CHARLESTON, ILLINOIS - APRIL 2009: Eastern Illinois University recently completed construction of its greatly-expanded Doudna Fine Arts Center on its main Charleston, Illinois campus. Designed by renowned and refreshingly unconventional architect Antoine Predock, Doudna boasts four performance spaces, a lecture hall and a recording studio. Symetrix' SymNet open-architecture digital signal processing resides at the heart of each room's state-of-the-industry audio system and serves to tie all the rooms both to each other and to the building's main concourse audio system. SymNet ARC interface panels make control of the immensely flexible system straightforward and intuitive.
Ben Bausher, consultant in the Audio and Video Systems Group of the prestigious firm JaffeHolden, designed the system. Robert Galiardo, design engineer at systems integration powerhouse AVI Systems, Inc., did the programming and testing of the SymNet system with Jason Galvan, AVI installation technician, handling the bulk of the actual physical installation. Their multi-faceted challenge was daunting: create a system within each of the venues that sounded superb, engineer tremendous flexibility within and across venues, tie the audio from each venue to a common pool from which the concourse system could draw output, and allow paging from anywhere to anywhere. Moreover, they were able to make the system simple enough to understand and operate that a fresh crop of newbie students would have no trouble harnessing its full power and flexibility year after year.
Each of the five venues was designed with a specific purpose in mind and enough adaptability to stray considerably from that purpose when needed. The 300-seat "Theater" features a proscenium stage and an LCR audio system and will be mainly used for plays. The 600-seat Dvorak Concert Hall and 180-seat Recital Hall will host, not surprisingly, classical and jazz concerts with impeccable acoustics and stereo audio systems. A stereo/surround audio system serves the 150-seat Lecture Hall for presentations or film screenings. Finally, the Black Box Studio Theater is a completely configurable space with no permanent stage or seating. With a multi-channel speaker system that is free to hang from a lighting truss or sit on the floor, its audio system is every bit as adaptable as every other aspect of the room.
Within each room, a SymNet Express 4x12 Cobra provides all of the crossover, EQ, filtering, dynamics, and delay processing for the (mainly) QSC and EAW amplifier/speaker systems. Each room's SymNet Express 8x8 and 4x4 Cobra units provide processing that communicates pages within and across venues and sends program material out to the concourse audio system. Using a SymNet ARC-SWK control interface panel, users can select output audio from either the mixer outputs, a permanently-mounted Shure VP88 stereo and Crown SASS microphones, or a blend of both (cross-faded from the ARC-SWK rotary pot).
"Unusually low latency sets the SymNet system apart from other DSP systems," said Galiardo. "And that's critical for live performances. The musicians or actors on stage get their monitor send through the SymNet hardware, and it's fast enough to be essentially real-time." Galiardo was also pleased with the flexibility and breadth of SymNet's DSP modules. "One box replaces racks of equipment and affords me the opportunity to tweak each aspect of the system to perfection. Suppose we didn't anticipate needing a filter or an EQ for a particular speaker cluster, but while tuning the system I think it would help. It's easy and no more expensive to include. I simply drop it in to the SymNet Designer software and it's done!" Noted Bausher, "The system can go even further than that if the users want to implement various routing, mixing, or processing schemes for recordings or live reinforcement. In addition, it can be implemented in a matter of minutes without the expense of purchasing additional equipment."
The mix functionality in each of the venues typifies the Doudna's sophistication: Users can position the Midas or APB-Dynasonics analog consoles in each room either at a typical FOH position or in a second-floor control booth. The sound-proof windows on the control room slide open for natural live mixing or remain closed for creating mixes on a pair of EAW UB12SE playback monitors that will translate to other systems. A SymNet Express 8x8 Cobra in each control room provides all of its requisite processing and routing functionality. SymNet ARC interface panels allow users to archive mixer output, live mic output, or a blend to CD-R, DVD-R, or computer hard disc.
"Each of these rooms would have been a big project by itself," laughed Galiardo. "With five of them, the project was absolutely huge! While SymNet processing serves each room somewhat independently, the real power of the system comes from the way all the venues integrate. The fact that all of the SymNet hardware is designed around the CobraNet protocol made wiring everything straightforward and relatively inexpensive."
Cat5 cabling ties all of the rooms back to a central location from which each venue's green room and the concourse audio system take their feeds. Simply put, each venue provides an output to the concourse and a bank of ARC interface panels located in the box office which allows a manager to select which venue's audio will play and at what volume. In addition, any of the venues can page out to the concourse area using an ARC-MIC interface panel with integrated push-to-talk mic located in the control booth. For chimes, the system allows pre-recorded material (such as "in five minutes, the performance will begin in Dvorak Hall") to be triggered from each venue.
Although this was Galiardo's first experience programming SymNet, he found the process intuitive. "There was a slight learning curve, "he said, "but Symetrix helped me through it. In fact their technician, Ryan Curtright, remotely accessed my laptop so we could go through anything I was confused about in real-time. Once I saw him do it, I was set to go!"
With almost everything in place, EIU's Doudna Fine Arts Center held a rededication celebration on October 24th. "Previous to the ceremony the students were already using the facilities for practice," said Galiardo. "For me, it's great to actually see the system I helped build come to life. It sounds great and the students are excited - and that's ultimately what this is all about!"
Concluded Bausher: "This is certainly the biggest SymNet system I've ever designed, but it scales up to a project this size beautifully. Its power and flexibility all comes together to create one of the best sounding audio systems in the region. When we fired up the systems for the students and faculty after they were tuned, they were blown away, and even I was impressed. It makes me wish I could go back to school there so I could mix a few shows on their systems!"
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