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Bunbury Entertainment Centre

Digital Equipment - A Techie's Perspective By David Hague

In February last year our theatre spent $160,000 on a new sound system, replacing all the speakers, amplifiers, mixing desk and Front-of-House (FOH) processing units. Its not actually a lot of money in the scheme of these things, but we put a lot of thought into our choices and finished up with a very impressive PA that caters for all except the largest of productions. In a few months The Seekers will be using it, and its already seen the likes of The Drifters, Paul Kelly and John Williamson. As the youth of today say, it rocks.

Bunbury Entertainment Centre

From the middle row

Today it will be playing one battered cassette (yes, a cassette) to accompany a stressed out 7 year-old, while she attempts to tap-dance to Rolf Harriss ?Jake the Peg or maybe ?Minnie the Moocher. Its Eisteddfod time and such cultural abominations are occurring on a daily basis. Worse, the girls mother will be close by and prepared to abuse yours truly, if something goes wrong. The tape was bought from K-Mart, the recording done on grandpas 78 rpm record player, and the cassette dutifully left on the dashboard of the car for six months. But the resulting, warbling noise will still be my fault.
Such is the lot of a sound engineer in a theatre these days- particularly in regional venues. And if our PA system could speak for itself, Im sure the tone would be one of thorough disgust most of the time, too. A bit like Douglas Adams robotical Marvin with the ?brain the size of a planet.

One of the problems with employing the latest technology and staying up-to-date in a venue- or any business hireable by the public is that a large majority of people who want to use it? well, they cant. Not only that, but they can get offended when you suggest things like cassettes belong in the nearest rubbish bin. On a more professional level, some of the options we considered equipment-wise had to rejected, because touring sound engineers wouldnt be able to operate it. For example, one guy who came through recently has been doing his job for a long time - and very well, too. But after a long look at our mixing desk and the digital equalizers he dumped a blanket on top of it, his own well-travelled mixer on that, and bypassed the lot. It was all too much.


Of course, we dont expect or even plan to be running full-blown concerts and theatrical productions all year. There are all kinds of corporate launches, seminars and large-attendance Annual General Meetings that dont require a lot of technical input, although its important that what we do provide is completely reliable. So when we started wish-listing our new PA according to the available budget it was accepted that we would install something technically impressive, capable of handling large productions, yet it would be sitting almost idle for most of the year.

Given these parameters, what did the digital world have to offer?

The most important thing was the ability to recall vital settings quickly. The tonal control of all the speakers from FOH to Foldback (how the artists hear themselves) is done by two DBX 481 digital equalizers under the stage linked to a DBX 480R remote control at the mixing desk. Its basically eight 31-Band equalizers packed into two units, run by a master. That master has 100 memories- and this makes us very happy. Touring sound engineers can do some pretty radical things, maybe because the show requires it - and sometimes theyre just stone deaf from too many years on the road. In the past, re-instating our system after the tourists have been kicked out the door was time-consuming and frustrating. Now, we just smile and say, ?Go for your life. Putting it back right is a one-button operation.

We also have preset memory setups for particular events we know will cause trouble, like a lectern microphone with soft-spoken presenters, a guaranteed recipe for squealing feedback. There are occasions when we have to drag some of our older equipment out of the basement. It doesnt sound too good, but more presets in the equalization that we recall make them as good as theyre ever going to get.

Another big advantage with digital technology is, strangely enough, password protection. Many areas of a professional sound system such as crossover points, compression settings and peak limiters are all parameters that can be tweaked to make sure someone who might be inexperienced or irresponsible cant blow things up. However, it doesnt necessarily follow that these operators wont override the limits, if they could only get their sticky fingers on them - so locking them out of these places with a password provides much peace of mind.

Apart from this, the two digital effects units for reverbs and delays can make the worst singers sound almost bearable (doesnt help tap-dancers unfortunately), we have a real-time CD burner at the FOH desk so performers can record themselves and assess their show later, which is a common request, and theres also a mini-disc player and recorder, because theyre popular with theatrical productions who use smaller sound effects cues with the name displayed for each (rather than just a track number).

And yes, theres a damned cassette player. One day, I swear, one day?

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David is the owner and publisher of Australian Videocamera. He has a background in media dating back to 1979 when he first got involved with photojournalism in motorsport, and went from there into technology via a 5 year stint with Tandy Computers.

Moving back to WA, David wrote scripts for Computer Television for video training for the just released Windows and Office 95 among others, and was then lured to Sydney to create web sites for the newly commercial Internet in 1995, building hundreds of sites under contract to OzEmail including Coates Hire, Hertz Queensland, John Williamson, the NSW Board of Studies and many, many more.

David can be contacted via

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