For performance venues, success can be a double-edged sword; if the space is constantly booked, carving out time to update technology can present a challenge. Such was definitely the case with Clearwing System Integration’s recent audio system retrofit of more than 100 L-Acoustics loudspeakers at the 2,255-seat Overture Hall, the largest of seven performing arts venues and five galleries that together make up Madison, Wisconsin’s Overture Center for the Arts.
Built in 2004 with a $204 million donation from the creator of the American Girl doll line, Overture has grown to become the largest performing venue in the state and, according to Pollstar, one of the top venues in terms of ticket sales worldwide.
“The Center’s number of performances varies, but in a typical calendar year, we might have ‘dark days’ numbering in the single digits total,” says Overture Center Technical Associate Brian Anderson. “We host everything from the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Ballet, and Opera to a full Broadway season that includes Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, and even Hamilton booked for the 2019 season. In addition, we host numerous concerts, children’s school shows, and various community events. Given the wide variety of events, our goal was to design and install a system capable of supporting all the acts’ needs, to provide perfect coverage and user experience, and to create whatever infrastructure is needed to save on labor time and costs.”
Keeping all those requirements in balance was Clearwing’s Mik Moore. “Overture Hall is a beautiful room and it sounds great, but it was never designed with future upgrades in mind,” he notes. “We had a very compressed installation schedule of just five weeks, and the entire system included a K2-based L-Acoustics system as well as all-new DSP, 55 miles of cabling run through existing conduit, plus new video, intercom, and assisted listening systems. It meant coring a vast number of holes through the facility’s 12-inch concrete walls.”
Given the mix of show types—including three-week runs of the Broadway shows as well as one-offs for other major acts—rider-friendliness was a huge factor in the decision-making process. “The overriding goal of this project was to make the venue as functional as possible,” says Moore. “We made sure to install touring-friendly equipment as well as a tie-line system so that crews can put their equipment all over the venue and tie into front of house or wherever needed for intercom. Ease of use was a huge priority, whether for the house staff or touring crew; it needed to be effective all around.”
The install is best thought of as at least three separate systems. On the processing and “traffic cop” duties of sending signal where it needs to go, Clearwing settled on the QSC QSYS system for backbone, with Listen Technologies products chosen to facilitate an expanded assisted listening system. On the speaker side, there is a touring concert-style system centered on 24 L-Acoustics K2 enclosures flown in a left-right configuration with low end support provided by a center-flown quartet of KS28 subwoofers and an additional pair of KS28 ground-stacked on each side of the stage.
But for the symphony and opera performances, all of that recedes into the acoustically transparent ceiling and “cloud fill” system that works with the room, itself, to provide even coverage that is still perceived as natural-sounding. A dozen repurposed 12XT coaxials are mounted above the acoustic cloud with an additional 77 compact 5XT mounted around the house as audience fills and 13 X8 systems as front fills. A total of two dozen additional X12 wedges provide onstage monitoring and stage-lip fill, with X8 and 5XT enclosures also used in different stage configurations. Power and processing for all of the loudspeakers are delivered by 19 LA12X and 13 LA4X amplified controllers.
“Acoustically, Overture Hall is a great-sounding room,” says Anderson. “It boasts very even decay at all frequencies and extremely low ambient noise, so you really hear every detail. However, the system needed to fit through the existing doors built into the ceiling panels so it could fly out and be hidden for certain events. Also, with three balconies, Overture required a significant amount of cabinets in the line array to cover all the seats. K2’s Panflex variable pattern control allowed a wide dispersion up close as well as narrower coverage further into the room without changing to different boxes or spilling over onto the walls. The variable layouts of the room for the different events made the system design a challenge as we have three different pit configurations, as well as a variable proscenium size in terms of both width and height.”
L-Acoustics 5XT fills were used throughout the venue for additional coverage of the Loge box seat areas and as the under-balcony “ceiling speakers.” These were chosen to provide even coverage while maintaining the same sonic signature as the main arrays. A total of 39 5XT cabinets were ceiling mounted with custom ceiling mounts, while 24 5XT, custom colored to match the environment, were used for the Loge seating areas.
Clearwing and L-Acoustics have enjoyed a long, mutually-beneficial relationship, Moore describes: “Clearwing uses L-Acoustics because of the high-quality and reliability of the product, which leads to customer and client satisfaction. With Clearwing Systems Integration’s parent company, Clearwing Productions, being one of North America’s premier touring audio providers, they understand the needs of a large-scale install in a room that sees many kinds of events over the course of a nearly blacked-out calendar year, as well as the needs of major touring productions. Because Overture Center for the Arts is a popular tour stop, L-Acoustics was chosen as a successful and user-friendly product for engineers of any background.”
When deciding on both a provider and a manufacturer, service was of paramount importance for the Overture team. “When we installed our first L-Acoustics system in the Capitol Theater a few years ago, we did an extensive demo of most of the major brands at the time,” Anderson recalls. “The goal was to not only choose a company that could deliver outstanding sound quality, but also provide exceptional ongoing support. From the time we demoed the systems to the final install, we re-designed that system three times due to issues discovered during the demo and the design process. L-Acoustics was by far the most engaged manufacturer in this process and was tireless in helping us work within a number of restrictions to integrate the best possible system in the space. We couldn’t be happier with the system and the support we have had from both L-Acoustics and Clearwing Systems. So when it came time to do Overture Hall, it was only natural to continue the partnership.”
“Today there are a lot of very good speaker manufacturers to choose from,” he continues. “But with L-Acoustics, we were able to provide high-quality sound, rider-friendliness, and outstanding support, all from the same organization. We like the fact that we can work directly with the factory for repairs if needed but still work through Clearwing if we need to augment this system for the needs of a specific event.”
Anderson sums the project up by adding that big part of the choice to use L-Acoustics loudspeakers was due to their consistency throughout the different ranges. “The smaller products sound almost exactly the same as the larger products but have a reduced maximum output level or varied dispersion,” he notes. “We are very happy with how well everything integrated and how even the sound is in every part of the room, not just in SPL, but also in the overall detail and sonic signature. No matter where our patrons sit, the audio experience will be the same, even in the farthest seats from the stage.”