Focusrite brings 3D sound to Swedish opera house

The World To Darkness And To Me – a new dance work by New York-based choreographer Richard Siegal – blends electroacoustic music composed by Lorenzo Bianchi Hoesch of IRCAM in Paris with Siegal’s ‘If/Then’ dance method, which combines written choreography with options for the dancers to co-create in an almost game-like environment where they pick up and improvise around each other’s moves.

Hoesch’s music, which was created with visual music programming language Max, required enormous dynamic range to convey a great deal of light and shade, and was designed to be played back in three dimensions via a special 27.2 loudspeaker array installed in Sweden’s GöteborgsOperan for the production. Using MSP audio extensions and 3D spatialisation plug-ins, he was able to achieve extremely powerful manipulation of the audio.

Hoesch used Ambisonic’s surround-sound system, which can seamlessly recreate a three-dimensional sound field where sounds can be placed anywhere in space completely unrelated to the loudspeaker positions.

The facility’s chief sound engineer, Andreas Renhorn, was tasked with finding a way to play back 32-channels of high-quality audio through this unique system and turned to Focusrite’s RedNet 2, which offer 16 channels of studio-quality, line-level A/D – D/A conversion per unit. A pair of RedNet 2s gave him enough channels for the main system plus auxiliaries, as well as making it easy to move audio around the room using Dante Ethernet-based networking.

For the performances, audio was sent from a MacBook Pro running QLab, a cue-based multimedia playback software system designed for theatre and live work. Using the Dante Virtual Sound Card (DVS) driver supplied with any RedNet unit the MacBook Pro’s internal Ethernet port was used to carry digital audio to the RedNet units via a standard NetGear GS716T switch, which sits between the RedNet units and the computer. The analogue outputs of the RedNet 2s were fed into the 29-channel d&b-based replay system via DB25 cables, with two additional channels for stage foldback and one more for voice.

AV-1 handled the supply and installation of the RedNet components as well as the playback system. AV-1’s Göran Blomgren describes,“This was one of the fastest and smoothest installations ever. Supplementing the Opera’s existing front speakers, we installed 22 additional loudspeakers on the balconies plus five mounted 25 metres up in the ceiling – yet including the loudspeaker and Ethernet cabling, it was completed in under six hours.”

The Ethernet-based functionality of RedNet had some other unexpected benefits. Renhorn explains, “Hoesch was impressed at how easy it was to set up his laptop at the centre of the auditorium on a 50-metre Cat6 cable so he could fine-tune the feeds to the playback array. And how easy it was to hook up a second laptop to the same network for recording by simply connecting an Ethernet cable between the laptop and the switch.”

The result of their work was an engaging multimedia experience. Sound elements, often derived from samples of the Opera’s musicians, tumbled around, across and up and down the 1300-seat auditorium, in sync with the dancers in large and small groups.

Photos by Cecilia Boström