in January 2008
Challenge of Change
By Shonan Noronha, EDD
Cornell's Bailey Hall technology meets divergent needs.
|The line array and subwoofer deployment for the Sabor Latino Dance Ensemble at Bailey Hall.
A major renovation of Cornell University’s famous Bailey Hall in Ithaca NY, with more than 1300 seats, aisle lighting, movable acoustical panels, wireless audio technology, 3CCD PTZ cameras, two-way videoconferencing and internet video streaming has transformed the auditorium into the area’s premier location for lectures, distance learning, musical performances and other important events. The restoration of the interior and exterior of this historic facility cost an estimated $17.3 million.
Since its audiovisual makeover, Bailey Hall has hosted gubernatorial debates that required a live broadcast feed, the inauguration of a new University president at Cornell and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. Bailey is also the venue for the popular Psychology 101 course by Professor James Maas, which draws 1327 students three days a week during the semester. These lectures are also webcast to the Weill Medical College affiliate in Doha, Qatar, as well as recorded for library distribution.
Designing and integrating a world-class AV system for a dedicated lecture hall, performance venue or distance learning facility can present significant technical and operational challenges. But combining all these functions into a single, rapidly convertible space raised the level of complexity to epic proportions. Gregory Bronson, CTS-D, Cornell’s AV representative on the project, cites “the need throughout the project to balance the physical infrastructure demands of advanced technologies with the historical architectural environment of Bailey Hall,” as one of the strategic concerns that informed every aspect of the project.
A campus committee consisting of Bronson, Dr. Maas and other University stakeholders provided input and had oversight of the project. Mitch- ell/Giurgola Architects created the master plan, and Artec Consultants provided AV design and planning services covering auditorium acoustics, specialized performance equipment systems, and noise and vibration control.
Multi-System AV Contract
The multi-system audiovisual integration contract was awarded to North American Theatrix (NAT). “We responded to an RFP/RFQ from Cornell University,” reported Patrick Nelson, project manager. “We encountered time, space and AV challenges, with little traditional infrastructure issues. We had to work hard and fast to make the innumerable pieces of equipment not only talk to each other but function fluidly for the end user.”
From contract to deployment, NAT had slightly more than six months. “Because of the time constraints, we also had to create a full-scale mockup of the booth at our shop to test the clearances, programming and wiring. We invited Cornell to our shop to get a hands-on with the systems and familiarize them with the equipment,” Nelson said.
Construction schedule challenges impacted the AV installation schedule. “With progressing frequency and urgency, the AV schedule was modified to follow in construction’s footsteps,” noted Bronson. “The first substantial use occurred literally hours after certificate of occupancy.”
Projection Booth Alternatives
The size and location of the projection booth posed installation challenges. During the design phase, several different booth alterations and alternative locations were explored. “Ultimately, a bump out nook, approximately 3½ feet wide by 2½ feet in depth, located above the operator’s window, was created for the projector,” reported Bronson. Although this solution helped with clear floor space for operations, it did not alleviate the installation hurdles. “Because the spiral staircase was too narrow, we actually had to lift the equipment and pass racks through the rough opening created for the operator’s window, before the window was installed,” explained Nelson.
Discussing the project, Andrew Page, CTS, technical director of Bailey Hall, said, “One of the biggest challenges is the need to flip the house from a lecture hall into a performance space. For instance, we may have to switch from a high-profile speaker to the Cornell Wind Ensemble.” During a single day last October, the stage setup was changed seamlessly from one tailored for the 25-performer Gamelan Çudamani (a Balinese dance and music troupe with gongs, wooden drums and colorful costumes) to a perfect platform for guest speaker Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Key Design Elements
|Professor James Maas presents to a full house of more than 1300 students, three days a week.
Priority consideration was given to addressing problems previously experienced with the facility. Speech audio reinforcement was a legacy problem that had to be fixed.
A key design criterion was to provide intelligible speech audio reinforcement, as well as high-quality musical performance reinforcement and reproduction. The systems also had to be versatile enough to support “new” end-user needs. “This was accomplished by implementing two systems: a traditional analog production audio setup and an AV digital signal processing system with user control panels,” explained Page.
The production audio system in the auditorium includes a Midas analog audio console, XTA dual-channel graphic EQs, FMR outboard dual compressor limiters and Drawmer compressor, L-Acoustics line arrays and Lab.gruppen power amps.
The second system incorporates SymNet Audio DSPs from Symetrix and Crestron controls to provide pushbutton audio and video. “This hybrid design creates the flexibility required for pop/jazz sound reinforcement and the ease of use needed for faculty lectures and other events,” noted Page.
