Published in June 2007

Palatial Ambience
By Dawn Allcot

Palais Montclam's AV-equipped hall is intimate, yet regal.

The finished Salle Raoul Jobin concert hall.

    Larry S. King, of the New York-based acoustic consulting firm Jaffe-Holden, described the unique ventilation system in Quebec City’s newly renovated Palais Montcalm as “comfortable and quiet.” He just as easily could be speaking about the overall ambience in the 979-seat concert hall contained within.
    That is, until the music of Les Violins du Roy, the resident chamber orchestra, erupts, filling the room with warm sound.

Modern Performance Venue
    The silence is broken, but a sense of intimacy remains, in large part thanks to the cognac-colored maple wood that makes up the walls of the concert hall, acoustic floor coverings, custom-designed seats, and a host of other design aspects that combine with state-of-the-art sound, video and lighting technology to create a first-class modern performance venue.
    The designers, consultants and integrators faced several notable challenges during the transformation of the 75-year-old building, working within strict budgetary constraints and tight deadlines. Creating a venue suitable for showcasing various genres of amplified and acoustic music, with low ambient noise levels and intuitive control systems, took the input of a variety of experts across the US and Canada. Key players in the project included Norwalk CT-based consulting firm JaffeHolden, Quebec, Canada-based acoustical and sound design firm Go multimedia Inc., and the audiovisual integration company Solo-tech, with offices spanning from Quebec to Las Vegas.

About Palais Montcalm
    The Salle Raoul Jobin concert hall is a three-level performance venue located within the historic Palais Montcalm, the centerpiece of Canada’s Old Quebec City. The City of Quebec began discussions about renovating the facility in 1999, with several concepts explored and rejected. At one point, the City considered expanding the aging concert hall to create a multipurpose venue that could serve as a video/film production studio and host a wide array of musical performances.
    Eventually, though, the City decided to create a venue perfectly suited for the principal tenant, Les Violins du Roy, a string ensemble conducted by the young, dynamic Bernard Labadie.
    That doesn’t mean the Palais Montcalm’s use is limited, however. The facility is fulfilling its mission to become a cultural cornerstone in the City of Quebec, a gathering place for musicians and music-lovers alike, a key resource for musical instruction and practice, and a valuable tool for promoting music by hosting a diverse program of events.
    Palais Montcalm performers represent a wide range of musical genres and styles, including jazz, blues, folk, classical, vocals, choral and world music. The venue also hosts exhibitions, conferences, seminars, master classes, workshops, guided tours and lecture series, all designed to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation of music.

Relying on the MUSE
    In 2004, the City of Quebec, owner of the building, commissioned a group called the MUSE consortium, a collection of three top architectural design firms, to begin design work on this new cultural haven. Bernard & Cloutier, St. Gelais Montminy and Jacques Plant (the MUSE consortium) began drawing up architectural plans that would combine the 1932 concert hall’s old world charm with modern comforts.
    The City of Quebec selected JaffeHolden and Go multimedia to provide MUSE with acoustic design and theater planning consulting services. Go multimedia also oversaw the integration of the sound and lighting systems. Solotech worked with Go multimedia to complete the installation of sound, video and lighting equipment, and acoustical treatments.
    The project was completed in March 2007 at a cost of $20.5 million (Canadian). During the course of the project, the construction completion date was pushed forward by a year, and $5 million was added to the original budget.
    Alain LaRochelle, president of Solotech-Quebec, noted that the biggest challenge, a common issue in many projects, was finishing on time. “In some theaters, we are still in the building when they are welcoming the customers,” he noted with a laugh. “The challenge was to be ready on time and be out of there. It was okay; we finished on schedule.”
    To do so, the integrator put more people on the job, worked overnight when necessary and put in more time than planned, overall. “It was important to give the customer satisfaction,” LaRochelle said, noting that Go multimedia played a key role in the success of the project. “Go multimedia put forth a lot of effort to make it happen.”

