In the beginning was the Word, says St John. All very well, but these days, how do you enable large congregations to hear the sentences? As Gez Kahan discovers, where intelligibility is key in the European HOW sector, there is a growing market for more complex solutions.
Had Europe’s glorious churches and cathedrals not been built of stone, the better to impress God’s majesty on those who had to make do with wood, installers would doubtless make a great deal more money (and more easily) from the European house of worship market. As it is, stone churches don’t only impress, they last, and they come to define communities. So – rightly – they are protected, dodgy acoustics and all, and that is one reason that, along with sympathy to their historic surroundings, speech reinforcement and intelligibility are constant themes.
Nuremberg’s Church of St Jacob, for instance, was built in 950 AD (give or take), and therefore predates its current evangelical-Lutheran denomination by several centuries. And while it may have been designed for plainsong and Latin, these days it is used not only for worship but for lectures and concerts, making intelligibility even more an issue. As indeed is ease-of-use: few traditional HOW venues can run to professional FOH engineers.
The installer (Nuremberg-based Barowski AG) decided that touchpanels operating EV’s NetMax N8000 controller and DC-ONE speaker processor made for a failsafe, user-friendly control – while for users who are more au fait with technology, a Dynacord CMS 1000 mixer gives a mobile option.
The design has to be failsafe, too, or at least future-proofed and expandable lest the design brief changes during the installation – as it did in this case. “Because the system is programmable and scalable, we have easily managed to incorporate each new request submitted by the client as the project progressed," says Michael Barowski.
Barowski used Dynacord columns for the nave and chancel, and EV S-40s for the gallery and as monitoring for the organ, while to keep obtrusiveness to a minimum at the pulpit and lectern (known at St Jacob’s as the 'Ambo'), he chose EVID in-wall speakers.
For the €700,000 installation in Mainz Cathedral – a building of similar vintage to St Jacob’s but on an altogether grander scale – the brief was again for intelligibility and even coverage. As well as coping with Mainz’s 12-second reverberation along its 116m length, with three naves and ceiling heights varying from 28m to 53m, BFE Studio and Medien Systeme had to fit cabling and connectors for radio and TV recording and broadcasting of services and other events, as well as specialist facilities such as hearing loops, all without compromising the stunning visual effect.
Fohhn’s Linea Focus series – a range of electronically steerable, active line array systems developed for environments with long reverb times – was used, with sizes ranging from 450cm (in the main aisle) down to 120cm in side chapels. These were supplemented by other Linea speakers (some as small as 11cm) throughout the cathedral, both at the high altar and directed towards specific areas of the congregation, and all controlled in real time using Fohhn’s remote control and networking technology.
Sometimes, of course, the venerability of the interior is the over-riding consideration – as with Antwerp’s Jesuit church of Carolus Borromeus, built in an early 17th-century baroque style. With Rubens having been involved in the decoration of the facade and the pinnacle of the tower and especially in the interior, the church officials were naturally concerned about the visual impact of a new sound system. OHM Benelux won the contract, for dual 8” BR-8s and 6” KS-1s finished in white to blend in as well as possible while still satisfying the brief for evenly distributed sound to all parts of the church.
But it isn’t simply a matter of complying with listing provisions when installers come to fit a modern system in an old church or cathedral. The vernacular has only (relatively) recently taken over from Latin in Roman Catholic services, so even simple speech reinforcement represents a change of use, or at least of intent. When the focus is on ritual and arcane pronouncements – in a foreign language to boot – reverberation adds majesty and mystery. For communication as distinct from communion, it just gets in the way.
Take Milltown Parish Church in Dublin. A stone structure with a complicated layout rendered much of what emanated from the ambo completely unintelligible to the congregation. However, the problem went further than that: Milltown holds choral masses with a professional chamber choir, and soloists often complained that they couldn’t properly hear the accompanying singers or the organ.
“They’d already tried sound reinforcement before they called us in,” says Mick O’Gorman, a partner in Dublin-based Mosco Sound Design & Recording, “but their original system had simply amplified the mid range and made the problem worse. We put in two lots of d&b speakers” – Mosco is the Irish distributor for d&b Audioteknik – “one lot by the altar thrust and the other in the main congregation area. We used EQ to remove the frequencies that were getting in the way, and used the delays on the E-PAC amps to produce a single sound source. The result was a massive improvement in intelligibility.”
