Orbital's sound of steam - The Railway Children at Waterloo
Following two critically-acclaimed, sell-out summer runs at the National Railway Museum in York, with York Theatre Royal, the Waterloo production is receiving equally excellent reviews. Ed Clarke, the production's associate sound designer, explained the thinking behind the four-system approach:
"The audience capacity for Waterloo Station had to be around twice that of the show in York, but without any substantial increase in the depth of the seating area, only to its length along the axis of the track. We therefore ended up with a performance area some 40m long. This, together with the station's acoustics, required a much more elaborate approach than York, particularly for the vocal reinforcement, and to some extent for the train and other effects. To cover the audience successfully, and to ensure that the surround train effects could be perceived effectively across all seating positions, we designed four separate systems. However, two of these - the surround train effects, and the stereo music - effectively share one set of loudspeakers. We have a Yamaha DME64 handling the routing from the different sources, the levels of the different signals being fed, in some case, to the same loudspeakers, and the relatively complex set of delay times.
"We configured the systems into eight delay zones along the track. The vocal system is utilising sixteen d&b audiotechnik T10 speakers, while the background ambient-effects system is arranged as a four-point surround, with d&b C690 loudspeakers. Conceived as a seven-point in-line surround system, the train effects - a major part of the show - are delivered by d&b Q-series enclosures, with a pair of Q7s at each end, and five pairs of Q10s spaced between them above the track. For the latter application, the Q10 was really the only option, as we needed a speaker with a sufficiently wide dispersion angle - everyone in the audience needs to hear every loudspeaker for the surround effects to be totally convincing.
"This project's real challenge, apart from the practical difficulties of the load-in and build, was to ensure as consistent a result as possible for the audience, irrespective of seat position. The key to this was careful programming of the DME64, across the eight different feeds and the sixteen channels of QLab. Initial programming took around one day, at Orbital's premises prior to shipping, followed by around four or five days on site before the technicals started, with some further fine-tuning during the techs. When we had it all working pretty much as expected, we learnt that air-conditioning was to be installed. This was going to be good news for the audience, but the air-con's main delivery duct needed to hang right in front of our delay speakers! We didn't have to move them very much, but it had a big impact on the delay times, making a surprising difference to the sound. Fortunately, all was fine again once we'd re-adjusted the times to suit! Overall, it's been a tremendous achievement by all the creative team, to build a theatre from scratch in such a difficult environment, equip it to the highest standards, and