Meyer Sound Constellation transforms vintage movie palace into high-end concert hall

Meyer Sound Constellation transforms vintage movie palace into high-end concert hall
Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in the US has reopened after a pandemic hiatus and has debuted the installation of a Constellation acoustic system from Meyer Sound.

With a current seating capacity of 2,776, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall is one of a quintet of venues operated by the appropriately stylised Portland'5 Centers for the Arts. It was built in 1928 as a vaudeville house, transitioning to movies only two years later, and finally going dark in 1982. After a $10 million renovation project, the venue reopened in 1984 as a multipurpose concert hall and as the new home of the Oregon Symphony. 

“Ours is the first vintage movie theater restoration to install Constellation, and that made it a bit of a learning curve,” says Portland’5 executive director Robyn Williams. “It’s a sophisticated system but it’s getting rave reviews. The audience experience is much better. Those who don’t even know Constellation is in here are saying the hall sound is very good now, and those who do know about it say it’s a game changer.” 

The 1984 renovation did include significant changes to the architectural acoustics, including installation of a large stage shell, to make the baseline reverberation suitable for symphonic performances. But problems remained. Seats under the deep balcony experienced noticeable sound imbalance and attenuation, for example, and the massive stage shell still fell short of distributing sound evenly throughout the hall. Also, the aging shell was difficult and time-consuming to move and store, and it was starting to raise safety concerns. 

Williams and other key decision makers had initially set aside an active acoustic solution, based in part on experience with an earlier generation system from a different manufacturer at a hall elsewhere in Oregon. But Williams changed her mind after experiencing Constellation at the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox venue.

“I immediately realised this could be the solution we had been looking for,” says Williams. “The shell was at the end of its life, and we were reluctant to spend far into six figures for a solution that served only one arts organisation. Constellation would not only improve acoustics for the symphony on stage and in the audience, but it would afford flexibility for the wide variety of other musical genres we host here.”

Key decision makers, including Williams, Oregon Symphony President and CEO Scott Showalter, and symphony musicians made trips to Berkeley to hear Constellation at Meyer Sound’s headquarters and UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. Following a consensus decision, the wheels were set in motion. Historic preservation specialists Architectural Resources Group worked with The Shalleck Collaborative theatrical consultants on overall planning and providing the framework for technical specifics from Meyer Sound’s own Constellation team. 

As installed, the Constellation system comprises 86 ambient sound sensing microphones and 294 meticulously positioned small loudspeakers, with various combinations assigned to four distinct acoustical zones on stage and in the hall. Acoustical enhancements are created using the patented VRAS algorithm, hosted in a D-Mitri digital audio platform. Installed by Sound Image, it is the largest Constellation system in the US in terms of total loudspeaker and microphone deployment.

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