Melbourne’s acoustic chambers

01 January 2010

All new concert halls should have such aspirations, few achieve them fully, but the Melbourne Recital Centre in Victoria, Australia, is receiving a level of critical acclaim from both musicians and pundits courtesy of it’s d&b system.

The remit was to create a performance space that would set an international benchmark for future acoustic design. All new concert halls should have such aspirations, few achieve them fully, but the Melbourne Recital Centre (MRC) in Victoria State, Australia, is receiving a level of critical acclaim from both musicians and pundits that suggests the line has been drawn.

Built within the Southbank Cultural Centre development near the former dockland area of the Yarra River and opened in February 2009, the award winning architecture of Aston Raggatt McDougall houses The Melbourne Recital Centre. Within the Centre are two venues; a small flexible salon style space downstairs, while above is the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, a one hundred seat hall designed specifically for acoustic performance, instrumental music, and chamber orchestras. “Light jazz would be getting towards the extreme,” commented Shane Bailey, neatly confirming the cultural mores of the MCR. Bailey, a Director for National Audio Systems (NAS) who were contracted to supply the sound reinforcement system, had good reason to be absolutely certain of what was required. The recital chamber itself was acoustically designed by Arup and is lined with aesthetically sculpted Hoop Pine, designed to diffuse sound, and is the tonal heart of its acoustic profile. Such sensitivity to acoustics raises the question not only of the most suitable PA system, but of whether a PA system is even appropriate for a venue that places acoustics above everything save the performance itself. Never had the adjective ‘transparency’ been so acutely applied, than in the needs of the MRC PA system.

Arup’s senior audio, visual and theatre consultant Ben Moore stated it plainly, “The whole design process was informed by the venue acoustics. The original design was based around a d&b system because of the range of loudspeakers on offer and especially the pattern control that can be achieved. “The theatre equipment package was awarded to Jands, the audio, lighting and staging specialist with their sub-contracted systems integrator Rutledge Engineering. The acoustic design was validated at Arup’s SoundLab facility where computer modelling was used to optimise planning; NAS then took this model and consulted with the d&b headquarters in Germany. Bailey commented, “It is one of the d&b mantras that there should be no conflict between the PA system and the live sound in the concert venue. The system becomes part of what you are hearing and seeing; so we knew there would be no conflict in project planning. Added to that and it’s something I’ve never experienced before, we even had members of the public emailing and lobbying for a d&b system.”

Flexibility is built into the final system design; a C-Series array is the core comprising C4s and C7s with additional E0s for front fill, all driven by D6 and D12 amplifiers. Run completely separately is a small centre cluster of Qi7 and Qi10 loudspeakers used for speech and introductions when the venue is being used in its ‘pure’ acoustic form. “We liaised again with d&b regarding the hanging and general installation of the system, and various members from their Application support team have been out to see the hall since,” Bailey explained. “The PA definitely augments the venue’s capabilities. It is a fairly large room for this style of musical presentation, and the amplified system really helps to bring out details and subtleties in the performance to every seat in the house.”

The MRC’s architect, Ian McDougall of Aston Raggatt McDougall has said that they searched for a meaningful architectural response to classical and acoustic music performance in the 21st Century. The result is a stunning venue, brave and bold in design, acoustically excellent and the perfect platform for the performances that define Melbourne’s vibrant and diverse musical culture.

Acknowledgement to Pro Audio Asia for some of the editorial content and photographs.