A banquet of sound

AUTHOR: Inavate

One of Scotland’s architectural treasures has upgraded its AV facilities to include a new sound reinforcement system and conference equipment. The challenge lay in not spoiling such a beautiful building.

To enter Glasgow City Chambers is to transcend the bland sameness of cosmopolitan existence. The entrance hall will fool you; decorative floor tiles and vaulting ceilings give only the most muted hint to what lies beyond. Turn left and immediately you are sucked into a vortex of the most intricate masonry. Elaborate Italianate stone staircases clamber like ivy, and, mirroring M.C. Esher's famous engraving, seem to simultaneously lead nowhere and everywhere. If you've never visited Glasgow this sight alone is worth the journey.

Ascend to the first level and the eye is drawn naturally into the Banqueting Hall, and it is here, beneath the beautiful frescoed ceiling that we find something purely functional and infinitely more discrete. "We use the room all the time for civic functions," said City Chamber's Assistant Manager Keith Dalkin. "Sometimes a sit down dinner for two to three hundred people, or perhaps a finger buffet reception for a charitable organisation. We have a suite of accommodation for such events; sometimes there are as many as three events in a single day." Dalkin is a busy man; this he admitted was one of only three days this year when nothing was happening. "But there has been a problem with the room's acoustic since it was first built; the purpose of the recent sound system revamp was to get a better sound system. Quite simply the Banqueting Hall is visually stunning, but with its high ceiling it's a very reverberant space. Even for a seated dinner it can be awfully noisy." A quick click of the fingers confirms Dalkin's assertion; this room is not conducive to amplified sound of any form, but as he said, "We stage many events where the host needs to address the entire assembly; good orators are defeated by the room, the more moderately voiced have found the old sound system tended to cloud their message rather than clarify."

Dalkin called in the services of The Warehouse Sound Services, a long established pro-audio specialist with bases in Glasgow and Edinburgh. "They're well known to us, providing temporary sound systems for many special events staged in and by the City", said Dalkin. "Our brief was to design, supply, install and commission," began Gavin Jenkinson, The Warehouse's, Sales Engineer and Project Manager. "Because the room is part of a Grade One listed building, cable routing was a particularly sensitive issue, and naturally whatever system solution we designed for the reverberation problem had to be as visually unobtrusive as possible." The main installed system comprises d&b audiotechnik E9s, hand colour matched by The Warehouse to blend to the wall décor where they reside, pole mounted, as even small wall fixings were not permitted. "The E9 is ideal; it is a full range cabinet with a tilt down horn, perfect for this room where keeping sound energy out of the ceiling space barrel-vaulted roof was essential." The horn, as with the propagation characteristics of the mid/low end, produces a ninety-degree horizontal dispersion, but the fifty-degree vertical is, as Jenkinson suggested, tipped down, the top edge effectively parallel to floor. "The only proviso with such a cabinet is that the horn must always be above head height."

The Banqueting Hall has a modest stage at its far end, for concert or recital style events and The Warehouse has also provided a 'roll in' system of C7-SUBs, Floor Monitors, and a Shure 'plug and play' conference microphone system to go with it, and two BSS Jellyfish programmable controllers. "With the variety of functions we've provided six Soundweb Presets, each with its own specific EQ," said Gavin, and then added with a smile, "so far." Indicating just how busy and varied are the demands of this room. "In fact we had to wait several months before a suitable opportunity presented itself in the event calendar just to allow our installation team to take over the room, and that was for just two days. Cable routing was especially tricky as I mentioned earlier; all cables pass under the floor to the loudspeaker positions; even for the 'roll in' system. That's why we elected to install SVGA and Cat 5 cables at the same time, to minimise any possible future disruption."

But The Warehouse's responsibilities didn't end there, "Training is the most important part," continued Dalkin. "That's why we wanted a plug and play system, as the expression goes, and we wanted it to be effortless. The initial problem for us was getting everyone here at the same time, but we've achieved that now, thanks to the flexibility of The Warehouse. We have two permanent electrical staff, but we will get further staff trained in the future. Overall, the users of the room since the new installation have been very happy, the sound quality is excellent and everyone can hear what is being said."