To support lectures, performances and other multimedia events, the new systems incorporate a powerful three-chip DLP Lightning 35HD projector from Digital Projection International and a 35-foot Stewart screen. A CrossPoint 450 16x16 RGBHV switcher and other signal management gear from Extron and Analog Way handle inputs from such varied sources as Panasonic AWE-650 3CCD pan-tilt cameras, Apple and Dell computers, and an AVerVision 330 document camera.
Two streaming media systems were incorporated into the renovation, with a third one added after the initial work was completed. According to Page, “The Envivio is used for transmitting lectures to the Weill Medical College in Doha, Qatar. It captures both an SD video signal and the SXGA output of Professor Maas’ laptop.” The VBrick 6200 network video MPEG2 appliance is used for SD video and audio “when Bailey is needed as an overflow site, as it was during the Dalai Lama’s visit, or when sending a broadcast feed to a TV network or for web distribution.”
The Art Of Control
Though programming the control systems presented some technical challenges (e.g., inter-device control signal latency), creating a control environment that would work well for Bailey Hall demanded critical attention to the human side of the equation.
“The issues with programming and integrating various RS232/IP/IR/contact closure controlled devices often is just a technical exercise,” mused Keith Book, the Crestron programmer for this project and system designer at NAT. “The real challenge is the application of wisdom and judgment in deciding what the system should do as opposed to what it can do.” Book explained, “We have reached a place where we can make integrated technology do just about anything—but what should it do? These systems are really a study in ergonomics; how do we create a system that fulfills the needs of the client while being logical and intuitive to operate?”
Particular attention was also paid to the requirement for rapid remote service updates, and changes that almost certainly would be required as the system took on a life of its own. “The Dell computer is a stripped-down server-class chassis,” noted Book. “Its primary job is to connect to all of the onsite systems and allow both Cornell technical staff and our engineering staff at NAT to connect to the system remotely. This allows us to diagnose, provide technical support, set up a non-standard system configuration for a specific one-time use, and provide remote debugging and support. This is a unique feature that NAT implements in many of our projects.”
The remote server system also provides a safety net for the complex software systems. “It also makes it possible for us to set up a programming/control platform in which the programming software, firmware and system configurations are ‘frozen in time’,” Book added. “This server configuration allows us to do periodic maintenance without exposing the system to sometimes-destructive firmware updates or the danger of system configuration files being rendered obsolete by progressive programming software updates.”
Another element in the AV design was live event/performance support communications. Clear-Com intercom systems are used primarily for student variety shows that are staged two to three times a semester. These shows typically feature 12 to 15 acts. “We’ll have production staff off-stage left and off-stage right, at the sound board and in the projection room,” reported Page. “Also, the house manager, box office manager and I have Motorola walkie-talkies that are interfaced with the Clear-Com system. This helps keep the show moving on schedule.”
Bailey Hall hosts musical events two to three times a week. These range from pop/jazz/fusion to chamber and symphony orchestras. The United States Marine Corp Band has performed here, as well as respected oud and violin master Simon Shaheen, and legendary tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.
The same Crestron system that provides control for many of the lecture hall and DL functions also has a key role to play in configuring the space for live performance. “The Crestron control system is programmed to modify the crossovers, delays and correctional EQ controlled by the Symetrix DSP systems,” said Page.
Depending on how much control you want, there are three presets: Preset 1 feeds left, right and center arrays, front fills, side fills and subs from the LRC bus; Preset 2 is the same but uses discrete return lines for the subs and front fills; Preset 3 goes one step further and uses discrete return lines for the subs, left center fill, right center fill and front fill. There is also a toggle to switch between a flown configuration or stacked.
“Gain before feedback is good, providing you minimize omni-directionals directly under the center cluster,” noted Page. “This is accomplished by locating Q&A sets further upstage and using a stage right or left location for the podium. If there’s a chance a performer will venture in front of the subs with an open mic, we mix the subs on an aux.”
Professor Maas Here and There
|The Bailey Hall projection room incorporates image processors, DSPs, PTZ controller, servers, monitors and projection.
In his dynamic instruction of the “Introduction to Psychology” course, Professor James Maas uses a large, high-tech podium from which he controls, via the Crestron touchpanel, pre-lecture music and certain lighting presets. His lectures are multimedia-driven and incorporate movie and video clips that are played back from his laptop. All of his audio and video support materials are embedded in Apple’s Keynote Presentation application.
“The audio and video selections are all done using the Crestron,” Page explained. “Professor Maas lectures with a dual-screen setup with two computers running different Keynote presentations.
There is the main presentation, and a secondary presentation containing iclicker classroom polling questions flies on- and off-screen at the press of a button on the Crestron touchpanel.”
