December 2008 Issue 112
TPi reports on the new £100 milliong Kings Cross office and arts centre
Orbital Sound’s long relationship with leading sound designer Scott Myers was extended this summer, when the latter placed a major order to meet an upgraded spec at the new-build Kings Place Music Foundation where he is technical director.
Occupying three subterranean levels of a £100m office block development behind Kings Cross railway station in central London, the Foundation — consisting of two performance spaces, several multi-purpose satellite rooms, rehearsal rooms and full recording/editing suites — is the brainchild of multi-millionaire, Peter Millican, director of property developer Parabola Land.
Arriving at the venue in May, as the infrastructural requirement grew organically, so Myers, who built his reputation as a sound designer with the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company, sensed the need to augment Arup Acoustics’ original audio specification.
In addition to the audio, this included the stage engineering systems — hoists and projection screen, motorised acoustic drapes, lighting control systems, dimmers and production lighting systems — plus comms, cue lights, paging and intercoms. The same applied to the cabling infrastructure detailed by main contractor Northern Light to feed Hall One and Hall Two — largely to support the new requirement for high-definition (with HD-SDI) and increased monitor feeds.
In Hall One, Myers took the radical decision to replace the originally-specified sound rig with his own concept — the d&b audiotechnik ‘Janus’ cluster, in which one enclosure is front-facing, one side-on and the third rear-projecting into the void at the back of the hall.
Acoustically-optimised (by Arup Acoustics and architects Dixon Jones) and heavily curtained, the elegantly oak-veneered, 420-capacity Hall One is equally purpose built for an unamplified orchestra as it is for a rock band — with a variable reverberation time between 0.8s and 1.4s.
Incoming artists can choose their own room characteristics, but at the same time Scott Myers knew the venue had to be able to respond to sudden changes.
“The Janus system can de-rig in 15 minutes because whenever there’s an acoustic concert I don’t want to see any speakers,” he said. These arrays — each comprising a d&b Q7, E8 and E0 enclosure — are mounted on stainless steel band hoists (like chain hoists) with two shackles on each end — and when not in use can be removed straight away.
All d&b loudspeakers and amplifiers were supplied by Orbital Sound, and the sound designer purchased sufficient components to enable him to set up a 7.1 or 5.1 surround system in any performance space.
In consultation with Orbital Sound MD Chris Headlam, and installation manager Tom Byrne, Myers undertook QCalc measurements before finalising his decision.
Myers was first introduced to Orbital Sound many years ago, after being let down by another theatre supply company on a West End show... and he has been with them ever since.
“Orbital are thorough, their service is great, if they don’t know how to do something they will find out,” commented Myers. “I love the honesty of Chris and Tom, and they have always shown me respect.”
Further down the line he worked with Orbital on projects like The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe at Sadlers Wells, where he became the first sound designer to specify Yamaha’s new PM1D digital platform.
Myers enjoys an equally close working relationship with d&b extending back to his days at The National.
In addition to the optional flown rig, a second system at stage level comprises a d&b B2 sub, pair of E15s and further Q7, shoehorned in behind the L/R grilles. d&b E12 enclosures can provide performers with stage monitoring or be deployed as stand alone systems when the need arises. A further 10 E8 loudspeakers are used for surrounds.
Myers noted: “The stage system is stacked really tightly; the E15s are not designed to operate with the B2s, but on the scheme I‘d put together I’d noticed there was a hole in the frequency spectrum for the melodic content — I was missing the clarity on some of the notes from the bass player so I added a pair of E15s on each side and it works really well.”
This also forms part of the Hall One infrastructure, developed by Arup Acoustics, which includes stage engineering, motorised hoists, retractable projection screen (with Barco 12,000 ANSI lumens projector, fitted with warp module) — and, of course, the motorised acoustic drapes.
At FOH, Orbital Sound recommended a Digidesign Venue mix system with detachable sidecar. The D-Show digital console is fitted with HDx card to interface to a Pro Tools HD2 Accel Core system — enabling every show to be multitracked and archived.
Presently, a pair of 48-channel Yamaha M7CL digital consoles occupy the monitor position in Hall One and FOH position in Hall Two — but shortly a new Venue D-Show will oust the M7CL from Hall Two’s FOH position to give the foundation two dedicated Yamaha monitor boards.
Said Myers: “We also have Digidesign BNC coaxial cables so there is digital audio flowing but we’ve put in a complete new multicore analogue system so we can get 48 channels and 16 returns from backstage to FOH, and from backstage to the booth.”
As part of the outboard set up, Orbital Sound also supplied 16 Focusrite OctoPre pre-amps — two 1U units with eight pre-amps in each — to give further options for incoming productions.
In Hall Two — a flat floor space which can accommodate 168 seated or 330 standing — sound reinforcement is again provided by a d&b E15 and Q7 combination, with B2 subs, and an E8 providing front fill on each side of the stage.
Here, Myers has also made use of the collapsible IntelliStage portable stage system. “It’s extremely compact but supports a huge working load — and we can strike the entire stage in 40 minutes.”
Two other important decisions taken by Orbital Sound and the system designer were to specify a stand-alone Zaxcom digital radio microphone system and Whirlwind Super Concert auxiliary cabling system — to add further splits (56 audio lines) and feeds between stage box, monitors and FOH.
“We were very amenable to experimentation and Orbital recommended Zaxcom which is extremely clean,” said Myers. There are 16 channels of Zaxcom for use throughout the building offering one of the best sounding radio mic systems for performers.
Finally, Orbital has provided wireless comms from HM Electronics and a wide selection of industry-reference microphones, from Shure, Neumann, Schoeps, Sennheiser and AKG.
There are 135 mics in total — including the sound man’s luxury item, an AEA-44 — which is a remake of the old RCA ribbon mic. Myers: “I can’t wait to use it as it produces a gorgeous sound.”
The opulent Kings Place is also a centre for the visual arts — and everything Scott Myers has achieved in the audio domain he has probably matched in the visual world — where he has been equally experimental.
“To date I have spent £1.8m on sound, video and lighting and I’m not done yet,” he promised. “This is the best infrastructure you can buy and I’m just a satellite dish away from being able to broadcast live in HD!”
Launching with 100 concerts in five days in October, Kings Place got off to the best possible start — and it’s now planning to build on that momentum.
Plans are already at an advanced stage to start its own record label, offer a live download service and provide an edit suite for TV — as well as installing an optical fibre system that will send audio anywhere.
It’s little wonder that from an initial technical staff of three Scott Myers is now projecting a head count of 35 to manage the growth.
Venue photography by
Richard Bryant & Guy Montagu-Pollock