InAVator: Harel Tabibi
Paul Milligan speaks to Harel Tabibi, this year’s winner of the Consultant of the Year award, to find out his philosophy and approach to big AV projects.
Harel Tabibi’s career in the AV industry began when he just 15 years old, when he left school to work for an audio company in his native Israel. His next career step was taken at 21, when he joined the Khan Theatre in Jerusalem as a sound technician. While working for the theatre he also worked independently installing sound systems for a range of different audio projects. In 2008 his career in consultancy took off when he began working with the public sector in Israel as a sound adviser for large scale projects such as theatres, government buildings, entertainment venues and sports facilities.
A worthy winner of the Consultant of Year award at this year’s InAVation Awards, Tabibi now has more than 100 projects on his CV, including some of Israel’s most prestigious projects. He has worked on the Kameri, Beit Lessin, Gesher, The Han and Jerusalem theatres as well as the Tel Aviv Opera House House, Habima (Israel’s national theatre) and the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament House.
With that success in mind how would Tabibi describe his approach to large scale projects? “First of all, the most important thing is to try and start working (as much as it depends on me) at the project’s earliest stage. This way you can consult with the architects and builders, and prepare the AV much better if you have the time. It enables better integration of AV systems with architecture and space design. For example, on one project the ceiling of a conference hall was raised by 1.5 metres in order to create better vision for the projection system. That kind of change is only possible at the early stage of a project.”
Getting in early is also key to securing the appropriate financing says Tabibi, “You have to get in early to ensure the correct budget has been allocated for the AV systems. The money for the AV systems, which is small compared to things like building materials and air conditioning systems, can already be spent if you come in late, so you will have to compromise on the AV.”
Tabibi works alone, which is all the more surprising when he tells you he is currently working on 25 active projects (‘two stadiums, 5-6 concert halls..’) and is personally involved in all of the steps of a project, from the initial planning stage, preparations of the technical specifications to the final stage of site supervision. With that extraordinary workload just how does he manage his time? “I never sleep more than 6 hours a night, and my vacations are spent at ISE!” he says.
How does he view the AV market right at the moment? “The main problem is a lack of awareness amongst end users as to the importance of the quality of AV systems and their contribution to the success of a project/business/customer experience. It could be a prestigious restaurant with a poor sound system that does not fit into the space and whose sound bothers its customers, or a football stadium that used the emergency paging system to play music for fans, instead of purchasing a quality sound system.” Even though it is a relatively isolated market, it seems as though Israel isn’t immune to the same issues seen around the rest of the world. Sometimes the small size of his native country has its advantages says Tabibi, “Israel is small, which means if you install a good Meyer Sound system in one nightclub the next one will want the same. Ten years ago everyone bought the cheapest speakers, but in the last 2-3 years the market now understands it’s better to buy one good system that will last many years, rather than replace the system every few years.
Tabibi estimates his work as a consultant is divided between 80% public sector work and 20% private sector work, how does he explain this imbalance? “Most of the private sector doesn’t appreciate consultants. They contact the distributors directly for a comprehensive offer. If you want to open a restaurant for example only the serious and experienced businesses understand the value and importance of hiring a consultant.” So just what are advantages of hiring an external AV consultant? “Once the consultant coordinates with the client on the level and quality required for the project as well as its budget, the consultant must set a technical threshold and filter for a limited number of (manufacturers or) products that achieve that level. Thus enabling the customer to compare apples with apples.”
Because the public sector relies far more on publishing product tenders they tend to use consultants far more. Is that the only difference Tabibi has found when working in both sectors? ‘The big difference is that the duration of a project is always longer in the public sector. In addition, projects in the public sector require public tenders for the purchase of equipment, which takes up a lot of time working on drafting technical specifications and meetings with legal advisors. Therefore, in quite a few projects in the public sector, the time spent on preparing the tender documents and the bureaucracy takes up precious planning time.”
Tabibi was nominated this year for Consultant of the Year at the InAVation Awards for his work on the Zucker Hall, which is home to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. The impressive hall follows a rapidly growing trend in the AV world for spaces that undertake many functions. Zucker Hall has three different uses: rehearsal space, classical music concert hall and a theatre. “90% of the projects/spaces today are defined as ‘multi-purpose’ and the customer expects the AV systems to answer a wide range of needs and applications,” explains Tabibi. “Zucker Hall is a good example of this, for example in the morning there could be rehearsal of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra with 40 musicians, and in the evening it’s a rock and roll concert.” This scenario Tabibi says illustrates the logic of the financial investment by Zucker Hall. “It purchased high quality sound systems that are appropriate and meet the technical specifications of all the artists performing there. By doing this it has saved a lot of money since it rarely has to use expensive external sound companies anymore to supply equipment and is still able to put on two shows a day.”
If multi-purpose venues are becoming the norm, what difficulties does this pose for an AV consultant like Tabibi? “It is a challenge to design a single, reliable, high-quality and easy-to-operate system, one that is suitable for all applications of the hall and will be suitable for several levels of operating technicians. These include the maintenance staff of the building who need to operate the system for small events or ceremonies that needs only a projection of a presentation and 2-3 microphones for speech, which is done through the control system, and accessible infrastructures as well as professional sound technicians who have high technical requirements for complex musical performances.”