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February 4, 2014 The Digital System That Fixes Concert Hall Sound BY JASON VICTOR SERINUS Interior of Zellerbach

Hall Photo by Meyer Sound Does it represent the ne paradigm of concert hall sonics! or does it spell the death of "li#e$ acoustic sound as e ha#e gro n to %no it& The ans er! as it turns out! is hardly as blac% and hite as the 'uestion implies( )ut one thing is certain* In less than a decade! Meyer Sound+s Constellation ,coustic System! a flexible! digitally based! acoustic enhancement system that as birthed in )er%eley and Canada! has transformed both our understanding of hat is possible ithin the confines of the concert hall en#ironment! and the nature of those en#ironments themsel#es( Constellation! in the company+s o n ords! is* "a complete solution of e'uipment and ser#ices - that enables the acoustical properties of a room to be altered to suit the nature of the e#ent ta%ing place( Constellation is pro#ided as an integrated solution that includes on.site e#aluation! super#ision! and final tuning- /nce Constellation is commissioned! the acoustical properties of 0a1 #enue can be optimi2ed ith the press of a button($ That optimi2ation is about far more than the sound that reaches the ears of audience members( 3ohn Pello e! pro4ect director for Constellation! emphasi2es that there are four essential criteria that the system must satisfy* "/ne! the audience has to hear the performers( T o! the performers ha#e to hear each other( 5e use Constellation to ma%e communication across the stage a much more satisfying experience for musicians( Three! the performers need to hear the audience( This is often forgotten in the design of buildings( To top it all! the audience needs to hear each other! so that hen they applaud! they+re not applauding into an acoustic blac% hole! but rather into the same %ind of re#erberant space that the performers are ma%ing music in($ 5hile you ould certainly expect Pello e to ha#e nothing but good things to say about their electronic enhancement system! it+s important to note his credentials( , recording engineer for Decca during the so.called "6olden 7ra of 8ecording!$ from the mid.9:;<s through 9::=! he or%ed first in >ondon! then in ?ienna ith conductor 6eorg Solti( From there he ent to the @(S(! here he or%ed ith the Chicago Symphony ith

Solti! the Cle#eland /rchestra ith DohnAnyi and ,sh%ena2y! and later on ith the San Francisco Symphony and )lomstedt and the Metropolitan /pera /rchestra ith >e#ine( In 9::B! Pello e became sound engineer for >uciano Pa#arotti and the Three Tenors! and or%ed ith the tenor until the end of his career( 6i#en that :< percent of the Three Tenors+ concerts ere amplified ith Meyer Sound e'uipment! he and Pa#arotti began a relationship ith the company that! for Pello e! continues to this day( ", 'uestion that often comes up from people thin%ing about Constellation is if it sounds natural!$ Pello e told me #ia S%ype( /ne response to that! hich I feel is 'uite legitimate! is that the only natural acoustics that I+#e e#er come across are probably ca#es( If you loo% at all our other acoustic spaces! they+re all human.made! and they+re made of ood or plasterboard! metal! concrete! and all those other things( In that respect! I thin% the ay Constellation or%s is entirely natural( It+s doing exactly the same thing that those physical materials ould do( It+s adding or returning early reflections and re#erberation bac% into the room( "The ay Constellation or%s is entirely natural( It+s adding or returning early reflections and re#erberation bac% into the room($ C John Pellowe, Constellation Musical instruments are acoustic in their o n right( , #iolin! for example! has its soundbox( , fantastic acoustic ill couple ith that instrument to gi#e its sound the en#elopment and immediacy that e all lo#e( Constellation does exactly that( If you can tell that it+s Constellation that has produced the en#elopment and re#erberation! rather than something the instrument interacting ith the acoustic! then e ha#e basically failed( The system must be entirely natural and transparent so that artists ho are not told about it don+t really %no that it+s there( Pello e audaciously asserts that he belie#es that Constellation can create an acoustic better than the best physical spaces e no ha#e( He points out that! as fabled as se#eral reno ned hallsD acoustics may be! the sound in the Musi%#erein+s loges! or underneath the balcony at the Concertgebou ! is "pretty rotty($ ,s for Da#ies Symphony Hall! not only is the sound poor in the First Tier and to ard the rear of the orchestra! but! according to Pello e! the hall also pro#ides a different acoustic experience to the audience than to the performers( 5ith Constellation! e can create good acoustics throughout the building so people can ha#e good sound here#er they+re sitting( 5e actually change the acoustic of the building by means of microphones! #ery sophisticated digital technology! and loudspea%ers! all of hich are #ery linear and smooth in their operation( 5e don+t add

gain to the building! or increase the le#el any more than you might if you made the room #ery li#e in the first place(

