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Reflecting sound for "canned" orchestra!

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by jkowtko, Apr 17, 2007.

  1. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    I'm interested in hearing thoughts on this ...

    For our upcoming production we are playing a CD track for the orchestra. This is the first time our theater has done this, but because the resident music director is directing the play, he wants to try recorded music instead of hiring a separate conductor and orchestra.

    I have two SRM450s to "play" the orchestra. The music director would like indirect sound, and has chosen for speaker placement the backside of a large cart around center stage, with two luan panels 5-6 feet behind the cart on which we will "bounce" the sound to reflect back towards the audience.

    Is this gonna work? I know with a real orchestra you will usually have no problem lifting the sound out of the pit or behind a baffle wall, but how will it sound with a couple of speakers?

    Thanks. John
     
  2. SHARYNF

    SHARYNF Well-Known Member

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    the saga of John and the Hillbarn has been really interesting.

    This approach is totally crazy. I have seen you trying to provide the best sound system for this facility, asking great questions, searching out details and suggestions.

    Unfortunately the director simply does not understand how sound, and direct and indirect reflection works. You will have a horrible mess . If he does not want the speakers to be noticeable you can make a thin acoustic transparent covering so that they are not visible.

    using reflective panels to correct for room effects, or attempt to direct sound is one thing, as a compliment to direct sound. To think that a think a thin panel will work the same way is a serious misunderstanding as to how it works


    Here are a few points

    Say you put your speakers on the card, and then place a panel behind them, if you look a the speaker at best as a flashlight, and the panel as a mirror, just draw out for your self where most of the sound will be reflected to... if you angel the panel back the sound will be reflected up to the roof,, of you angle the panel down, the sound will be reflected down to the floor.

    A lot of the acoustic treatment effects work based on the psychoacoustic concept that the first sound heard is considered the loudest, if there is a slight delay, so in using reflective panels most of the time you are trying to gring the acoustic energy rising up from a music group down and out to the audience by hanging the panel high up angled forward. Most of the sound is still direct. Around the Stage area you have reflective surfaces for called early t Reflection which again ENHANCES the sound, not replaces it.


    A small thin panel as the main source of the sound will transmit not only some of the sound but also vibrations from the panel and color the sound.

    Bose tried this back in the old days with the 901, where they placed 8 speakers angled to the wall, and one facing forward, in an attempt to get a lot of reflective sound and open up the sound stage. Some people liked it most pro's hated it. Even then it was based on transfering the audio to the walls of the room, not a thin panel.

    Oh well

    Sharyn
     
  3. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    Yeah, I remember the good ol' 901s ... but the 802s (a 901 turned around with the 8 speakers facing directly at you) sounded much better for PA. Our college our theater used three stacked pairs of 802s to play dolby sound at the movie theater and they were loud and crisp ... we also had a DJ who did the same with two pairs of 802s .. again great loud sound for a dance party.

    On the other side of the acoustic spectrum, I just found out that our lighting guy's son works for Meyer up here in Emeryville, and he has been by the theater in the past and commented on the strategy of using several of their smaller drivers hidden away up in the light rack. Would be great if we had the $$$ (which we do not) ... who knows, maybe I can talk Meyer into using us as a beta test site ...?

    So, anyway, for the show I'll try the reflection strategy. The panels are angled slightly to bounce the sound out to the sides ... we'll see how it sounds, but I'll be ready to scramble to re-locate the speakers for more direct positioning. Worst case, we'll use the house speakers, which sound pretty good by themselves (just doesn't sound like a band coming from backstage).

    Thanks. John
     
  4. avkid

    avkid Not a New User Fight Leukemia

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    There is no way you are going to fool anybody into that there is a live orchestra.
    It sounds as if that is the director's goal, correct?
     
  5. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    Basically ... or at least to give the audience the "orchestra" experience vs. the "boombox" experience.

    I wouldn't totally discount the idea though. Many years ago I had a nice pair of B&W loudspeakers in my home, through which you could swear the band was playing live from the living room when you were elsewhere in the house.

    Conversely, I've been to professional theater productions where the orchestra is miked and the sound mixed so well and pumped through the PA so that it sounds like it's canned.

    Our particular soundtrack is from a company that works with MTI to provide soundtracks to those who need them. The mix itself is definitely a studio mix -- you don't get that "roughness" of the percussion and tempo that we get live. So anyone with any sort of a trained ear will know that it's a sound track. But at least to get the sound coming from where the band would normally be will I think create a better listening experience than piping it through the house PA which "surrounds" the audience. Then the only question is, how clear, balanced and "full" can we get the band sound.
     
