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Acoustics Tailoring with Meyer Sound Constellation System, Part 2

Apr 15, 2010 10:18 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.

California’s Laguna Presbyterian Church needed a different acoustic environment for the pastor, musicians, and choir, so they called in David Lawler of Docktr Dave Audio to install the Constellation system from Meyer Sound. He and church elder, Lorna Cohen, are here to tell us how it all went.

Lorna and Dave, thanks very much for being with me here on the House of Worship AV podcast. I was talking in part one with Steve Ellison about the installation of the Constellation system at Laguna Presbyterian Church, and Lorna, you’re with the church there. What were you looking for with this new sound system?
Lorna Cohen: Our situation was that we have an 82-year-old sanctuary building and we were very unhappy with the sound. It was fine for the spoken word, but we had all sorts of music that just wasn’t really engaging our congregation because of the acoustics. We had a jazz band, we have organ, a choir, plus the spoken voice, and we needed to find a way that all of these could be enhanced and make it work in our 82-year-old building that we were going to restore, so that was our problem. [In] the church is—actually the sanctuary building itself—we’ve got everything in terms of acoustic space, from a very high central nave to very shallow low-ceiling balconies and transepts, and I think acousticians who came in said we actually had five different rooms within the sanctuary building. So we had five different spaces and at least four maybe five different types of sound that we wanted to amplify throughout the building and have it be true, and that was our problem. [Timestamp: 2:13]

Well, that sounds like a formidable enough challenge. Now what kind of things have you got going on there? What style of worship do you have there? Do you have, say, live music and things?
Cohen: We’ve got a praise band; we’ve got traditional hymns; we have a bell choir; we have a regular traditional choir that does everything from gospel to Bach, and then this treepipe Moller organ, which has 1,600 pipes, and we weren’t really able to experience the full range of that because we have a very very dead space. [Timestamp: 2:45]

OK, and how did you first hear about the Constellation system and what made you decide that that was the way to go for Laguna Presbyterian?
Cohen: We first heard about it through a guy named Jerry Christoff with Veneklasen company up in, I think, it’s Pasadena, and he came into the sanctuary and noticed all of these different needs and all of the different spaces and all of the different problems, and he started talking about something called, “VRAS”, Variable Room Acoustic System, which is what it was known as at the time, and he knew Steve Ellison and so he said, “How would you like to go hear a demonstration up in Pasadena of this system?” And we said, “Sure,” and he said that it would be able to solve all of the different problems that we had from the dead space to the different needs that we had. [Timestamp: 3:35]

So what was the reaction of the church people when you explained this? Did it take some artful conversation or did they pretty much go with you?
Cohen: I would say that we had to explain it, and probably Dave can confirm this, three or four times because it’s a hard concept to grasp. People just wanted great acoustics, and they didn’t understand that there is no such thing as great acoustics. There’s great acoustics for a particular room and for particular uses. So we needed everything from a symphony hall to a lecture hall, and it took a while for them to understand that in order to get that we would have to go to a very sophisticated, high-tech solution, and I think we wanted to make sure that the wool wasn’t being pulled over our eyes because we heard that there was a lot of mumbo jumbo in the field of acoustics, so we had to deal with trustworthy people, and it took some time. I would say that we had to explain it and actually go see it in action in different venues four or five times and then they finally saw the light and said, “OK, we believe you. Do it.” [Timestamp: 4:45]

With these systems, of course, the proof is in the hearing, and when they first witnessed it first-hand, and heard what it was about, what was their reaction to it? Were they really knocked over?
Cohen: Yeah, there was a small demonstration site setup that Steve Ellison did. It was kind of Jerry-rigged in a church and I think his son was playing a musical instrument and all the wires were hanging out. He had just kind of constructed it himself, and the sound was amazing. I’ll just never forget how true the sound was, and we stood in the nave of this church, we sang the doxology, and we got to hear the Constellation system for the very first time, and it was just a shocking difference. He turned it off, he turned it on, and it was just the difference between wanting to sing and not wanting to sing. [Timestamp: 5:33]

Yeah, that’s really the way you have to be able to do it a lot of times. Sound is such a subjective thing anyway…
Cohen: Yeah.
…not like video at all. Anybody knows when you’re looking at bad video, but with sound there’s all kinds of nuances…
…and it really helps to be able to AV back and forth…
…and then you can really tell what’s going on.
So it sounds like they really did the right thing and went in the right direction and I guess there’s no contest in that they won you over with the system.
Cohen: They really did, and then we were very fortunate to run into David Lawler. We got him through a project manager on the building and he, being a local guy, being a sound person, a technical expert in this field, he was able to spend the time with us to explain exactly what was going on and what was involved and in English, not highly technical language so that we all began to understand that this was a state-of-the-art system and then we began to understand how it worked and that it would solve our problems, and from there on, it’s just been nothing but positive. [Timestamp: 6:41]

Dave, did you have a particular part of this Laguna Presbyterian Church installation that you liked doing the best?
David Lawler: Sure, I would have to say that my favorite part, I had really three favorite parts, but the main one was the constant diligence of the team and the committees despite a long timeline. They had a unwavering commitment to excellence and also under the worst economic conditions that we will, hopefully, ever experience in our lifetime. A venture of that size, of course, depends on contributions from parishioners and others, and they never value engineered anything out of it that we originally set out to do and that’s not just audio, that’s the entire project. In fact, they actually added as they went along, which is quite inspiring. The second one was just the quality of the team and the staff, the architects. Lorna was amazing all the way through. Without her, I am sure that a lot of the artistic features in that church never would have been realized, and the bottom line is it was a real commitment to the art. I mean technical is really just there to support art, and now when you go to the services, it is completely and absolutely engaging. It’s just a really wonderful experience. [Timestamp: 8:04]

And Lorna, the trick in doing this in large part is handling a sometimes complicated installation in order to make it very simple to operate.
Cohen: Oh yeah, the operation itself, once it’s installed, it’s just, well, anybody could do it. It’s presets, and it’s fairly simple that the Constellation system part of it is all done when it’s installed, and then it’s really very simple to operate, which we also needed. [Timestamp: 8:32]

Dave, how did you go from your standpoint? Did you have to do a sales pitch on this? You already knew what the system could do?
Lawler: I did from my experience in working with LCS in Las Vegas [in] some of those shows there, but it’s not really a matter of selling it to people. It’s a matter of listening to what their requirements and goals are and then calculating a way to translate that into technical reality and then, of course, artistic reality. I think, as Lorna said, the biggest task was to explain it to people in plain English. I did it with PowerPoint basically, and then we did it several times. We had to remind them because the project took over three years to complete, so people would tend to either forget or they just needed a bit of encouragement so that this was going to turn out as we envisioned. And of course, because there are committees and quite a few people on the committees, people would come and go and sometimes newer folks needed to be educated, but I think all in all, everybody was very cooperative and very positive about the process. [Timestamp: 9:36]

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