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Audio install transforms palais to congress centre

The renovated Palais des Congrès in Brussels has reopened after six years, with the country's biggest audio install of 2009, reports Marc Maes

Following the discovery of asbestos in the 13,500sqm Palais des Congrès – now renamed the Square Brussels Meeting Centre – a government-initiated renovation of the building began six years ago with various building and installation activities put out to public tender. GL Events Group will manage the reopened Palais for the next two decades before it returns to government ownership.

Nazareth-based company Play won the contract to install new AV systems in the huge building, located at the Mont des Arts in the centre of Brussels. The company is active in the sale and integration of sound and video equipment, rental and event support, production of corporate movies, and it owns a fully equipped multipurpose conference centre.

“We’ve evolved from a supplier for events where speech intelligibility is important to a full-package company, and that’s where the Palais des Congrès/Square Brussels fits in,” says Dirk Verhellen, general manager with Play.

Play took on the assignment in June, and started its operations on site in the first week of July working alongside suppliers/importers Heynen bv (Studer) and ASC (L-Acoustics, Allen & Heath, DAS and Shure).

The main Gold auditorium, which has a seating capacity of 1,200, is equipped with a Studer Vista 5 digital console, controlling 12 L-Acoustics KIVA, 4 KILO subs, two KIBU rigging bumpers and six 115Xt HiQ monitors powered by four LA4 amplifiers.

“For the Silver and Copper auditoria, offering room for 300 and 500 visitors respectively, we used Allen & Heath (GRO5, IDR8 and ML3000-24) consoles with L-Acoustics and DAS (ARTEC 8, 28 and Factor 8W) speakers,” explains Verhellen. “All of the auditoria are fully equipped with integrated Sennheiser SDC congress systems, audiovisual facilities and translation booths.”

The halls are all equipped with Televic TCS 5500 translation system which is transmitted by Sennheiser digital SR 2020-D-US transmitters and received by Sennheiser DE 2020-D-US digital RF stethoset-style receivers.

The sound in the other conference rooms was also completely redesigned, every room was equipped with an individual sound system; a combination of, in total, 134 Ecler IC5 ceiling speakers and Allen & Heath WZ 14.4.2 rack-mounted analogue consoles.

The basic design for the whole renovation in terms of sound installation was effected by Matthijs Acoustics, with Play giving input as to the effective installation in view of future events and economical use of the constellation.

The Vista 5 console in Gold’s control room, in combination with a Nuendo Steinberg system and the Vista’s EtherSound card, allows digital recording of a full 64 channels.

“You may think this is quite a big structure for an organisation that’s not planning to do concerts as its core business,” says Mathias Widtskiöld, chief sound engineer at the Square congress centre, “but the configuration holds a wide variety of possibilities, such as classical music concerts. The Studer Vista is a great tool, completely flexible, and I’m thrilled to have it.”

“During a congress or a live performance, the sound engineer should be totally focused on sound quality rather than worrying which buttons he’s pressing,” comments Jos Jorissen, managing director at Heynen Belgium, which supplied the two Studer Vista consoles and also took on the digital signage system, allowing the display of an HD video signal throughout the Palais’ halls, by means of Mayah and Teracue video routing equipment.

A second Studer Vista 5SR is used as a mobile resource – each hall and smaller conference rooms all have individual patch-boards, linked into a central hub. “The system’s as flexible as one could imagine,” explains Widtskiöld.

“Signal transmission to other rooms works perfectly. In February, we will see our baptism by fire when over 5,000 people are due to attend conferences and lectures in the whole building, with transmission of the content from the Gold hall to the other auditoria and halls.”

Widtskiöld adds that the L-Acoustics and LA4 amplifiers are remotely controlled throughout the network. “In addition to the fixed installation and the mobile Studer Vista console, we also have DAS ARTEC 8 speakers on stands for the Gold hall, three mobile racks with Allen & Heath Mix Wizards 12/2 and 14/2, and three racks with a total of 12 mc2 (T1500 and 1000-series) amplifiers for extra amplification,” he says.

What makes the whole project particularly interesting, especially in these times of economic concern, is that Play took on the complete pre-financing of the audio and video project, estimated at some €3 million. “In doing so, all of our suppliers were paid straight away, which is not usual today, thanks to our healthy relation with our bankers. I gather this may, alongside our technical experience, have played a role in assigning Play with this prestigious project,” concludes Verhellen.