Norwest soft sound solution for South Pacific

This production of South Pacific will return to Sydney Opera House in 2013

18 September 2012

Australia - Rodgers & Hammerstein musical South Pacific is the first Lincoln Center Theatre production to ever tour Australia and it also marks the coming together of Australia's largest performing arts company, Opera Australia, with Australia's largest commercial theatre producer, John Frost.

With a cast of 40 and an orchestra twice the size of most musicals, this international hit and landmark production dominated the 2008 Tony Awards picking up seven of the coveted awards.

One award recipient was sound designer Scott Lehrer and so the pressure was on for Norwest Productions to deliver a sound solution to ensure the Australian production lived up to its heritage!

Norwest's Adrian Riddell was appointed associate sound designer and it was his task to translate Lehrer's design to the Australian production. Lehrer has made no secret of wanting a quieter, more intimate show than is typical of most musicals preferring to use available technology to make the audience perceive the sound as more natural than most musicals.

"I always thought it should be done as quietly as possible, to keep the focus on the storytelling," Lehrer has said. "It's the difference between the audience being pushed back by the sound and being drawn in."

"Scott never wanted a fully amplified sound but rather a reinforcement of the acoustic sound of both the principle actors, chorus and orchestra," commented Riddell. "His comment to us was, the audience really needs to lean in to listen rather than sit back and it be fed to them."

There were spatial techniques used throughout the show so as the actors moved across the stage, a sound processor changed the delay times in the loudspeaker system to give the feeling of movement.

"There are four separate vocal zones on stage so wherever the main speaking is happening at a particular time we will route the audio into that particular zone which changes the delay times into the speakers," he explained. "So wherever you're sitting the delay time in the speakers will change to give you the perception of the sound coming from that particular area. It's quite a different technique which we've never done before but it works well."

There was a requirement for sound effects to be generated from moving set pieces (radio telecommunications radios) throughout the show and they were required to be cable free. This was achieved by having 12v battery powered car amplifiers to power the speakers and RF Beltpacks to receive the audio signal.

"There is a speaker on each desk so that rather than the sound coming out of the main PA system, it comes from the desk giving the audience the perception the sound is really coming from there," added Riddell. "We do the same in Act I with the telephone ringing on the desk; the phone has a battery powered amplifier hidden in the desk."

The PA system is a fairly standard set up with both d&b audiotechnik and EAW boxes driven by d&b and Crown amplifiers. Lehrer favors d&b audiotechnik C7 speakers, which comprise the centre cluster. "These are my favourite speakers to use," Lehrer says. "They're incredibly neutral, beautiful-sounding speakers." He also chose d&b Q-Series amps for left/right and main delay systems.

"When we get to the scene with the Folies stage at the beginning of Act II we decided to put a couple of Altec Lansing 511B spectral horns on top of the stage" said Riddell. "That meant that when the lead actor was talking it sounded like she was coming through a really old PA. Rather than using a digital effect, we actually sourced a really old PA to get that sound. Unfortunately those particular horns are as rare as hen's

At FOH mix engineer John Watterson uses a Digico D5T for mixing with a couple of Qlab Replay Machines, a Big Ben Word Clock Master and a TC6000 Reverb Engine also in use.

As well as the audio, Norwest Productions was also responsible for the communications providing all of the comms and the video system, including monitors allowing viewing of the conductor by those onstage and backstage. Added to that are surveillance cameras for the automation operator.

Following a sell-out season at the Sydney Opera House, the show has extended its Melbourne run by three weeks.

(Jim Evans)

 

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Norwest sound Australia production coming musicals Lehrer show use audience rather Riddell stage delay system main particular audio speakers desk PA d&b

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