Sonic Arts Research Centre, Belfast

23May10

Back in March I visited the Sonic Arts Research Centre in Belfast in order to experience the 48 channel, 360 degree sound diffusion capabilities of the Sonic Lab. I was interested in learning how the unique technological possibilities of the lab inspires a musical work, and how a composer of electronic music thinks about sound diffusion as an instrument.

About the lab (link):
1. The sonic laboratory
The Sonic Laboratory is a unique multi-functional concert hall / research laboratory. It can accommodate an audience of up to 150 and features a 48-channel sound diffusion system.
1.1. The Structure
The lab measures 17m L x 13m W x 14m H. Audiences and researchers enter the lab at ground floor level and walk out onto an acoustically transparent, modular grid floor suspended 4m above the structural floor of the lab located at lower ground floor level. Approximately 7m above the audience area is a technical gantry spanning the perimeter of the lab and nine motorised ceiling panels which can be independently lowered to ground floor level. The ceiling panels are rectangular aluminium box trusses (2m x 1m) from which loudspeakers, stage lights and/or microphones can be suspended.
The lab can be configured for a wide range of acoustic responses e.g. at 1kHz the reverberation time of the space can be made to vary from 0.4 – 2.3 seconds. This is achieved through a series of 48 acoustic absorbers which can be raised or lowered to expose or cover each of the walls. There are two mechanical pulley systems per wall and each pulley controls 6 absorbers. Additionally there are over 300 portable absorbers available for distribution across the structural floor or the top of the ceiling panels. Finally a series of theatre black style curtains span the perimeter of both the technical gantry and the lower ground floor allowing for sections of theses walls to be covered or exposed as required.
1.2. Sound Diffusion
During construction of the Sonic Laboratory, 112 loudspeaker tielines were installed at strategic points in the space – 40 at ground floor level, 20 at lower ground floor level, 16 at gantry level and 4 per ceiling panel. This provides considerable flexibility in the positioning of loudspeakers for a variety of sound diffusion scenarios. The ÔhouseÕ configuration is arranged as 5 layers of 8 channels plus 6 discrete subwoofer channels. Layer 1 at ground floor level consists of 4 x Genelec 1038Bs and 4 x Genelec 1037Bs in an octophonic configuration plus 2 Genelec 7071A subwoofers located front centre and rear centre. Layer 2 consists of 8 x Meyer UPJ-1Ps also in an octophonic configuration suspended from the technical gantry approximately 5m above the ground floor. There are also 2 Meyer UMS-1P subwoofers at this level suspended front centre and rear centre. Layer 3 consists of 8 x Meyer UPM-1Ps which hang from the four corner ceiling panels. Layer 4 is a second cluster of 8 x Meyer UPM-1Ps suspended approximately 1m below the grid floor. Finally layer 5 is another layer of 8 x Meyer UPJ-1Ps at lower ground floor level (4m below the grid floor) with 2 Meyer UMS-1P subwoofers front centre and rear centre.
The sound diffusion system is built around a Digidesign Control-24 mixing surface located in the centre of the Lab at ground floor level which controls a ProTools HD3 Accel system. Three Digidesign 192 I/O audio interfaces provide 24 analogue inputs and 48 analogue outputs. The host Apple PowerMac G5 and audio interfaces are housed in a Sound Construction 24U Isobox Post located at lower ground floor level. A 24-way multicore links the central mixing position and interface inputs at the Isobox and the 48 interface outputs are available on a patchbay allowing flexible routing to any of the 112 loudspeaker tielines.
1.3. Lighting
The stage lighting system for the Lab consists of an ETC Express 125/250 console controlling 24 x ETC Source 4 PAR 750W and 22 x Aurora CYC 1250W Floods. A total of 102 dimmers are available in the Lab – 6 per ceiling panel, 16 at ground floor level, 16 at technical gantry level and 12 at lower ground floor level.

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