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Cirque Hawaii Sounds Off

A venue designed and built for one type of performance may not necessarily work for another. That was the challenge Creative Sound and Lighting of Kaneohe, HI, a small AV sales, service, rental, and installation company, faced in designing a new sound system for Cirque Hawaii, a troupe of acrobatic performers whose daily show is a dynamic display of physical prowess coupled with vibrant music to complete an entertainment spectacular rarely seen.

Beyond that, the highest point in the room is 65 feet, and there's little depth to the theatre — with only 20 feet of stage from the back wall to the first row of audience seating. Compounding the challenge was the fact that loudspeaker location would be dictated by the physical location of the performers — trapeze artists, bungee jumpers, and other physical feats that take up space from ceiling to stage floor.

Taking these factors into consideration, Creative Sound designed a system with 12 JBL VRX932LA cabinets hung four each (left/center/right), powered by three Crown I-Tech 6000s. Four JBL Control 29AVs per side, powered by a Crown CTS8200 and controlled by a dbx 481 loudspeaker processor, were installed on each of the side walls.

However, because the front row was at stage level, a different location had to be determined for the four JBL SRX728S subwoofer cabinets, which are powered by a single Crown I-Tech 8000. Due to the extreme incline of the seating plane, the subs were placed above floor level on scaffold towers to cover the entire room with low frequency energy without overwhelming the people sitting right in front of the stage. The amplifiers and the dbx processor were placed in a Middle Atlantic SR40-32 rack enclosure, which allows the bottom and backplane to be bolted to the building for security, and enables the main rack module to pivot for easy access to wiring.

Unique configuration

Even with the sound equipment installed in the space, making it work in the demands of an IMAX-shaped room proved difficult. For example, the clusters had to be hung directly over the front row of seats. With the fixed 60-degree arc in the array, height became an issue, and the bottom cabinet points straight down. The arc of the array allows it to cover the rest of the theatre space while the bottom cabinets can be attenuated due to their direct overhead proximity. Because of the incline of the seating plane, the dispersion pattern was almost perfect for covering the entire seating area from the front to the rear.

The loudspeakers were eventually hung on each of the three extensions from the main truss grid, approximately 6 feet from the primary cross-section. A point was placed in the middle of the box using a bridle from each of the top cords, using 1/4-inch aircraft cable (7x19 construction; seven bundle strands of 19 wires each). The loudspeaker stacks were then pulled by hand with a couple of pulleys and a rope. Once in place, a shackle was attached through the rigging bar, which allowed the cluster to hang from the points. Each of the clusters includes a backup hang with more cable between the truss and one of the unused points' shackle holes on the frame.

Kang says the key to the project's success required understanding the specific requirements of the show. “Although acoustical space was an issue, it was equally important that we understood where all of the performers' locations were going to be,” he says. “Performer positions determined speaker location, rather than the typical acoustic considerations. To be successful with this approach, we relied heavily on time alignment and a little EQ, so the audience doesn't feel like the speaker is right over their heads, even though it is. We used time alignment to ensure that, depending on where you sat in the house, you'd hear a slightly different image of sound that would seem to come from everywhere, rather than drawing your attention to any specific speaker. This was key, since speaker placement wasn't at any desired location, and the room was pretty much dead acoustically. We used various delay times in the wall speakers to give a sense of space, while using a combination of delay and EQ on the main speakers to give a sense of being right in the middle of the action. We blended in the surrounds so that the audience would get a sense of the sound coming from all around them.”

The unique space configuration also proved to be a challenge when fine-tuning the system. Because the control booth, which was once the projection room, is located 20 feet above the audience — away from the stage and audience areas where they can't accurately hear the system — the client originally removed the glass window that separated the room from the audience area. However, this only helped slightly.

To solve the problem, Creative Sound used SIA-SmaartLive at the beginning of the project to accurately calculate delay times by positioning measurement microphones in various locations around the room to tune the system to work as a whole. “Through this one-time Smaart setup, we were able to place the microphone in the audience, and essentially hear what a customer would hear without having to run up and down the stairs between the seats and the booth,” Kang says.

By providing a compact and powerful approach that used half the number of amplifiers as originally planned, Creative Sound's approach saved Cirque Hawaii an estimated $100,000. And despite the difficult acoustical challenges the former IMAX theatre posed, one existing element proved to be a time and money saver: Creative Sound was able to re-use the previously-installed high-quality speaker cabling. The team did a thorough continuity check, found that it was good, and only had to extend it from the walls, which saved approximately 3,000 feet of cable and more than 20 hours of labor that would have been necessary otherwise.


Because the sound system acrobatic troupe Cirque Hawaii needed was installed in a former IMAX theatre, it had to be completely re-assessed as a result of the inherent differences between the sound requirements of a cinema and a performance space.

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