chambers, sporting facilities. So that’s the basic product group that we take care of, and like I said, it’s a pretty diverse mix when you put all that together under one roof. [Timestamp: 1:45]

Very diverse. A lot of things going on there. When you got a call from the state government, sometimes that’s bad news, but this time it was great news and a big project. What, exactly, did they tell you they needed in the State Senate Chamber?

The Senate system needed a complete upgrade. The need encompassed three general areas, which we identified as Senate business, live performance, and production. Senate business being the actual conducting of the Senate meetings and everything involved with that. Live performance being when they have a singer or a choir or whatever come in and for some special music for the Senate, we need to be able to accommodate that. And then the production, they have more and more people coming in with video presentations of this, video presentations of that, and so they need to be able to accommodate all of that. So that’s pretty much what was needed. Additionally, they needed to upgrade the video display in the president’s rostrum, so that became an important component about it. That was the basic scope of the job. Let’s start over and let’s get it right. [Timestamp: 2:49]

I know you had a lot to haul in and set up, and it was a pretty complex sound system. Were there any special challenges involved in working in the state capitol building?

Moving in was a little bit of a challenge. We had to get everything through security. They had to check everything. So you’re bringing in all this inventory and this and that and the other, it’s got to all go through the scanners and that takes a little time. Once we got everything moved in we were given access badges so we could come and go as we pleased. We had 24/7 access to the Chamber and that made it great. We didn’t have to clean up until we were done; that saved a lot of time. We had three weeks in a row to get the project done and there was nothing scheduled in there, so we didn’t have any conflicts going on in that regard. So they were very accommodating. They were excited about getting the project done. We were excited about doing the project, so it was all good. Wiring-wise, we had worked in the other end of the capitol last year. We redid that audio DSP system in the House of Representatives. So we were already familiar with the way the Chambers were built. They both are very similar in that regard, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were up against as far as getting in there and adding to the wiring harness, checking everything out, and making sure everything was the way they wanted it. And that all went pretty much as planned. So yeah, they were very accommodating, easy to work with, just great. [Timestamp: 4:17]

You’ve got this huge dome over everything, so how were the acoustics in that place?

For the most part, the acoustics were quite good. The dome, it’s interesting how that’s made. That’s actually a series of perforated metal panels that all go together to create that dome. And then on the backside of each one of those panels is basically a 2in. sound panel, so the whole dome is like a 2in. sound panel. Even with that much absorption, still when you get to the center of the dome, there’s definitely a collection point there where everything is amplified. So if you get out there with a microphone that can have some fairly interesting consequences. The gallery seating, which is on the second level of the Chamber, is where the public sits. That’s basically a circle that goes all the way around the Chamber, and behind the gallery is all glass. So basically you’ve got a glass circle and a second story that you’ve got to stay off of because you can definitely hear that pouring right back out into the Chamber. In the back of the Chamber is a press gallery, and that’s enclosed with about a 16ft.-tall glass wall, which there again is sloped down a little bit; it’s curved and it’s spilling right back into the Chamber. So you’ve got this probably about 200-degrees of glass enclosure around the top of the building that you definitely have to stay out of. Behind where the president stands, behind the dais in the president’s rostrum area, is a curved wood wall, which is about two stories tall. So that’s exactly opposite that glass wall from the press gallery, and so when you’ve got a bunch of circular stuff looking in and a dome on top, there is certainly some interesting challenges presented. But for the most part I think the acoustics are good and we didn’t have too many struggles with that. We took great care to design the system to stay off of all that glass and that way we wouldn’t be bouncing back into that curved wood wall, and with all of that taken into consideration, I think the acoustics worked out quite well. [Timestamp: 6:18]

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