Three Main Areas
    Palais Montcalm is comprised of three main areas: the main concert hall, featuring two balconies with connecting side balconies; the Café-spectacles, a 125-seat multipurpose rehearsal and performance space also suitable for conferences, lectures and workshops; and a professional-quality recording studio. Additionally, each of the public access levels includes lounges and seating areas.
    The main floor, home to the Salle Raoul Jobin concert hall, includes a 250-person VIP room, plus performer dressing rooms, control rooms and equipment closets. The concert hall boasts extensive audio, video and lighting systems, which will be our focus here, along with a paging system for announcements throughout the facility.

A panoramic view of the three-level Salle Raoul Jobin concert hall during construction.

Significant Structural Changes
    Before we begin exploring the technical systems, it is important to understand the significant structural changes that went into creating the new concert hall. The project was not a simple retrofit, but a complete renovation of the facility, with little remaining of the original venue.
    First, the original main floor of Raoul Jobin was demolished, with 10 feet of rock and soil excavated. The entry lobby and hall main floor were then aligned, with connecting corridors to create a better flow of foot traffic. The original stage house and single balcony, along with the roof, were removed, leaving only the masonry side walls. Just outside those walls sit circulation zones, mechanical rooms, the stage loading area with a freight elevator and, on the opposite side, a suite of dressing rooms.
    Laying out the concert hall between those main walls, King said, created “a conventional shoebox room with a small amount of seating behind the orchestra, space for a pipe organ in the future behind those seats, and enough space on stage for the chamber orchestra and a chorus.” King added, “The stage is large enough to accommodate a medium-size symphony orchestra. You easily can get 70 musicians on stage without it becoming crowded.”
    A new six-inch-thick concrete roof and an array of steel trusses were also added to the venue. This structural system supports a ceiling comprised of 2½-inch-thick dense gypsum board. The area above the ceiling accommodates a series of catwalks that serve four performance lighting portholes, seal via acoustically solid hatches, six software synchronized electric winches for moving the acoustic canopy, multiple rigging points with ceiling access ports and acoustical plugs, and two electric winches used for raising and lowering the left and right loudspeaker clusters.
    Because it was important that the venue remain both acoustically and aesthetically appealing, the space in the ceiling houses an intricate array of cables and wiring for audio and lighting equipment. Woven through the trusses and technical equipment is a complex of large air return ducts.

Client’s Needs
    Conductor Bernard Labadie and technical director Gaetan Pageau played active roles in the design of the concert hall’s audio systems. Guy Desmarteaux of Go multimedia noted that the client representatives not only knew what they wanted in the room, but wanted to understand Desmart-eaux’s design decisions. He spent several days training the tech staff on the Crestron control system, and also explaining his equipment choices and the effect the acoustical treatments and reverb systems would have on the room.
    Acoustics played a tremendous role in the project, from the installation of a motorized canopy above the stage to hand-drawn curtains covering 90% of the concert hall’s wall space, to the use of sand bags within the walls to alter the acoustic properties of the room.

Unusual Technique
    Desmarteaux described this unusual technique: “To create good reflective sound, you have to create an instrument out of the room,” he said. “You have to control the mass of the room, including the mass of the walls, the ceiling and the floors. Normally, you would put in a slab of concrete and cover it with gypsum. In this project, we used real wood, made a small cavity, and put sand in it to create a really dense wall. Nobody has done this before.”
    JaffeHolden specified a software-controlled motorized canopy that is moved up and down across a range of about 10 feet to act as an acoustic reflector, depending on the acoustic needs of the musical acts on stage. The canopy is moved by means of six Chain Master six-ton motors.
    Thick drapery, covering about 90% of the room, is hand-drawn and pushed back into pockets in the wall when not in use. “The curtains change reverberation time from about 2.2 seconds to about 1.5 seconds, unoccupied,” King said. “It makes a big difference.”
    The seating, too, contributes not only to the ambience of the hall, but to its acoustical properties. Extra-wide cushioned seats, manufactured by Ducharme Seating, provide additional sound absorption while offering a comfortable place for audience members to relax and enjoy the show. “Seating probably is the single most important part of the room,” King said, “because it contributes so greatly to the audience’s comfort during a performance.”
    Air vents within the seat platforms maintain optimal, and silent, air circulation, originating from an under-floor air supply. It was important that background noise be minimized in the space, and the modern ventilation system was a key aspect to the low ambient noise levels in the room.
    The addition of 800-volt Strand dimmers to eliminate filament noise from the lighting also played a significant role in minimizing ambient noise levels. “Without the dimmers, if you have 200 lamps in the theater, you would be disturbed by high frequency sound,” Desmarteaux stated.
    Additionally, amplifier rooms were placed as far away as possible from the performance stage, so noise from the cooling systems and the amplifiers themselves wouldn’t bleed out into the audience.
    JaffeHolden worked with BPR and Roche to help design the mechanical and electrical systems to the client’s demanding requirements. “The mechanical engineers were 100% cooperative,” King noted.
    King’s first indication that the acoustics in the room would be well suited for amplified performances, spoken word and chamber music came when he first heard Labardie rehearsing his chamber group. During rehearsal, the conductor often switched back and forth between English and French. “When he shifted to English,” King said, “I could understand his English very well, even with his back to me. I was happy to note that. It’s usually a good sign when you can hear a person speaking away from you. In a very reverberant space, it would be hard to understand that speech.”
    King concluded that the room has a good mixture of clarity and reverberation. “It’s nicely resonant, not dry,” he said.

