Stabat Mater’s new sound.
Written by Mike Clark and first published in the September 2018 issue of LSi
Of the countless events held worldwide this year to commemorate the 150th anniversary of composer Gioachino Rossini’s death, one of the most unusual from a technical point of view and as far as the location was concerned, was recently staged in Bologna - the city that adopted the great master. For this, a highly symbolic concert featured a performance of Rossini’s Stabat Mater under the direction of Michele Mariotti in the aptly-named Stabat Mater Room at the Archiginnasio. Once the main building of Bologna University, Archiginnasio played host to the Italian debut of the work back in March 1842 under the baton of Gaetano Donizetti.
Donizetti later stated that he had to ‘compel’ Rossini to at least attend the third concert at the Archiginnasio, since - despite great enthusiasm from audiences - the Pesaro-born composer hadn’t attended the first two evenings due to nerves. Back in the present day, with a 20-strong orchestra, plus chorus and four soloists in-situ, the small room was unable to host an audience, so the concert was projected live on a cinema screen at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, with audio playback from d&b audiotechnik’s Soundscape system, which - like Rossini’s work over 170 years earlier - made its official Italian debut at the venue.
Since 2013, Italy’s BH Audio had been one of the key d&b partners entrusted with carrying out critical beta tests on the platform that eventually became Soundscape. Officially launched at ISE in Amsterdam this February, Soundscape cleverly combines d&b loudspeaker systems with state-of-the-art processing power, object-based mixing and sophisticated room emulation, to enable the creation of a natural, harmonious and enveloping listening experience for audiences. The beta tests carried out on the system by B&H included numerous Ravenna Festival events staged at the Pala de André indoor arena, with artists including Yo-Yo Ma, Enrico Rava and Ute Lemper, and prestigious orchestras such as St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Hamburg Philharmonic and the orchestra of Florence’s Maggio Musicale. Tests were also carried out at the Alighieri Theatre for the festival’s traditional Autumn Opera Trilogy. A demanding testing ground, to put it mildly . . . BH Audio MD Massimo Carli explains the testing process: “Initially, there was just one Soundscape ‘machine’, which we were given for events to make use of (the same used on Kraftwerk’s 3D concerts, see LSi October 2017). Following the first year of tests, d&b gave us a machine that we kept until two years ago, on which periodical upgrades were made to the software. Then we were given another, similar to the current DS100 processor but still a prototype. d&b obviously provided technical support, particularly in the first year, when one of the developers, Felix Einsiedel, worked closely with me during set-up.”
In the Stabat Mater room, the BH team deployed a Lawo Compact I/O stage box (32 mic in + 16 channels AES EBU in), two Studer D19 (each with eight channels of mic preamps with AD/AES-EBU converters), a multiverter (Madi - Ravenna AES67 for the event’s recording), a Cisco Series 300-managed switch, two MacBook Pros with Ravenna Merging driver for the multi-track recording, and four LC / LC multi-mode fibre cables connecting the stage box with the Lepida fibre-optic connection cabinet (from which the connection with the cabinet at the theatre, just over 1km away, left). Lepida is the Bologna-based company responsible for planning, design, development, realisation, configuration and running of telecom infrastructures and telematic services using the fibre network infrastructure.
As far as microphones were concerned, the 20 orchestra members used DPA 4023 miniature cardioid mics and Schoeps CCM4s, CCM5s and MK4s, while the chorus had eight Neumann KM140 and the four solo singers - Schoeps MK21s. Meanwhile, two DPA 4090s were used as ambient mics. The FOH set-up in the theatre’s Bibbiena Hall included a Lawo mc²36 console, two d&b audiotechnik DS100 Soundscape units with En-Scene and En-Space software, three DS10 (Dante/AES67 to AES-EBU) converters (for connection to the amps) and three Cisco Series 300-managed switches. Behind the large screen, the main d&b audiotechnik system comprised four clusters each with eight T10 with array processing and eight floor-installed Y-SUBs in sub array configuration. Eight more T10 were positioned on the floor on front-fill chores. The En-Space environments were recreated by 16 8S installed around the audience, flown from the second tier of boxes. To power the systems, BH Audio fielded 24 channels of 10D (front-fill and En-Space speakers) and 32 channels of D80 (for the main screen rig). At the heart of the Soundscape is the DS100 Signal Engine, a high-performance audio processor with Audinate Dante networking and a powerful 64 x 64 level and delay matrix with extensive in- and output processing. Sound designers have access to all the Soundscape‘s potential via two optional software modules (En-Scene, which enables individual placement and movement of up to 64 ‘sound objects’, and the En-Space room emulation tool), which provides them a series of powerful design instruments.
“For those who haven’t yet heard the system at work, it offers audiences the ‘real’ perception of the position of the sound source (stage-left and right and up and downstage), as if listening to a real orchestra actually positioned on stage,” Carli explains. “Following five years’ development and accurate tests in the field with BH and other partners, Soundscape has finally come up with the answer to the question the d&b R&D team in Backnang asked themselves: ‘How do we give the same natural, authentic listening experience to every member of the audience’ rather than selective listening provided by stereo audio.” In short, as well as re-asserting the d&b credo of ‘Democracy for Listeners’, Soundscape is a perfect demonstration of an adjective that has recently become excessively overused, particularly in showbusiness: immersive.
After the Bologna event, Carli enthused: “We began the necessary tests, in particular those on the fibre optic connections, well in advance, simulating the set-up between the Stabat Mater room and the theatre and running random checks for data ‘drop’. When we set things up on-site, everything worked perfectly.”