Staging A Celebration
Meyer Sound commemorates its 25th anniversary with a unique AV production.
CHALLENGE: Transform a parking lot and empty warehouse space into an “other-world” environment for an audio industry party.
SOLUTION: Design a layered production strategy incorporating an 80- by 90-foot tent with a custom, 90-foot tube entrance and various themed areas enhanced with creative sound, video, and lighting.
WHEN LOUDSPEAKER manufacturer Meyer Sound began planning its 25th anniversary celebration more than a year ago, certain details were unclear, although one thing was certain — the event would attract the top names in the audio industry such as David Andrews of Andrews Audio, Sam Berkow of SIA Acoustics, and Don Pearson (formerly of Ultra Sound, now on Meyer Sound's staff as a technical seminar trainer) to name a few. With that daunting challenge on the horizon, Meyer Sound assembled a team of AV production veterans headed by national event producer Marjorie Randell-Silver of Copper Leaf Productions in Needham, MA.
“I have known the Meyers for 15 years,” Randell-Silver says. “Our driving theme was that Meyer Sound has a global impact and we wanted a way to celebrate their accomplishments in an unforgettable way. The biggest question was where to hold the event.”
After scouting several locations across the country, it was decided that there was no place like home. The event would be held during the week of the AES trade show onsite at the Meyer Sound factory located in Berkeley, CA. A simple 80-foot by 100-foot pole tent in the event location was virtually transformed into another world.The tube
The entrance to the main tent was a custom made 90-foot tube in a standard rectangular tent. The tube tent was designed and fabricated by event production manager John Murray, president of John Murray Productions. Called “the tube,” the structure was used to transform the experience of entering a tent. “We tried to think of a magical way to make the transition from the street to the tent,” Randell-Silver says. “Attendees walked up a ramp into the tube. The space was outfitted with a lighting design by Tim Miller of Downstage Center that slowly scrolled through the spectrum of colors coupled with an underwater soundscape designed by Bill Fontana.”
Fontana, a sound sculptor and artist with a long-standing relationship with Meyer Sound, is known for his sound projects in public spaces and museums including the Public Art Project for the Lyon (France) Tramway System. For the Meyer party, “sound was used in the entrance to transform the attendee's state of mind from a sort of dreary industrial park setting into a journey to another world,” Fontana says. “I used a variety of environmental sounds like moving water, underwater, and birds at sea to create a very energetic and alive space.”
To give dimension to the sound, a spatial matrix was created using time delays and multiple channels on a MOTU audio interface. Fontana also used his Apple Mac using Digital Performer software to shape the soundscape. Eight Meyer MM4 loudspeakers configured as four MM4s on each side of the tube in an alternating pattern provided sound reinforcement, while Meyer UPM-1P ceiling speakers were used to mimic birds in flight overhead using delays. “The most difficult challenge was working in a space that didn't exist until a few days before the event,” Fontana says.
In addition to the light and sound, low CO2 fog was used so attendees couldn't see their feet, lending yet another ethereal feel. At the end of the tube was a three-dimensional display in the shape of the Meyer Sound 25th anniversary logo using a Martin 2000 moving light to represent fireworks.
The visual experience
The strategy for the evening was to delight and amaze the 500 attendees by layering the design of the experience in the main tent. Randell-Silver also didn't want the main tent to feel like a box. Drawing upon circular themes, there was a circular truss over the four 14-foot circular stages, which were surrounded by intimate circular LED color changer tables. In addition to the usual assortment of AV equipment hanging from the truss was aerial dance troupe Project Bandaloop, which hung upside down and danced the tango to live music by Los Peregrinos.
On the ground, vocalist and accordion player Nicole Renaud serenaded the group using a DPA wireless headset microphone and also provided visual enlightenment using hand-held LED lights. A BSS Soundweb system was used to turn off certain zones of the sound system to isolate her voice as she moved through the tent. In addition, LED artists The Mirthlings mingled in the crowd wearing head-to-toe fiber optic bodysuits, powered by a hidden power pack.
Another layer of the experience was the multiple thematic areas, which were defined by their own mural and food selection. Themes for these areas were the Montreux Jazz Festival, Meyer Sound milestones, inspiration, and shows. Each themed area featured specially created thematic video wallpaper by video editor Bob Ross on four 61-inch NEC MP1 plasma displays. Because the Montreux content was in early HD format, a Folsom ImagePRO HD image processor was used to convert and display the video, which came from John Meyer's collection.
“Plasmas were chosen over other types of displays because of their ability to display clearly at a 180-degree viewpoint; even at more severe angles, you can still view the images very well,” says David Skaff, project manager, video engineer, tape operator, and display technician for the event and director of sales for Creative Technologies San Francisco, which provided the video equipment for the occasion. “Freestanding faux wall sections were used to wall-mount the plasma displays because there were no real walls. The wall sections were pushed up against the tent wall so that cables weren't a trip hazard.”
When the specially produced content wasn't playing, the plasmas showed the feeds from two spycams, one Panasonic AW-E800 camera that was fixed over the tube entrance and another Panasonic AW-E800 controlled by a Panasonic AWRP camera controller showing other parts of the party. Video technicians also used a Canon DXC 950 Robo Camera to monitor the scene from a tent outside the event. “Video for the event was entirely robotic and remote,” Randell-Silver says. “No one was walking around with a video camera, yet we were able to provide live video feeds of several areas of the party.”
Audio for each plasma display included two Meyer Sound UPM-1P loudspeakers and one Meyer Sound UMS-1P compact subwoofer. A BSS Soundweb system was used for the audio networking and processing for each plasma station, with one audio output from Soundweb feeding into the main audio system.Aural excitement
For the main stage events, Randell-Silver commissioned local event production company DaVinci Fusion for trussing that could support both audio and lighting equipment as well as the six Project Bandaloop performers. Six Meyer Sound M1D ultra-compact curvilinear array loudspeakers controlled by a LD-3 compensating line driver were hung from the truss at 18 feet high with a 20-degree down angle. “The M1Ds were the right size and power for what we needed,” says Hal Soogian, sound designer and mixer for the event and sound engineer for the San Francisco Symphony. “The cabinets were small enough so that they didn't get in the way of the Bandaloop performers. The positioning of the M1Ds also allowed for them to be used as both monitors and the main PA.”
Soogian, along with John Monitto at Meyer Sound, wanted to create a very simple design for the audio setup, so no additional acoustical treatment was used in the tent. “We tried to uncomplicate things,” Soogian says. “There was minimal movement onstage once the string quartet was in place. Setup was simple and basic to minimize the chance of errors.”
In addition to the quartet, each of the four circular stages was constantly alive with entertainment from a jazz trio, the Dred Scott Trio, and Los Peregrinos, a tango band. For FOH, Soogian used a vintage Gamble EX56 mixing console provided by Pro Media/Ultrasound.
Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance writer and PR specialist for the professional AV industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.