Hometown Tryout 3ohn and Helen Meyer The first public concert hall e'uipped ith the Constellation ,coustic System as the concrete shell %no n as @C )er%eley+s Zellerbach Hall( Ser#ing as the main home of Cal Performances! perhaps the nation+s most prestigious multi.discipline concert series est of Manhattan! Zellerbach is but one of a host of concert halls built in California ithout regard for acoustics( E>(,(+s Dorothy Chandler Pa#illion and Cupertino+s Flint Center are others(F Since its inauguration in 9:=G! Zellerbach has hosted e#erything from dance performances accompanied by li#e or canned music! theatre! opera! symphony! solo and chamber concerts! and amplified 4a22! pop! and orld music( Het! its inherently dry and minimally re#erberant acoustic as far from ideal for most of those! until the installation of a Constellation system( Sometime in I<<=! after 3ohn and Helen Meyer had installed Meyer Sound+s first Constellation system in their company+s intimate and intentionally dry Pearson Theatre in )er%eley! they in#ited Cal Performances+ former mastermind! 8obert Cole! to hear a string 'uartet performance ith and ithout Constellation acti#ation( ,t the time! Cole had been considering a structural acoustic ma%eo#er for Zellerbach hose pro4ected cost as bet een JK< and JB< million( "I told him e could do it cheaper than that!$ 3ohn Meyer recalls( "I also pointed out that the problem ith his fix as that a classical acoustic ouldn+t or% for roc% and pop( Instead! e came up ith different electronic settings for different %inds of music($ "The fact about Constellation that+s appealing is that you don+t %no That+s the hole point! of course($ C Mark Morris, choreographer that it+s happening(

The first time Cal Performances used the Constellation System as for its star. studded 100th Annivers ry Ce!e"r tion on May 9I! I<<=( ,ccording to 3ohn Meyer! "Zellerbach initially had it for a one.night demo and they ouldn+t let us ta%e it out until! after a fe years! they bought it( )ut until it as theirs! e brought in a lot of people to hear hat it could do($

5ithin a year! Meyer Sound had also installed Constellation in the ::.seat Co#ina Center for the Performing ,rts( Since then! the number of Constellation installations has gro n to BK( ?enues include the I<=G.seat ,S) Theatre at the ,otea Centre in ,uc%land! Le ZealandM the 3ac'ueline and Peter Hoefer ,uditorium at )er%eley+s Cro den SchoolM the 9;KN.seat S#etlano# Hall at the Mosco International House of MusicM the KB<<.seat >ogomo in Tur%u! FinlandM the NB<.seat M@M@TH Theatre at the the @ni#ersity of Music and Performing ,rts in 6ra2! ,ustriaM and the pri#ate ?illa Phoenicienne in France( Se#eral ell.publici2ed installations! including those in )er%eley+s Comal 8estaurantO)arOClub E hich enabled patrons to hear each other for the first timeF and #arious Cir'ue du Soleil sites! ha#e attracted international attention( ,s a result! the Meyers estimate that their KK< employees! head'uartered in #arious offices around the orld! are currently or%ing on at least 9< if not more than I< ne Constellation installations( The #roo$ o$ the #u%%in&' Many ha#e 'uestioned the efficacy of Constellation in Zellerbach( 5hen Matias Tarnapols%y! Cole+s replacement as Cal Performances head honcho! arri#ed in )er%eley! he as none too happy about or%ing in a Constellation.e'uipped hall( "5hen it as initially described to me! I didn+t belie#e it could possibly or%!$ he confesses( "5hen I heard it! all my doubts ent a ay( Constellation has uniformly impro#ed the sound and acoustic in Zellerbach Hall( I really do belie#e in the systemM it really has helped Zellerbach immensely($ ?enue ith Constellation Sound* M@M@TH Theatre at @ni#ersity of Music and Performing ,rts in ,ustria Photo by Paren Murphy I! too! admit to a healthy s%epticism hen it comes to electronic enhancement( Perhaps anticipating my concerns! the Meyers and publicist extraordinaire Paren ,mes in#ited me to their Pearson Theatre to hear a star. studded 'uartet composed of San Francisco Symphony musicians( Treated to the same %ind of demo that opened 8obert Cole+s ears! the differences ith and ithout Constellation ere! to say the least! startling( Most con#incing as my o n experience histling onstage! and disco#ering ho different! etter and more engaging my "#oice$ sounded to me depending upon the degree of enhancement( I as certainly most comfortable histling ith the system maximally engaged(