Left, Right Clusters
    For amplified performances, Go multimedia specified an unusual configuration of left and right loudspeaker clusters, with no center cluster, along with an array of subs, front fills and delays. Aesthetics were a key consideration in speaker selection, and all the speakers except the two main clusters were architecturally designed and recessed in order to blend into the ceiling, stage or balcony soffits, creating true “transparent sound.”
    Foregoing the center cluster provided space for the earlier-mentioned pipe organ, a feature originally planned for the venue but put on hold due to budget constraints. Quebec is home to one of the largest concentrations of fine organ builders outside Switzerland, and the addition of a concert pipe organ remains on the drawing board for the future.
    The main speaker clusters are comprised of four L-Acoustics ARCS speakers, hanging 30 feet up to the left and right of the stage to create a clear stereo sound image. The clusters hang on winches that can be moved up and down to accommodate visual requirements of the ensembles on stage. The L-Acoustics boxes were selected because they are “very precise and directional,” Desmarteaux said.
    L-Acoustics ARCS subwoofers are recessed under the stage lip, along with delayed, compact Kling & Freitag CA 106 boxes used as front fills. A total of 35 CA 106s was specified for the project, spaced out on each side of the ceiling as well as under the stage. “We chose those because the proximity is really impressive,” Des-marteaux said, noting that long-throw speakers with a flat sound signature were needed to cover the entire concert hall. “When you’re firing from 25 feet, you don’t need too much high or too much low,” he said.
    Six Kling & Freitag CA-1201 M stage monitors were added, as well.
    The speakers are powered by a collection Lab.gruppen amplifiers, selected for their high quality, according to Desmarteaux.
    A Yamaha PM5D mixer is used for large-scale performances, with digital sound processing accomplished through a BSS Soundweb BLU. AV integrator Solotech worked with L-Acoustics to set up special presets for the BLU system. “It was our first installation combining L-Acoustics speakers with the BSS BLU, although we’ve installed other BLU systems and also used the regular Soundweb system with L-Acoustics products,” LaRochelle explained.
    L-Acoustics staff worked over the weekend at the factory to supply the integrator with presets, which were sent electronically to the integrator, and then integrated into the processor at the jobsite.

A view of a rehearsal from the control room.

Control System
    The entire system is controlled by a Crestron AV2 control system, operated by means of a CNX-8 WiFi touchpanel. Go multimedia created custom patch-bays for the control system.
    The Crestron system controls not only audio, lighting and video, but also the HVAC systems in the facility. “The Crestron controller is a very flexible product,” said Solotech’s LaRochelle. “We try to push the machine to its limit, and we haven’t found a limit yet.”

