Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sound for Dance

Hey everyone!

I just finished working on a Dance show here at UCI, and thought I'd take a few moments to share my experiences so far.

The Dance department here produces four shows per year, a Faculty show, two Graduate Choreographer shows, and an Undergraduate Choreographers show. The concert I was working on is the 2nd Graduate show, Dance Escape 2011. This is my second time designing a system for this annual production.

Having designed for dance in the past, I wanted to approach this design with a new perspective. Rather than recreating my previous design, I chose to use this as an opportunity to explore new techniques and technologies. In particular I was looking to explore a stereo system, rather than a Left, Center, Right system. I also explored the impact of front fill positioning and monitor usage. In addition, I got to use our brand spanking new D'Mitri system, and our Meyer SIM 3 analyzer.

Until this point in my career, I've been taught that a strong center speaker is crucial to a powerful system. While, I agree that a center speaker does add presence and a full sound, I wanted to try something different. In the Claire (our largest performance space), adding a center speaker is typically done on the apron pipe, which has a rather high trim. To me, it creates an image that is too impersonal, and simply too high.

To combat this, I decided on using our M1D line arrays at a lower trim (the bottom of the 8 boxes at 10'-8" from the house floor), and put extra emphasis on my UP-Jr. front fills. However, once we actually had the pit lowered, I realized (i.e. Mike pointed out) that the center 6-8 seats in front would be left out of the FF pattern. Several of us kicked around ideas for a center fill. What speaker, how to hang it, and how to run cable to it, etc. What we ended up settling on was bringing the two front fills further onto the stage, and angling inward just a little bit.

For the monitors, we (and I say we because 3rd year, Tim Brown, was very active in helping me design this system) decided to hang speakers on battens rather than our typical boom positions. There are a few reasons for this, including the fact that lighting has an extra light or two on each boom, so it would have been a tight squeeze. And, since we were trying new things, why not try battens too?

Right, so we loaded in, and got D'Mitri up and running with relative ease.

So… SIM.

We gathered a small army of Sound Grads (1st year Stephen Swift, fellow 2nd year Jeff Polunas, 3rd year Tim Brown and myself) to tune the system. We were fresh out of Meyer SIM3 training and eager to put our knowledge into application. I won't bore you all with the details, but give a brief synopsis of what we found.

We ran into a few minor issues, but I'll let Tim explain that.

First off, the way the House Left array was focused, it covered a lot of the house. In fact, the off-axis point was nearly in the opposite aisle, and only down 4dB. Also, the top zone was directly focused to the top row of the house, not the handicap seats. In determining my speaker positions, I decided that covering more of the house evenly, was more important that hitting the booth level seats, which have a delay fill. So, we EQed the top zone, then the middle. Next the two zones together, then finally shading in the third.

When we moved over to EQ the HR array. SIM was telling us that our positions were off. We kept moving the mics around and eventually we found that each mic had to move down a row.

Then it hit me. Duh!

The house of the Claire isn't symmetrical to the stage. I knew that, but didn't really see the impact until looking at SIM. Mirroring our mic positions couldn't work. It became very apparent that the house right array is actually about 1' closer to the audience. So, we figured out, and EQed as best we could.

After tuning the arrays alone, we added in each of the subs. We EQed the subs, and delayed them until the low end was phase aligned with the rest of the array. Tim wrote a post about this a few weeks ago, you can read that for more detail in what we did. Anyway, aligning subs was perhaps the best bit of information that I learned in our seminar.

On to the front fills!

I wanted to place particular emphasis on my front fills. To me, this was the best way to create a lower image and to direct focus. I turned a the UP-Jr.s on their sides, with the horns rotated to 80˚ horizontal. They blend in with the arrays beautifully. There is a slight timing issue, but I'll get to that later. After all the hubbub about adding a center front fill, we ended up not doing so. Two on their sides covered the front row quite well. The Jrs. have a low profile so placing them further onstage wasn't an issue.

I was slightly concerned that the monitors, when hung on battens, would bleed into the front row. I have had downstage monitors act as front fills, but in the Claire this really isn't possible. I actually wanted to isolate the monitors from the main system. Sitting in the front row, they do add a little presence, but no direct sound. But our main problem was comb filtering.

Comb filtering everywhere!

It was pretty bad. My mistake! I should have seen it coming. We did the best we could with EQ, but we had to change the angle of the speakers in the end. The monitors aren't perfect, but they can be heard, and aren't comb filtering all over the place.

Moving on to timing. Typically I would delay my main system to the upstage monitors, so as to avoid timing issues coming from the stage. The Claire has unique acoustics, so sound coming from the stage into the house actually isn't a problem (unless you're doing a musical!). For this concert, I timed my main system to match the downstage monitors. However, while I solved one issue, I created another.

Let me explain my mistake. When determining a time for the front fills, I used a mic that was center of the front row. This is great, and the front fills disappear, but only when you are sitting center. If you are sitting directly in front of the fill speaker, sounds arrive later than the arrays. Really,I don't know which is the correct choice. I decided to stick with the center timing, because it is correct for more of the audience.

There were two pieces in the concert that had live music. One was a piano and a cello, the other just a piano. To mic the piano I used two of our Neumann km-184s. I had them mounted on a short, stereo(sort-of) bar, and placed inside the piano. Tim and Jeff wired them up beautifully. For our cellist I used one of our AKG 414 on a short boom. Mike came in to help me EQ them, but really there was very little to do. All the mics sounded beautiful, if I do say so myself.

That's the system that we used to run the show. It was a powerful system, and I never once had anyone ask for the music to be turned up : )

A discussion after the first dress rehearsal started me thinking about dance as a process, and how it differs from theater. Our artistic director was giving notes, and she fixated on one piece for a few minutes. Basically she said that she had never seen the story being told until that night. She had created an entire narrative about relationships, loss, and growth after seeing the piece that night. I have been watching the dance every night and gotten a completely different story from it. I saw the piece again, and could completely see that narrative in the dance. However, I could see how the conversation renewed the dancers sense of place and their personal interactions with the choreography.

One of the many reasons that I love theatre is because it is based on communication. The spoken word is what delivers the story being told. There are many interpretations of those words, but when it comes down to it, what is spoken is given importance. Within the world of a play, our knowledge is limited to what we are told, and what we witness. If there is a back story to characters, we are often given that information through dialogue. Communication between characters is where most of our emotions, as an audience member, are based.

Rather than a verbal communication, dance relies on physical communication that change and evolve on a dime. There are no words. Every action must stand completely on its own. Each viewer must interpret for themselves what they are seeing. Each gesture, expression and movement becomes tantamount to the whole. While physicality is important to theater, it is imperative to dance. Because so much visual weight is given to movement, emotions tied to those motions seem greater and more powerful.

Dancers are artists unlike any other. They are strong, fierce and extreme perfectionists.I love watching how a dance grows with each rehearsal. Each performance is a new experience.

I look forward to every dance show I get to see, and even more to each that I am a part of.

Hopefully I'll get some pictures of the final product to post soon.

Thanks for reading!



  1. Great post, Beth! Can't wait to see some production photos!

  2. This IS a great post. Vinnie just writes about dead guys.

  3. I too, care for this post. I have been kicking around a new idea for stage monitoring when I want total isolation from the house but still need it to kick. Individual line array boxes hung over head. Not that revolutionary maybe but you could likely knock it out awesomely with just a few (depending on the stage size).