  6. jbeutt

    jbeutt Active Member

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    I've just been lurking for a while, but this post made me want to jump in with a "what the hell"?

    I'm all for experimenting, but this doesn't seem like a prudent use of time. You're saying that by using these panels, you hope to somehow recreate the "feel" of a live orchestra, but I can't seem to understand the reasoning that would explicitly support that idea.

    Maybe it's my own misunderstanding, but what exactly is the mechanism involved in the project that will supposedly transform the sound to sound more live? Like Sharyn said, it seems like the director's misunderstanding of audio is leading to a plan that will be a mess. It seems like a conceptual plan without much basis or evidence.

    Maybe try to get your Meyer contact to throw an opinion in, though.
     
  7. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    "I" don't hope to ... it's the tech director and music director that are hoping.

    Our music director has had literally decades of professional recording, conducting and performing experience (he's worked for Lucas, etc) and is a very accomplished drummer, so I don't want to necessarily dismiss one of his ideas until I research it a bit. (... and you guys are obviously providing me with some very useful feedback here!)

    So the vote seems to be hands down, "you're smokin' something" ... which means I'll be scouting around backstage to locate an alternate setup for the band speakers in the what-seems-likely event that these don't sound good in the requested configuration.

    Thanks. John
     
  8. dbaxter

    dbaxter Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Have you thought about using the speakers pointed directly, but enhancing the sound with playing it through a computer with 5.1 surround capabilities? The newer sound cards (e.g. Sound Blaster Audigy) come with software like "EAX" that will synthesize a more lifelike sound. Take the three outputs from the 5.1 card and amplify them separately if you need to. Or take the output from a Bose CineMate processor.
     
  9. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    I could to that. In fact, the (low-end) DVD player that was sent to us along with the music track has 5.1 surround generation capabilities.

    Alternatively, our SCS PC has 6 outputs (going to 8) and I've already tested out playing house speakers at -20db to accompany the orchestra speakers. I also tried starting the track at the orchestra and slowly pan to fill the house, which gives a nice crescendo effect for some of the tracks.

    However, this won't sound like an orchestra in the backstage area, so my first attempt is to just get decent sound out of the speakers coming from backstage.
     
  10. jbeutt

    jbeutt Active Member

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    I'm curious what is supposed to happen with this technique. Specifically what process or mechanism would generate this effect.

    My feeling--and this is by no means quantified--is that simply reorienting the speakers can't give the effect of a live orchestra. Beyond not actually enhancing the sound acoustically, it can't recreate the fundamental thing that makes an orchestra sound live. This, I believe, is the many different relative delays that come from having a number of instruments in a space.

    It gives a sense of spatial depth having all these minute delays between instruments. No matter how you disperse the audio signal from a speaker, it's all the same program coming from one or two sources. I think although both sound like an orchestra, our brains are very good at deciphering the difference based on these delays.
    Nowww, if you were to send instrument submixes to different speakers, I could imagine getting a better sense of reality from the sound. Like sending percussion one place and strings to another. Even just doing some panning could help, but I imagine that you tracks are already mixed down. If not, that would definitely be my suggestion.

    But again, as this wouldn't appear to work using the reflective thing, I'm wondering what your audio guy's take on this is and why he thinks it would be effective.
     
  11. SHARYNF

    SHARYNF Well-Known Member

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    I guess the point I was trying to make with the 901 comment and your reinforce this with the 802 comments, is that Even Bose moved from most of the sound being reflective to mostly direct with a small amount of reflective.

    Using a solid surface with mass like a wall is very different than a thin panel, the vibration, drumming effect is all going to be undesirable and color the sound.

    A live set of instruments performing in an acoustically great venue like say Carnegie Hall is a combination of direct and reflected sound, the resonence qualities of the room, all the way down to the type of wood used, the way the fall is isolated from the beams, the type of finishing on the surface etc. Along the line of why I great violin from the 1700's still sounds incredible today.


    If you want to recreate this electronically, then multi channel sound is a possibility, where you create the sound stage with direct and indirect speakers say along the lines of dolby 7.1. This all depends on how the piece was recorded, did for instance they use a decca tree, with some spot mics and then some room mics, did they just use a pair of high quality mics with again some room mice or no room mics. Just about any cd recorded will when processed via dolby phase type system will create a "surround" image, problem is is the image what you want to have, are you trying to place the audience in the middle of the orchestra, or where?

    In general (and this is just IN GENERAL) classic pieces recorded with what is usually called a decca tree or modified decca tree where you have a coincident pair of mics in the middle approximately above and behind the conductor, and then two side mics 3-4 feet out to each side, and then two rear facing room mics, CAN create with the right speaker setup an experience that is close to what the conductor hears. In most cases it works in a sweet spot and not for the entire space.