Simpler Performances
    The Crestron system is even used for sound mixing during simpler acoustic performances requiring only one microphone for spoken word. During such performances, the mixing board is removed to permit additional seating in the venue and the wireless mic system is patched through the BSS BLU into the Crestron controller. “You don’t require the [mixing] board for a PowerPoint presentation or during a concert where only the conductor speaks to introduce each piece,” Desmarteaux said. “You just need one wireless microphone. The technical director opens the lights, moves the canopy and turns on the sound system.”
    Pre-sets and shortcuts help the end user start the sound system with the touch of one button.
    The audio systems are made complete by the addition of an extensive paging system that routes announcements to the dressing rooms, lounges and VIP area. A total of 72 Electro-Voice EVID C42 ceiling speakers accomplish the task of distributed sound throughout the facility. Go multimedia specified a Clockaudio DMB1/D43 microphone for the paging system and three Shure ULXP124/85 wireless mics for performers.
    The extensive paging system also includes three Denon-Marantz Professional CD players. The paging system uses a Biamp MXA35 mixer/amp, and is powered by a QSC CX-302V paging audio amp, selected for its reliability. The system uses an Architectural Acoustics by Peavey unit for digital signal processing, and a Clear-Com intercom station.
    The paging system includes a push-to-talk button to route messages to the dressing rooms, control rooms or backstage area. Red lights at either side of the stage give a visual indication that the system is in use. In addition, “On stage left and right, this big red button flashes really fast to let [performers and audience members] know the show will be starting within five minutes,” Desmarteaux explained. “When it’s flashing slowly, performers and audience members have less than 10 minutes to take their positions.”

Video Connectivity
    The communications/paging system is supplemented by five Samsung LCD monitors and a Sony EVI-D70 PTZ color camera. Monitors within the VIP room, control rooms and dressing rooms let performers and technical staff members see what is happening inside the main hall. The motorized camera can be moved remotely by means of the Crestron controller.
    After three years and $20.5 million (Canadian), the Palais Montcalm is open for business and rapidly is fulfilling its role as a cultural center in the heart of Old Quebec City. Summarizing his experience, King said, “Everybody [who was involved in the project] is happy and, certainly, the City of Quebec is happy.”

 

Solotech
    With 400 employees and offices in Ottawa, Las Vegas, Quebec and Montreal, Solotech is one of the world’s fastest growing international audiovisual integrators. The company has been providing audiovisual and lighting sales, rentals, service and systems integration since 1976.
    Although the company is based in Canada, president Alain LaRochelle said that close to 25% of its business is derived internationally, at venues spanning from the US to China. The company’s client list includes the Molson Centre in Montreal, Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and the Societe Radio-Canada. The company also has designed and installed sound, lighting and video systems for several Cirque du Soleil performances around the world.
    For more information, go to www.solotech.ca.

 

Go multimedia Inc.
    The technology integration and scenography consulting firm Go multimedia Inc. was founded by Guy Desmarteaux. Specializing in stage design as well as audiovisual and lighting design, Go multimedia played a crucial role in the overall look, feel and sound of Old Quebec City’s Palais Montcalm, working closely with the acoustic consultant and audiovisual integrator to complete the project on time and within the specified budget.
    Other high-profile jobs that bear Go multimedia’s distinctive design touches include the Grande Biblioteque in Quebec, the Palais des Congres in Montreal, the Palais de Justice de Saint-Jerome and several casinos. Go multimedia has also worked with prestigious corporate clients such as Pfizer Canada and Hewitt Equipment.
    For more information, go to www.gomultimedia.net.

 

JaffeHolden
    JaffeHolden is a leading acoustical and audiovisual design firm with offices in Norwalk CT and Santa Monica CA.
    As the company’s website notes, correct implementation of audio technology can improve a poor acoustic solution, but the JaffeHolden team helps ensure that a building is truly hospitable for electro-acoustic performance. This certainly was true in the case of the renovation of Palais Montcalm, where everything, from the walls to the chairs, contributes to the acoustical environment.
    In the past decade, JaffeHolden has offered its expertise to the re-design of many high-profile concert halls, including Cleveland OH’s Severance Hall, the John F. Kennedy Center Concert Hall in Washington DC and the Copley Symphony Hall in San Diego CA. The company also has provided consulting and design services for arenas and conference centers, corporate boardrooms, cruise ships, hospitals, museums and more.
    This year, the company began work on a major renovation project at Alice Tully Hall in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Architectural improvements will include an extended stage, re-shaped wood walls and adjustable acoustic banners, plus a new sound reinforcement system.
    For more information, go to www.jhacoustics.com.

