One of the most unusual deployments of RCF’s active HDL6-A line array has taken place at Sage Gateshead to coincide with the Great Exhibition of the North.
The installation of 40 of these compact elements was carried out by RCF partner Nitelites, to contour the curvilinear glass and stainless superstructure of the magnificent building. Its purpose is to reproduce a unique and newly commissioned work by Sheffield-based ‘sound sculptor’ Mark Fell, called Protomusic #1.
The installation was carried out in just three days and involves bespoke mounting bracketry, manufactured in house by Nitelites, enabling each speaker to be optimised at the correct tilt angle, while remaining discreet.
Fell’s soundscape of real world sounds that represent the north of England have been reproduced by 60 traditional instruments from around the world by Royal Northern Sinfonia, as well as non-professional players and independent musicians, in what amounts to three hours’ worth of material, recorded over a two-month period.
The soundscape plays using a non-repetitive algorithm at low-level from 10am-9pm daily, with each of the 40 speakers receiving its own independent feed.
Sage Gateshead already enjoys a close relationship with RCF as Nitelites have previously installed flagship RCF systems in their two main rooms. At the end of the exhibition, Sage Gateshead will take ownership and repurpose a quantity of the boxes while the remainder will be returned to Nitelites’ hire inventory.
Sage Gateshead’s technical manager Clair Willis said: “We have a number of halls in which we stage events and the PA is receiving positive feedback. It was based on this experience that I suggested the use of RCF within this project.”
Tracing the background to the commission, she said: “With the opening of the Exhibition, the organisation had wanted something to animate the concourse and Mark’s idea was selected by the programming team as the immersive experience it wanted.”
Nitelites’ project manager Ed Gamble added:, “To convince Mark about the merits of the HDL6 we shipped him a unit to try out. Within about 15 minutes of setting up the speaker in my studio and playing different sounds through it I knew that it was exactly what I needed.
“When I arrived on site at Sage Gateshead and considered its spatial and sonic characteristics, I could see it was a particularly complex and challenging acoustic environment, with hard surfaces that there was no point fighting against. I knew that this project needed a great deal of care and forethought, which was why finding the right speaker unit was so imperative.”
In fact the results surpassed his expectations, he said. “It displayed a stunning level of controllability, clarity and detail. This allowed me to work with an exceptional level of precision within the space, turning what seemed like challenges into creative opportunities. Basically I was overjoyed with the results: the team at Nitelites were meticulous in their planning and execution and I was very impressed with the HDL-6A’s performance.”
From an installation perspective he said, “From the floor of Sage Gateshead it looked amazing — a super neat job. PA companies often have an approach to cable management that I find aesthetically challenging so this was a very different experience.”
Nitelites project manager Ed Gamble also added that the speaker’s 100° x 10° vertical coverage was perfect for the project, focusing the sound on the listener. “Because of the control pattern, HDL6-A provides a seamless audio experience from area to area along the concourse. The other benefits of using the HDL6-A are the weight and size, which are incredible..”
Mark Fell also invited participation from the public. He made an iPhone and Android app whereby users could record sound, images and add text and this was automatically sent to his server.
In conclusion, the artist says, “I'm really happy with the work, it was a new experience for me to work with so many musicians and that was a great part of the process. Without doubt the HDL6-A enclosures delivered the level of sonic quality that I had hoped for. I'm super happy because I like sonic detail and clarity, and the speakers delivered that.”
The Great Exhibition of the North is run by the NewcastleGateshead Initiative and will run for 80 days until September 9. It is expected to bring a £184 million boost to the North East’s economy.