    Sharyn
     
  12. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    I agree -- playing with sound properties is something that should not be done lightly ... unless I actually had the time to investigate how the use of different techniques will work in our theater, it's going to be a quick try at using the reflective positions that were picked out by the director, and if they don't sound good, then just revert back to the way the speakers were designed -- for direct sound.

    Fyi, the lighting guy and our second TD also questioned the reflection concept, and immediately started identifying several places we "should" place the speakers backstage to get clear sound out to the audience. Between ledges and speaker stands I think we'll have the options covered.

    But again, thanks everyone for the input. It's good to have a sounding board (no pun intended) to get feedback and input in advance for things that I haven't tried yet.

    Thanks. John
     
  13. SHARYNF

    SHARYNF Well-Known Member

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    John
    One thing to keep in mind if you do go with different locations for speakers etc, is that phase alignment becomes an issue, where since the audio originates on the cd based on a set of phase characteristics, placing speakers that are not aligned (say if you use more than a stereo pair, but all are playing parts of the stereo pair) need to have a time delay introduced inorder to align them.

    There has been a number of instances where venues have gone to a multiple speaker layout, all with the same signal, but it is important to remember they are also using a time alignment system

    Sharyn
     
  14. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    Okay, the speakers are in place in reflective position, and they sound "okay". The range is suprisingly good for what I was expecting, and there is no vibration of the luan panels or the cart that I can hear ... but there is a noticable loss of definition (however I don't think the Mackie's are real audiophile speakers to begin with so we may not be losing too much here.)

    The speakers also put out a lot more bass sitting on the floor in a semi-enclosed area, a bit muddy but still okay. So I may not need to fork out the $$ for a sub this time around.

    I spoke to the director about options, and he definitely wants indirect sound for the band -- so indirect it is! If anything changes I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I will learn the art of EQ during this production as I attempt to balance the sound for the various musical numbers. Thanks everyone for your input ... I can definitely use your advice in future shows :)

    Thanks. John
     
  15. SHARYNF

    SHARYNF Well-Known Member

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    I remember the story of early phono records, and all the review re how "perfectly realistic they sounded"
    Unfortunately our ears get educated, and what sound ok to someone might not be rated the same to another.

    Good luck, sounds like fun
    Sharyn
     
  16. Andy_Leviss

    Andy_Leviss Active Member Premium Member

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    As a theatrical sound engineer/designer who prides himself on creating as natural a sound design as possible, I'd argue that these productions aren't mixed well at all. A good mix for a recording is an entirely different beast than a good mix for a live show :)
     
  17. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    After the first weekend of performances, I've started engaging in a discussion (debate?) with the music director on whether we should be using reflection or go for direct sound. He definitely wants to spread the sound around and soften it, much as an orchestra would sound from a pit. But at least he's open to ideas for alternate speaker configuration.

    My thinking is to not use FOH speakers but instead create a "wall" of sound from behind the stage, so that the music is coming from a distinctly different place than the vocals and not necessarily from a point source. I could use four speakers instead of two, to create two stereo pairs -- inside pair and outside pair. Yes, we'd have to watch out for phase cancellations but we can play with the configuration until we get it right. Add some subs for low-end, and you have a fairly loud orchestra from "backstage". When needed, limit sound to the inside pair for a point source of sound, or add FOH for fill-in to surround the audience. It won't sound too much like an orchestra in a pit, but it should provide a nice musical background for the vocals and the overall show.

    Does anyone know of any good articles that discuss different speaker configurations for playing canned music? I came across this one in Stage Directions, but it doesn't really mention anything other than FOH center and wings ...

    http://stage-directions.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=241&Itemid=39

    Thanks. John
     
  18. Peter

    Peter Well-Known Member

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    Ah sounds like you need to have a chat with Professor Bianchi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Bianchi) a professor at my school who has spent most of his life creating a virtual orchestra. He currently has his system installed in several REALLY big theator houses. I have heard it and it is quite good, but still distinguishable from a real orchestra. He has created a company Realtime Music Solutions (http://www.rms.biz/) that just does this stuff. They get a stack of programing for a show and break it down into each and every instrument part and independently place them in individual or pairs of speakers in the array of speakers they use so it sounds like the sound is coming from the proper area of the stage / pit and then they tune the entire system so it sounds right for the room. Finally, they often have it setup so that one person "conducts" the entire system so it can play along with real musicians or react to slight variations in the actors' tempo on stage. It's a REALLY interesting fascinating system but basicly overkill for your situation.