 

EQUIPMENT

(Installed in four distinct control rooms: Stage Left, Stage Right, Backstage, and Amp Room)

Audio
    4 BSS Audio Soundweb London BLU-80 digital signal processors
    35 Kling & Freitag CA 106 proximity, delay speakers
    6 Kling & Freitag CA 1201-M stage monitors
    7 Lab.gruppen FP 2400Q audio amps
    2 Lab.gruppen FP 2600 audio amps
    7 Lab.gruppen FP 3400 audio amps
    1 Lab.gruppen FP 6400 audio amp
    8 L-Acoustics ARCS main speakers
    2 L-Acoustics SB218 low frequency speakers
    1 Yamaha PM5D Digital mixer

Accessories, Ancillary (Audio)
    16 AEG/Arnscott AT35-DW-OR volume controllers (paging system)
    1 Alcorn McBride AM4/B digital playback (for PA)
    1 Architectural Acoustics by Peavey Digitool MX digital signal processor (for PA)
    3 Audio Accessories WQP-05-P-H4-48-N-1 audio patch bays
    1 Biamp MXA35 paging system mixer/amp
    1 Clear-Com MR-202 intercom wall plate
    1 Clear-Com MS-440 main intercom station
    1 Clear-Com RM-440 secondary intercom station
    6 Clear-Com RS-601 single-channel portable intercom stations
    2 Clear-Com RS-602 dual-channel intercom stations
    1 Clockaudio DMB1/D43 mic (for PA)
    3 Denon-Marantz Prof. DN-C615 CD player (for PA)
    72 Electro-Voice EVID C4.2 ceiling speakers
    2 Klark-Teknik DN360 stereo 1/3 octave graphic EQs
    1 QSC CX-204V audio amp (for PA)
    1 QSC CX-302V paging audio amp
    2 Radial Engineering R490 1200 25' sub-snakes
    1 Radial Engineering RC-4848 channel audio snake
    1 RDL ST-DA3 audio distribution amps
    8 Sennheiser EW 300 IEM G2 in-ear monitors
    10 Sennheiser HMD 25-1 intercom headsets
    1 Shure UA844 UHF antenna distribution
    3 Shure ULXP124/85UHF wireless mics
    2 TC Electronic M-One XL multi-effect units

Video
    2 Canare 201U-DVJAS video digital patch bays
    1 Extron DA 6V EQ 1:6 video distribution amp
    2 Extron DA2 RGBHV 1:2 video distribution amps
    2 Extron GLI 2000 5BNC RGBHV video ground loops
    2 Samsung LT-P1545 15" LCD video monitors
    3 Samsung LT-P1545 15" LCD video monitors
    1 Sony EVI-D70PTZ color camera

Network, Control
    1 3Com baseline switch 2808 8-port Ethernet switch
    2 3Com Superstack 12-port Ethernet switch 3 Switch 3812
    1 APC SUA2200RM2U power distribution
    1 Crestron AV2 automation, control system
    1 Crestron CNX-8 WiFi touchpanel controller
    1 Dell GX280 SFF local computer
    2 Leprecon LDMX-8D MX optocouplers
    2 Leviton-NSI I/F 501 RS232 to DMX-512 interfaces
    1 Linksys WAP54G WiFi Wireless Access Point
    1 Middle Atlantic RM-KB-LCD15 rackmount 15" LCD monitor, keyboard
    3 NordX/Belden GigaFlex PS6+ (AX101611) Ethernet patch bays

Motors
    6 Chain Master SB13 6-ton motors for canopy
    4 Chain Master 91100 11-ton motors for PA
    1 Chain Master MCCU motor control

Lighting
    800 Strand CD21 uS dimmers to eliminate all filament, dimmer noise

Edited from information supplied by Go multimedia Inc.


Dawn Allcot is a freelance writer specializing in the audiovisual and health and fitness industries.

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