In addition to the complex on-site requirements, the whole Psychology 101 experience has to be encoded and captured for distance learning. This calls for the combined use of remote-controlled Panasonic 3CCD PTZ cameras, Crestron- and Extron-based control and switching systems, Symetrix audio DSP and a webcasting system from Envivio.
Page explained, “The four cameras as well as audio levels (independent of the house audio) are mixed on the Crestron control panel, which in turn modifies the Extron matrix switchers and Symetrix’s SymNet DSP system. From here, the program video, audio and Keynote presentation are routed to the Envivio for encoding. Program video and audio are also recorded to DVD for backup.”
Substantial audio and acoustic challenges were also involved in the project. The hall was designed to accommodate both lectures and orchestral and choral performances. To meet these needs, movable acoustical panels were installed. Different configurations maximize intelligibility versus reverberation and a range between.
Rapid reconfiguration of the space and systems also called for some creative solutions. “We often have to flip the house from a morning lecture to an afternoon or evening concert,” reflected Page. “If we are to reinforce the event, this involves unbolting and moving audience chairs to set up the Midas sound board, outboard EQ, compressors and FX processors.”
Speaker setup is another issue that must be addressed on the fly. “We also must roll out the L-Acoustics side line arrays and subs. The arrays can either be stacked upon the subs or flown above the subs. The flown position sounds better, but is more labor intensive and takes up more stage space. The flown configuration was added since the renovation to allow more uniform SPL and better gain before feedback,” explained Page.
The new design incorporated movable acoustical panels, and they are used to help the staff achieve optimum audio for the hall’s various uses. According to Page, “Configuring the acoustic panels is critical. They are open (using the absorptive side) for lectures and sound-reinforced events, but closed (reflective side) for acoustic music and small ensembles. For very large group performances, we install a Wenger stage extension, which requires removal of the first two rows of the orchestra. We also dead-hang drapery for lectures and some small ensembles, but for orchestras these must be removed.”
Cornell set out to create one space that could bring the world’s greatest performers and thinkers to Ithaca, and its use of technology takes the University’s best to people around the world. With the help of a dedicated technical and design team, and a liberal mix of the best AV/IT technologies, it has accomplished this heroic task.
North American Theatrix
Founded in 1993 by Jeffrey Mele and Gary Peck, North American Theatrix (NAT) is located in Waterbury CT and has satellite offices in Syracuse NY and Blackwood NJ. NAT’s expertise in design, engineering and installation has credited it as a global leader in systems integration. Growing from five employees to 26 fulltime designers, engineers, project managers, system technicians and administrative staffers, NAT has been credited as the 169th fastest growing privately held company according to Inc. magazine.
“Our approach to an integrated system is built on an amalgam of multiple disciplines of technology that provide a user-friendly environment capable of operating under extraordinary situations,” said Mele. “This is what enables us to deploy AV systems even under tight time constraints.” From a performance spec, NAT successfully completed design/build for Mohegan Sun and Sunburst entertainment venues in a record 3½ months, and for Turningstone Casino in four months.
“Combining audio, video, digital signage, lighting, show control, network communications and more into one system requires 49% science and 51% art,” noted Mele. “The expertise in system programming that our engineers brings to a project, and the attention to detail that our technicians offer, is what makes NAT excel.”
For more information, go to www.nathea trix.com.
5 ADC BJF303-4MKii audio patch bays
1 ADC PV226B production video patch panel
1 ADC PV226B video patch panel
1 AEA SMP 1M precision stereo mic bar
1 AJA HDP HD/SDI to DVI-D module
3 AKG CK31 cardioid pattern capsules
3 AKG GN30E 12" goosenecks for discreet capsules, XLR connect
1 Analog Way NATIX switcher
1 Anchor AN-130CG powered monitor speaker