New versus old
In the traditional denominations this problem is not only confined to old buildings, because new-builds are often built along traditional lines. The Temple Spasa Nerukotvornogo Obraza in Usovo, Russia – officially opened by Vladimir Putin, no less – looks completely orthodox in every sense of the word. And that applies to its natural acoustics too. In this case, the solution for the interior was a single pair of beam-steering columns – Tannoy QFlex 16s – to provide controlled coverage of the worship area with minimal visual impact. Outside the church, distributed sound for the entrance area is via Tannoy’s self-powered Di5a surface-mount speakers.
“There seem to be two types of market here: traditional churches (mostly in Europe) and large modern worship facilities (mainly in the US),” says Tannoy’s director of engineering, Philippe Robineau. “For the former, the main focus is on intelligibility, as these buildings – often old or very old – generally have disastrous acoustics. Beam-steering products, like our QFlex range, offer a new solution to these venues: generally the improvement over conventional distributed solutions is quite dramatic.”
“While beam-steering is a commonplace solution for complex HOW installations in the US, it is now also gaining ground in the less well-heeled EU HOW market,” adds Rik Kirby, sales and marketing manager for Renkus-Heinz. “There it has mostly been the largest churches and cathedrals that have gone for it, but with intelligibility of the spoken word the main goal.
“The arrival of Iconyx/IC Live as an acoustic problem solver has been a major trend as far as Renkus-Heinz is concerned,” he adds, citing examples from the traditional Niderasdomen Cathedral in Sweden and St Michaelis Cathedral in Hamburg to the ultra-modern Shrine of St Pio in Italy.
Increasingly, new-builds are planned with multiple functions in mind. The Transylvanian Baptist community in Oradea, Romania, recently built two adjacent churches – the large Rogerius church and a smaller ’Gypsy’ church – both of which are used for musical events as well as worship. The installer, Studiotech Hungary, was asked to supply AV systems that would each work independently, but could function as a single system when needed.
A Yamaha LS9-32 in the Rogerius is the main console, allowing for a variety of usage options without repatching. Yamaha’s SP2060 digital processor controls the main loudspeakers and XH200 amps feed the zoned ancillary rooms. For the Gypsy church a second SP2060 running XM and XP amps can be used independently or linked to the Rogerius system.
Most Russian churches faced challenges during the communist era. The largest Orthodox church in the Republic of Bashkortostan, in the city of Ufa, just to the west of the Urals had, during its 100-year existence, been co-opted to act as a prison, an aircraft workshop and a cinema. Now it has been renovated from the ground up and fitted with a new Electro-Voice sound system, installed by Ufa-based First Install Company, with assistance from EV’s Russian partner Ruton S.
Even though it’s a relatively new building, many of its acoustic properties were distinctly (or rather, indistinctly) old school – a reverberation time beneath the central dome of several seconds in particular caused severe intelligibility problems. But as well as a fundamental improvement in sound quality within the church itself, the brief called for services to be relayed to an open area in front of the building – and, naturally, the system had to be easy to operate and the loudspeakers practically invisible.
First Install’s solution used a laptop-programmable NetMax N8000, remotely accessible from PWS-6 programmable wall stations, with presets for 100, 300, 500 and 1,000 worshippers. Various models of EV speakers are positioned throughout – in front of the altar, in the areas above and below the balcony, in the nave and relaying the service to the overspill congregation outside the church. A range of EV mics is used to capture the choir, the sound from the icon vault and the participation of the congregation outside the church, with the priests and readers using lavaliers or wireless gooseneck microphones with RE-2 body-pack transmitters.
HOW projects, however, don’t necessarily even have to include the main worship area – as is the case with Theatre, Technics and Technology’s installation at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. A Russian Orthodox church which was demolished by Stalin in 1931, it was rebuilt in the 1990s with a 1,300-seat auditorium beneath the main sanctuary. The system, based around a Midas Heritage console and 34 Meyer M'elodie line array loudspeakers, with Galileo processing plus monitors and infills, has allowed the hall to expand its programming to include not only church observances but theatrical performances, children's events, and even pop music concerts. And whereas those elements may be ‘extras’ within the context of traditional HOW activities, they are integral to the evangelistic movements – which therefore call for much more complicated installations.
