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Meyer Sound endures underground Inferno

Dante fever is spreading in the country, 600 years after it was created; and no, we don’t mean the networking technology, writes Dave Robinson.

In July’s PSNE, we brought you news of the Edison Studio Group’s soundtrack for a screening of Italy’s first full-length feature film, Inferno. A totally different production in southern Italy, Hell in the Cave, finds the audience spending a couple hours in the underworld, guided through the Grotte di Castellana caves to experience an immersive multimedia presentation of Dante’s classic. While the audience can leave after the show, there’s no quick escape for the production’s 14 Meyer Sound loudspeakers, which must endure this hostile environment through a long subterranean performance season. “The biggest challenge inside the cave is the humidity, which is always close to 90%, combined with rapid temperature changes that result from the large opening in the roof,” reports Giuseppe Saparoni, sound designer for the production and president of Officina Musicale. “Yet, despite such harsh atmospheric conditions, the Meyer Sound loudspeakers are performing perfectly.” Rather than using a single stage, this unorthodox production ushers the audience through scenes in separate grottoes, each depicting anguished residents of Dante’s tragic underworld. The actors’ recitations and dancers’ movements are supported by a recorded musical soundtrack, created by Giuseppe Mariani and Paolo Iannattone, as heard through the Meyer Sound loudspeakers. The playback system is split into six zones. As visitors first descend into a tunnel, they pass through a talking doorway where three MM-4XP miniature loudspeakers announce entry into the ‘woeful city’. Progressing from one scene to the next, the audience hears five more discrete audio programmes: three in mono, one in stereo, and the final scene in discrete LCR. Together, the five zones employ 11 UPM-1P ultra-compact self-powered loudspeakers. “We were surprised how easy it was to translate our ideas from the studio into the field,” says Saponari. “We worked on problematic frequencies typical of the cave, but we quickly achieved ideal intelligibility. Thanks to the ‘in your face’ quality of Meyer Sound speakers, we soon had big smiles on our faces.” Project sound designer was Giuseppe Mariani, with the support of Giovanni Bugari of Grisby Music, Meyer Sound’s Italian distributor; loudspeakers were supplied by Casa Musicale Luisi. The front end of the system, devised by Saponari, comprises a computer workstation (an Apple MacBook running Logic 9.0 with a MOTU 828MkII interface) coupled to an Allen & Heath iLive digital mixing system. “We¹ve completed our first month of performances and all the comments have been positive, both for the audio quality and the spatialisation effects of our sound design,” relates Saponari. “We are long-time users of Meyer Sound, and we appreciate the quality, reliability and adaptability of the products. In this case, they help us to deliver a complete experience of Dante, and that was the main goal of the production.” Hell in the Cave’s unique staging of Inferno,­ the first canto of Dante’s Divine Comedy, is directed by Enrico Romita and choreographed by Mimmo Iannone. Featuring a cast of 50 actors and dancers, the production is a collaboration of Promo Apulia, the municipality of Castellana and Grotte di Castellana, with support from the Apulia Region, the Province of Bari, and Trulli Coast. More than 100 performances are anticipated seasonally throughout 2011 and 2012.