9 Atlas Sound AT35-RM ATN 35W 3DB RM deluxe, rackmounted 35W attenuators
64 Atlas Sound C803AT87 2-way 8" coax 70V speakers
1 Audio-Technica ES935ML micro line shotgun condenser mic
1 AVerMedia AVerVision 330 document camera
1 Cisco 3550-24 24-port Ethernet switch
1 Clear One GT1524 echo canceller
1 Clear-Com AMS-1025 2-channel stereo amplified speaker
4 Clear-Com CC-260 double-ear standard headsets
6 Clear-Com CC-95 single-ear standard headsets
3 Clear-Com HS-6 telephone-style handsets
1 Clear-Com MR-202 2-channel headset station
1 Clear-Com MS-232 headset/speaker main station
4 Clear-Com RM-220 2-channel headset stations
8 Countryman 85 active direct boxes
1 Crestron PRO2 pro dual bus control system
1 Crestron QM-RMC mini control system
2 Crestron TPS-15 Isys 15" touchpanels
5 Crestron TPS-2000L Isys 5" active matrix color compact wallmounted touchpanels
6 Crown PCC-160 boundary mics
4 d&b E-Pac power amp controllers
8 d&b E3 front fill speaker
2 Dell 1RU server/computer rackmounted computers
2 Dell Envivio distance learning encoding systems
1 Denon DVD3910 DVD player
1 Digital Projection Lightning 35HD projector
1 Digital Projection MMS-1000 image scaler video projection processor
2 Digital Projection 001-721 DVI-D modules
1 Digital Projection1-721 DVI module
6 DPA 4060-BM lavalier mics
2 Drawmer DL241XL dual auto compressors
4 EAW SM129Z stage monitors
2 Electro-Voice RE20 “Classic” Variable-D dynamic cardioid broadcast mics
1 Extron CrossPoint 450 16x16 RGBHV switcher
1 Extron 16x16 S-video switcher
3 Extron VSC-700 hi-res scan converters w/genlock
8 Extron mini twisted pair video receivers
1 Extron MTP DA 8 twisted pair distribution amp
3 Extron DVS-304 4-input video, RGB scalers
3 FMR Audio RNC 1773 dual compressor limiters
1 Juice Goose CQ-PD1-4 modular sequenced power strip
5 Juice Goose RC5-RM power sequence remotes
1 Juice Goose RC-DM2 1RU AC power control combiner
1 JVC SR-DVM70US MiniDV DVD combo unit
2 JVC SR-MV50US DVD VHS combo units
1 Lab.gruppen 60E Nomad link bridge
11 Lab.gruppen C28-4 4-channel power amps
9 Lab.gruppen C48-4 4-channel power amps
4 L-Acoustics Arcs full-range speakers
22 L-Acoustics DV-DOSC speakers
4 L-Acoustics SB-218 subwoofers
4 Magenta Research 4003212-03 transmitters
6 Magenta Research 4003299-01 receivers
4 Magenta Research 4003347-01 transmitters
4 Magenta Research 4003348-01 AK500SA receivers
1 Marantz CDR510 dual well CDR/CD
2 Marshall Furniture small podiums
1 Marshall Furniture large podium
2 Marshall VR53P triple 5" LCD video monitors
2 Marshall VR-82P dual monitors
1 Midas Verona 240/8/IP mixing console
1 Midas Verona 480/8/TP 48-frame mixing console
6 Neumann KM184 cardioid condenser mics
4 Neumann TLM103MT cardioid condenser mics
4 Panasonic AWE-650 cameras
3 Panasonic AW-PH360 PT heads
1 Panasonic AW-RP605 PT controller
1 Polycom HDX 9004 HDTV videoconferencing system (owner supplied)
1 Sennheiser SI-1015/NT rackmount 2-channel modulator
1 Sennheiser GA1031-AM antenna mounts
4 Sennheiser E604 dynamic cardioid instrument mics
2 Sennheiser E609 dynamic super cardioid instrument mics
2 Sennheiser MD421-II dynamic cardioid mics
8 Sharp LC 15B8U-S 15" LCD monitors
3 Shure 577B cardioid dynamic mics
6 Shure SM57-LC cardioid dynamic mics
6 Shure SM58-LC cardioid dynamic mics
1 Shure UA845US wideband UHF (500-900MHz) antenna/power distribution system
2 Shure UA870WB UHF wideband (500-900MHz) active directional antennas for U4S, U4
3 Shure UR124D/BETA87C dual-channel wireless mic systems
1 Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player(owner supplied)
7 Symetrix SymNet Express 12x4 Cobra DSPs
5 Symetrix SymNet Express 4x12 Cobra DSPs
1 Symetrix SymNet Express 8x8 Cobra DSPs
2 Tannoy I9 Compact columnar line source speakers
1 TC Electronic M2000 multi-effects processor
1 Toshiba HD-XA2 HD DVD player (owner supplied)
2 Tripp Lite SU2200RTXL2U rackmount UPS
1 VBrick 6200 network video MPEG2 appliance
1 Vista Spyder 231 processor
1 Vortex SPG-100/SN genlock generator
1 Whirlwind Press Power 2 active press box
1 Whirlwind MCT-7 audio cable tester
3 XTA GQ600 dual-channel graphic 1/3 octave EQs
1 Yamaha SPX2000 digital multi-effects processor
2 Yamaha-MSP5A-CA 40W biamped monitor speakers
List is edited from information supplied by North American Theatrix.
Shonan Noronha, EdD, an independent writer, producer and training consultant, is the author of several books and numerous articles about television, AV, multimedia and music. Send comments to her at email@example.com.