/n a subse'uent #isit to the Meyer Sound complex! I spo%e by phone ith a belo#ed Cal Performances fa#orite! choreographer Mar% Morris( I or% ith li#e music exclusi#ely! and I ha#e for many! many years! in halls all o#er the orld( I don+t care if they say Q e had the best acousticians in the orld come in to do this!+ because the 4ob of acousticians is the biggest 4o%e in the orld hen they tell people it sounds great and it sounds horrible( It doesn+t matter to me if it+s a placebo or an actual cure( I only care if it sounds good( I am compelled! because of the si2e of ,merican theaters! to or% in big #enues! but my preference and budget ha#e me dancing to chamber music 0such as1 a )ach Cello Suite! here the sound is a big problem( 5hat do you do! because people ha#e to be pleased& 7ither you do something in a small hall that suits it! hen it+s un.,merican to charge JB<<Oseat! or you do the democratic #ersion from the Q=<s and Q;<s! and perform in a I<<< to K<<<.seat theater hich is not acoustically balanced! as is the case ith the brutalist architecture of Zellerbach( I only allo any %ind of amplification or sound s eetening in my sho s to enable people to hear it undistorted in a big hall( It doesn+t ha#e to sound li%e shit! as do the )road ay aesthetic or the terribly amplified sound at the Met in amplification.specified operas( 3ohn and Helen had a lot at sta%e hen they allo ed me to decide if I ould employ the Constellation system for my opera! King Arthur, a hile ago( The fact as that I li%ed it #ery much and allo ed it to be used( "5hat they+#e done ith Zellerbach is almost miraculous( 5hen I played there onstage! I could hear all the strings as ell as the inds and brass($ C Rene Mandel, Berkeley Symphony The Met doesn+t %no ho to do it! but the Meyer people do! and that+s hy it or%s( The orrying and horrors they ha#e to go through in figuring this thing out is a onderful payoff! because it really or%s in an astonishing ay( The fact about Constellation that+s appealing is that you don+t %no that it+s happening( That+s the hole point! of course( ,mong other Constellation fans eager to supply testimony for this article as )er%eley Symphony /rchestra #iolinist 8ene Mandel( Currently 7xecuti#e Director of the )er%eley Symphony /rchestra! Mandel performed in Zellerbach as the symphony+s Principal Second ?iolin on many occasions( "5hat they+#e done ith Zellerbach is almost miraculous!$ says Mandel( "5hen I played there onstage! I could hear all the strings as ell as the inds and brass( 7#en in 5eill Hall in Sonoma State+s 6reen Music Center! you may not be able to hear your colleagues hen you+re onstage(

",t our last concert! the Meyers ere experimenting ith the system on and off( The difference as so stri%ing it as #irtually startling( 5hen the system is on! you feel li%e you+re in an actual dedicated concert hall! not some multi.purpose #enue($ Cre tin& the (uture "5e are e#er e#ol#ing Constellation!$ says 3ohn Meyer( "5ith the electronic orld! e can mo#e beyond the physical orld( 5hen the ?ienna Philharmonic people first came to )er%eley! they told us that they li%ed the sound in Zellerbach better than their o n Musi%#erein( 5e are changing the paradigm( It may ta%e a long time for the physical people to gi#e up their attachment! but e can do a better 4ob ith our electro.acoustics( 5e can study and refine our system! creating different acoustics for different performing situations! and stay ahead of the en#elope($ Meyer! in the G<s hen he or%ed on sound ith The 6rateful Dead >ast year! for example! Meyer Sound disco#ered that they could capture the "cathedral$ acoustic of a mos'ue in the Middle 7ast! encode it on a @S) stic%! and import O custom tailor it to other #enues as desired( 5ith that came a ne found ability to personali2e systems for indi#idual users( /ne of their current pro4ects in#ol#es simulating! in a large #enue! an acoustic shell that recreates the sound of a solo #iolin in an intimate #enue( Pello e states that one of their recent disco#eries is a ay to gi#e halls a long re#erberant tail! yet retain "ama2ing$ clarity( Meyer Sound is currently re#isiting halls to implement re.tunings( If this comes to pass in Zellerbach! I loo% for ard to disco#ering if the elcome detail I experienced hen! at a recent )rahms 8e#isited concert by ,nne Sofie #on /tter and 7manuel ,x! I mo#ed up fi#e ro s in the orchestra! ill no be a#ailable in my original seat farther bac% in the hall( "5e are constantly impro#ing our systems! and ma%ing things easier to operate!$ says Helen Meyer( "5hen Herbie Hancoc% came here! e sho ed him the Spacemap program that e de#eloped for Cir'ue to mo#e #oices and images around the room! many at the same time( ,fter Herbie heard it! e set up his one.man sho in )ing Concert Hall at Stanford here he used 9< iPads to mo#e sounds around the room( Then e added Spacemap to a high school system in Texas( "Lo e as% presenters if they ant to install a system that attracts people li%e Herbie Hancoc%( 5e also or% ith #arious composers through the )er%eley Symphony and

the 7xploratorium( )ob 5eir! formerly ith the 6rateful Dead! has a Constellation system that he+s composing to in the studio of his Tamalpais 8esearch Institute ET8IF in Marin($ ESee more on )eir*s +urrent ,ro-e+ts(F 5eir has or%ed ith the Meyers since 9:G<! hen 3ohn con#inced The 6rateful Dead to both install their fabled high 'uality sound system! and also allo fans to record their concerts( In an age here personal listening habits are rapidly shifting from shared acoustic experiences in concert halls and on home stereos to amplified e#erything and pri#ate listening #ia iPhones and earbuds! Constellation may in fact pro#e both a bridge to the future and a sa#ing grace for classical music( 6i#en its success! it+s certain that the Meyers+ Constellation ill continue to expand far beyond Planet )er%eley(

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