    I would run with the 5.1 option, especially if the music you have recieved for the show is already in that format. Otherwise, you may want to look at aiming your speakers at the audience, but the sitting in the audience and tweaking a high end reverb unit (or a good computerized reverb / room simulator) and see if you can find something that brings the sound to life in your particular venue. If you can get your hands on a good enough reverb unit, to either use live or to edit on to a new edit of the sound, I think some careful tweaking of that will be alot better then trying to simulate reverb using a speaker and a piece of material to reflect sound back at the audience.

    Finally, another thing to keep in mind. Your ear hears different frequencies very differently, and different frequencies reflect very differently. if you do end up going with a reflecting approach, and you have the benifit of two speakers and a crossover, try only reflecting the highs and shooting the lows/mids right at the audience. The human ear is much better at picking out the direction a high frequency sound is coming from then low frequencies. Similarly, depending on your room, you may need to shoot the highs right at the audience so they know where the sound is coming from and you can muffle up the lows abit more to give it a less canned sound. I really cannot stress enough how important it will be for you to get in there and experiment with this if you can. That's going to be the only real way to figure this out. Have fun, and listen carefully to each try, you never know when you may want to us an arragement that doesnt work for this some other time!
     
    jkowtko likes this.
  19. jkowtko

    jkowtko Active Member

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    Thanks Peter -- this is very interesting. We use MTI for most of our musicals (right now we're using the MTI Pit audio tracks for Music Man), so we will definitely find out what the "OrchExtra" product is all about. If this is simply a software program that plays on stereo or 5.1 outputs, this may be all we need to provide the level of quality that will suit our audiences.
     
  20. SHARYNF

    SHARYNF Well-Known Member

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    The problem with the various approaches that seem to be recommended by the theater management is that they really show a lack of understanding of acoustics and psycho acoustics.

    The goal seems to be if I can read between the lines of the various posts to have a canned orchestra/music group but not have it be obvious to the audience. This goal is from a visual and also an audio standpoint.

    In essence the requirements goes to the very heart of audiophile audio systems. Back in the days when there was a larger community of wealthy audiophiles the goal was to be able to reproduce in a room electronically an audio performance to such a level that it was aurally indistinguishable from being at the actual live performance. This became the holy grail so to speak of super high end audio.

    To set the record straight 2 or 4 or what ever Mackie SrM450/s are NEVER going to get you there. It could be argued that people who were willing to spend a virtual unlimited amount of money in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, could come close, but it really depended on your definition of close.

    So attempts to face the speakers backwards, put them in carts, hide them with painted covers are all IMO totally misdirected activities and show a lack of understanding of what the task is all about.


    In high end professional installs where the goal is to provide a very high level quality of sound there are several approaches that can make the experience quite acceptable to the audience, but again it is NEVER going to be the same.

    Live sound from an orchestra is multi source, has a vast dynamic range, and it also acoustically coupled to the entire room. There really is a reason whey for instance in NYC musicians love to play Carnegie hall and do not like to play Avery Fisher hall for instance. Carnegie sounds wonderful, Fisher never sounded good from day one and all the treatments have improved things but it still is not great.


    In general for the best sound reproduction in a theater setting a conbination of left center right and some side fills works the best. The lcr needs to be all in the same plane, all the drivers time aligned, and the side fils need to be properly installed, and configured. The room needs to be treated to reduce unwanted reflections, and "room effect" and the system needs to be properly equed to make sure the transitions across drivers is smooth.

    The music that is being reproduced needs to have been recorded with this type of configuration in mind, which most classical multi channel recording do do, so that the combination of the lcr and the sides can create a soundfield that approximates what the original recording was mixed to.

    Putting the speakers behind the stage, on the side hidden or what ever simply is IMO a waste of time. Speakers are designed in the main for direct radiation to the audience, reflections and interference from speakers mis placed and mis time aligned cause a serious degradation in the sound quality. An extreme example of this sort of mistake was a number of years back there were attempts to add pseudo pipes over a speaker in an attempt to make it sound like a pipe organ.

    Speakers like the Srm450'S are designed for portable pa applications, they do a good job, the emphasis is on directionality and coverage, cost, and convenience, but there never was a design goal to make them super high end audiophile speakers. In addition the super high end audiophile speakers are not designed to be used in a large room, and attempts to just add more speakers does not work, so you wind up with design goals that do not intersect. If you look at high end pa systems today, Line array is the current rage, but it is more from control, configuration for multiple locations for traveling acts, and ability to effectively cover a very large audience chamber.

    Anyway just some thoughts
    Sharyn
     

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