d&b Soundscape brings Death of a Salesman to Life.
As the d&b Soundscape continues its ground-breaking development in theatre, a recent West End appearance appears to sign-post a new era in sound’s contribution to the dramaturgy of stage performance, and its place at the creative table.
Late last year, Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Death of a Salesman became the latest heavyweight straight play to arrive in London’s West End. Like its similarly celebrated predecessor at the Piccadilly Theatre, The Lehman Trilogy, Death of a Salesman was a powerful production in which the revolutionary d&b Soundscape played a significant creative role.
“It was Marianne Elliot who approached me about the system,” says Dominic Bilkey (here billed for the first time as ‘Soundscape Designer’), referring to one of the play’s two directors – the other being Miranda Cromwell, “following her experience of the audio as an audience member at The Lehman Trilogy. It was the ability to reinforce the vocal without that sound being audible to the audience that appealed to her.”
As 'Soundscape Designer' Bilkey worked alongside the production's Sound Designer Carolyn Downing.
Bilkey, who was also responsible for the highly successful implementation of Soundscape through several iterations of the NT’s The Lehman Trilogy, was keen to further explore the possibilities of Soundscape. “Every time I use Soundscape I find more power, flexibility and creative uses for it,” he says. “The main changes in the Soundscape system between the two productions is the efficiency of the workflow and the incremental improvements the d&b team have made to the speed at which the system performs with regards to programming and system functions.”
“The aims of this production differed slightly from Lehman in that there wasn’t the complexity of the revolving glass cube to overcome,” says Bilkey. “The audience in Death of a Salesman would always have the ability to hear the main acoustic source of the performer, whereas this wasn’t the case with Lehman.”
Up in the circle, the delay lines use eight E6 and eight E5 boxes, while below, eight 16C column loudspeakers and a further eight E5s are used for the stalls delay lines. The front system comprises ten Y10P and five Y7P on the advance trusses, covering stalls, dress circle and balcony, while twelve E4s across the front of stage (where The Lehman Trilogy had used eight 16Cs) give additional front fill support. The upper balcony is covered by a single delay line of T10 loudspeakers in horizontal, Point Source mode; surrounds comprise mainly E5 boxes - 16 in the stalls, 12 in the circle and 8 in the balcony - supported by a pair of E8s.
Sub reinforcement comes from two flown V-SUBs and two ground stacked B6 SUBs. Onstage are two E8s, six E6s, three E4s and one B2 SUB. The system is fed by two DS100 signal engines (cascaded), via eight DS10 AES Bridges, with amplification from twenty-six D20 and two D80 amplifiers. Again, as with The Lehman Trilogy, all audio equipment was supplied by Phil Hurley and his team at Stage Sound Services.
“We changed how we controlled the DS100 in this production, after lessons we learned in Lehman,” adds Bilkey. “Due to the different nature of the performance we opted for using QLab to directly control the unit, which allowed us a greater flexibility in editing, and during the technical process.” There were also modifications to the onstage loudspeakers.
According to Bilkey, the new workflow has changed the conversations around sound which have become far more integrated with other creatives, “We now have a language that allows a discussion that is accessible to everyone, in a way that was only previously the case for those working in the visual arts.”
d&b Soundscape technology is changing the role and perception of theatre sound design beyond recognition. A discipline too often seen as a purely technical exercise, theatre sound design can now claim its place as a sophisticated and indisputable creative art, as capable of influencing the audience’s response to the action as direction, lighting or set.