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CUK Audio supplies Sounds and Sorcery in the Vaults

CUK Audio supplies Sounds and Sorcery in the Vaults
CUK Audio supplies Sounds and Sorcery in the Vaults

UK – Sounds and Sorcery is unlike any other show one is likely to see this summer. Held in the distinctly quirky venue of The Vaults, a maze of disused railway arches underneath London’s Waterloo station, Sounds and Sorcery is an immersive audiovisual extravaganza inspired by Disney’s Fantasia. On arrival, audience members are given a pair of headphones and an iPod and then invited to wander at their leisure through a series of unique installations created using a combination of 3D projections, elaborate set designs and spectacular lighting effects, all set to a specially recorded score from the City of Prague Symphony orchestra. As audience members move from one scene to the next, all entirely in their own time, so the music changes accordingly thanks to an elaborate and technically challenging sound design built around Williams Sound Hearing Hotspot technology supplied by CUK Audio and installed by Direct Audio Visual.

The man behind the first-of-its-kind sound design is independent sound designer, David Gregory. “No-one else would be crazy enough to tackle a project like this, but I like a challenge, so I said yes!” he says with a grin. The brief was to take the Fantasia score and reimagine it in stereo for headphones. The first step was to record all the music binaurally, which is a method of recording that that replicates the way the human ear and head interacts with and picks up sound. The next step was to find a way of creating that immersive audio experience and the feeling, as with surround sound, that sometimes the sound is coming from behind, other times from the side, or perhaps it even pans across the room by using headphones. Furthermore, Gregory had to find a way of intuitively switching between tracks as people navigate through the different scenarios so that they hear the right music in the right place at the right time. Enter the Williams Sound Hearing Hotspot solution.

Hearing Hotspot is the only product on the market capable of doing what we required,” explained Gregory. “Essentially it allows any venue to stream real-time audio via Wi-Fi from pretty much any source to an individual’s personal device, in this case an iPod. The sound quality and stereo imaging capabilities (which we tested thoroughly) were good enough to allow me to create the immersive experience that I was looking for. The aim was for everyone wearing the headphones to experience the music as if he or she were in the place of the conductor. To enhance the feeling of really ‘big’ sound, we also installed some pretty earth-moving subs in each room to extend the response of the headphones and to enable you not just to hear the sound but to feel it too.”

A customised version of the Hearing Hotspot app was created to override the manual selection of audio sources and instead enable the audio to be triggered via a series of Bluetooth beacons strategically located throughout the venue. The other requirement was for a rock-solid Wi-Fi system to be installed venue-wide. This was a very important point as it’s ultimately the quality of the Wi-Fi that determines the overall performance of the Hearing HotSpot. Music playback is via Q-Lab and thence to the HotSpot server before being broadcast to the iPods. All transmission is 24-bit at 48kHz, meaning that the audio stays at full digital resolution throughout the chain with no loss of signal quality.

CUK Audio was on hand throughout to coordinate the various demos, field technical questions and assist with system design before introducing the contractors who then bid for the project. Systems integration company, Direct Audio Visual, was selected to design and install the Ruckus wireless system, whilst Recursive AV was called in to customise the Hearing Hotspot app and provide the Bluetooth solution to trigger the audio feed in each room.

From the outset, this was a challenging project to deliver,” admitted Direct Audio Visual’s operations director, Pete Rutherford. “We scoped and surveyed for the Wi-Fi before the show started to come together and our install had to change organically as things took shape and the scenery began to have more of an effect on the wireless performance.With some changes and additional equipment to take account of the final show set up, we achieved a stable and site-covering network that began to bring David’s vision to life. The initial shows gave some-much needed feedback as to how the system performed with 250+ iPods all working at once, but a few final tweaks to the network left us with a wireless immersive audio experience that you can only appreciate by hearing it yourself.

Bringing together all these different technologies in this environment was never going to be an easy task but I’m glad that it all came together in the end and brought David’s vision to stunning aural life.”

It was a mammoth task from every point of view,” agreed CUK Audio’s Simon Druce. “Technically, it was a hugely ambitious project and timescales were tight. We were running right up to the wire and it was touch and go if it was all actually going to work, but miraculously, it all came together at the last minute. Having since attended the show as a genuine paying customer with my family the other week, I can say that the results are absolutely stunning. Personally, I doff my hat to everyone that was involved – David Gregory did an amazing job of the sound design – as he says, he’s the only guy brave enough to take on something like this! And DAV did a great job with the installation. Without their herculean efforts with all of the wireless infrastructure, this show would never have seen the light of day. Finally, Kieron Vanstone, director of the Vaults, has also done an incredible job in implementing extra measures to successfully iron out the inevitable teething problems when a project of this scale and nature goes live.”

It’s a superb showcase for the Williams Sound Hearing Hotspot technology – I’m pretty sure that when they developed it, they hadn’t even dreamed of an application like this, but it’s a testament to the technology that it does the job and does it well. All of us at CUK Audio are proud to have been involved in the project.”

photos: Lawrence Howe and Jason Yeoman

CUK Audio supplies Sounds and Sorcery in the VaultsCUK Audio supplies Sounds and Sorcery in the Vaults

17th August 2018

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