Sydney Opera stages Concert Hall drama

01 March 2010

It is the case that d&b audiotechnik is involved in supporting and designing sound systems for many concert halls, but it’s not often one that is so world famous. Sydney Opera House holds celebrity status.

It is the case that d&b audiotechnik is involved in supporting and designing sound systems for many concert halls, but it’s not often one that is so world famous. Sydney Opera House (SOH) holds celebrity status; frankly it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that, were you to take its photograph to the other side of the world and show it to an Innuit in northern Canada, they would recognise this beautiful building. Respect was essential, but this did not mean a suspension of the rational, empirical approach that typifies the d&b methodology. Just as well, the path to completion was a long one, so we might add ‘tenacious’ to the list of d&b attributes.


Sydney Opera House images are used under licence from the Sydney Opera House Trust.

For the SOH’s Technical Director, David Claringbold, this project had been a dream of many years. “I first worked here in 1990, even then as a young man what I saw here horrified me, even if I didn’t know then what to do about it.” The self motivation is clear, so Claringbold’s ultimate appointment to the post of Technical Director in 2006 was almost inevitable. “I’ve always thought ‘you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution’. It was the itch I couldn’t scratch so I had to do something about it.” Without Claringbold’s sense of conviction there would not have been a solution, for it takes a person with clarity of vision to push such things through.

The original concept was for a mono central cluster, changing from that to a stereo system, a transition that spanned over five years with many turns along the way. But the story of d&b’s particular journey is informative, as Ralf Zuleeg, Head of d&b’s Education and Application Support department described. “The first thing was to learn what would make this project successful; so I began by talking to as many of the people who would work in the hall as possible to discover what they required.” Zuleeg, with the help of Shane Bailey from d&b’s Australian distributor National Audio Systems (NAS) arranged a meeting with David Claringbold in the hall. “David put me in no doubt that we would be one of many manufacturers submitting to the process, and he gave me an accurate EASE type plot of the room. From this I was able to use my EASE machine to simulate what was best for the space.”

Zuleeg designed a centre cluster mono system as initially requested which won the shoot-out. Progress then stalled for almost two years when Claringbold departed for a spell working in Europe. “When David returned to become Technical Director the project immediately regained momentum.” Shane Bailey witnessed the same thing, and saw it for what it was. “All the way through, it was David Claringbold who drove the whole thing, he had the vision, and you must give him the credit for that.” It was at this point that an alternative stereo solution was contemplated. A test system was installed at NAS’s expense, Bailey arranging for three d&b rental partners, principally IJS, with added support from Cairellie and LSV Productions in Sydney, supplying a comprehensive demo’ system. “We put in a left / right hang of J-Series,” said Bailey. “With J subwoofers, E3 front fills, and Qs for first position side hangs, and out above the upper stalls for delays.”

The Qs proved not to be ideal for the side positions; sightlines precluded them being rigged optimally, a point confirmed by Bruce Jackson, the legendary Australian sound designer who had been co-opted onto the project by Claringbold. Fortunately Zuleeg knew that d&b’s T-Series range of loudspeakers was about to be launched and the T10’s 105° horizontal dispersion provided the perfect solution at the desired close range rigging position. Bailey received the official order late January 2009; the installation made by HME under the direction of system integrators Rutledge, completed early October, with commissioning taking place as the choir stalls T system was rigged.

Claringbold had this to say at commissioning, “The Sydney Symphony Orchestra had a performance about a week before Ralf arrived to commission. As the orchestra tuned up the pre-show audience announcement was made over the J system. They didn’t stop tuning! In all the time I’ve been here they always stop tuning during the announcement because of the amount of sound energy back onto the stage. That’s when I knew we had a success.” Bruce Jackson was equally enthused, “Throughout the tests the support we got from Ralf and d&b was excellent. Ralf really understood and made the appropriate changes that gave us what we asked for. He basically came in, put it up as he had designed it. Their coverage was good and very little was changed. That’s an achievement with all the conflicting requirements.”