“While the European market for HOW installs is not quite as diverse or large as the US, we are still seeing a growing performance in this sector, with our mixers of all shapes and sizes used in installations,” says Dave Neal, director of marketing communications at Soundcraft. “The trends are very similar to the US – lots of in-ear monitoring for praise bands, often with large choirs employed. Digital consoles, of course, offer integrated and easily accessible EQ, effects and dynamics processing – which is essential for HOW installations with complex routing and zoning.”
Shawn Watts, director of installed solutions at QSC, notices “a growing trend where end users, accustomed to their surround systems at home, now expect the same experience in public spaces such as houses of worship”. The goal, he says, “is bringing the multichannel experience while maintaining intelligibility. You want the system to be dynamic, but still easy to operate.”
He also sees houses of worship adopting a more ‘campus-wide’ approach, with networked audio and video in the crèche and children’s church critical to helping churches increase attendance from younger parents in particular.
Bolstering attendance may be an issue for many churches in Western Europe, but the HOW market is not confined to Christianity. “QSC has been involved in some very large mosque projects in the Middle East,” Watts adds, “where the facilities have grown so large with attendance that they need full, concert line-array systems – similar to an arena or stadium system – simply for speech reinforcement.
“For more progressive and evangelical movements there has been a trend in renovations of older theatres, failed dance clubs, and performance halls being converted into houses of worship. The systems start as portable/powered solutions that over time transform into larger advanced sound and video systems.”
The King’s Arms – not a pub, but an evangelical church in Bedford, UK – has recently acquired the old Crayola headquarters, comprising three warehouses and an office block, not only to house a 600-strong congregation but for use as a conference centre and as the venue for a variety of business and arts performances.
John Allard, director of Live Rooms, which handled the installation, has fitted an OHM system – twin 6-box Lunaray hangs, with BR-7 infills, PUKK-215 subs and A3-DSP digital amps – to deliver, in his words, “an awesome system capable of delivering the subtleties of speech and the fullness needed for a live band”.
And, unlike the traditional churches, where unobtrusiveness rules, Allard believes evangelical movements are happy for their PA systems to be loud and proud. “The days are gone for this style of church to have to hide the PA, rendering it almost invisible, but usually woefully inadequate,” he says. “They have a message of hope they want to deliver through speech, song and the arts.”
“In evangelical churches we are seeing demand for the kinds of upscale audiovisual experiences that have been commonplace across the Atlantic for some time,” notes David Kirk of Allen & Heath. “Allen & Heath’s iLive and iDR digital systems have enjoyed great success, in part through the range of control options we offer. Evangelical churches, with numerous performers and speakers appearing one after another, need more functionality – being able to save and recall scenes is a big plus. But because they generally use volunteer sound engineers, ease of use is also a major consideration.”
That was certainly a factor in ChristChurch’s purchase of an Innovason Eclipse (supplied by UK distributor Red Square Audio) as its new monitor mixer. ChristChurch, which meets on Sundays at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s West End, already owned an Innovason Sy48 for FOH use and technical director Rhys Scott noted that familiarity with the Sy48 meant a minimal learning curve for those operating the Eclipse.
“Converting a West End theatre into our church every Sunday is a pretty intensive task. On a normal Sunday we have an eight-piece band, some weeks we strip it down to acoustic/unplugged band, and for special events we add a five-piece horn section, a 20-voice choir and sometimes a four-piece string section. Most of the musicians use in-ears, but the choir and horn section use wedges. When it comes to musicians on stage, it varies from week to week – in other words, the monitor team needs to work quickly, so having a console that is easy to understand and get the best from is really important.”
The evangelical movements may be more rock and roll – and it’s certainly the area where the main AV-centred installations are happening. But – despite newspaper headlines telling of falling congregations – there’s good news from the traditional sector too. As older churches turn to alternative uses such as concerts and conferences, and as technology finds more and better ways to improve intelligibility, the European house of worship market has plenty to offer installers across the board. And we all say amen to that.