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The real chill-out zone: Meyer Sound in Iceland

Phil Ward wraps up warm and heads North to move in Arctic circles, as he investigates the Hof Menningarhús, a very cool multi-functional venue in the remote Icelandic town of Akureyri.

If you come here in December, expect Iceland to live up to its name. Especially if you’re as near to the North Pole as Akureyri, a picture-postcard port on the north coast only one hour’s flight – or nine days’ expedition with huskies, skis and an indestructible sense of purpose – from Reykjavik.

A similarly robust sense of civic pride has now resulted in a brand new venue called the Hof Menningarhús. It’s part of a decade-long drive towards regional cultural development away from Reykjavik, rubber-stamped by the Minister of Education at the time who just happened to be a former Mayor of Akureyri. At 7,413sqm and clad in local basalt, the Hof’s circular plan bisected by a deep atrium draws all of the creative spaces together with a kind of centrifugal force – a sense of open access to higher things.

Menningarhús translates literally as Culture House, but as well as music, theatre and dance it’s equipped to host conferences, exhibitions and a more or less open-ended range of temporary events. Hof means Temple, the name of the cultural society set up through a private foundation to create and use the venue and whose office headquarters occupy the second floor of the building.

There are two main auditoriums: the 510-seater Hamraborg hall and, with a very flexible 200-seat space, the more modest Hamrar room. The Akureyri Theatre Company and the Northern Symphony Orchestra are both in residence, so acoustic and sound reinforcement facilities had to be of the highest quality. According to Reykjavik-based installation and rental company Exton, which supplied all of the audio, lighting and stage machinery, this has been the company’s biggest project to date outside of the capital.

“We had quite a free hand to specify what we thought would be the best solutions,” recounts Exton project manager Gunnar Gunnarsson. “Our client was the municipal buildings department of the town council – experts in schools, swimming pools and libraries but not AV! They took some advice from the theatre group based here, but after we got the tender it was more or less down to us. It enabled us to work very closely with the architects.”

Technical manager Einar Karl Valmundsson says: “The Meyer Sound line array is perfect for the main hall,” he explains. “It’s a pretty long room, so we needed the throw. Exton used MAPP to model the space, and decided to combine the array hangs of nine M1Ds per side with 24 MM4s around the sides as surround fills.” M1D-Subs are also flown in conjunction with the line array; a Galileo 616 is the loudspeaker management system.

While an Allen & Heath iLive-T80 can be patched into the Cat5 network at several points to act as a monitor or radio broadcast console – and to create an independent surround mix – a Midas PRO6 sits permanently at the FOH position.
“The PRO6 is a dedicated FOH console,” Valmundsson says. “It does everything! We can even use it for monitors from the FOH position at the same time, if the channel count is not too high. Using the VCAs is so comfortable, so user-friendly. It’s the first time I’ve moved from analogue mixers to a digital one, but it was not difficult to learn. And then there’s the sound… just great. The acoustics here are very controllable using curtains and panels, so it really brings out the best in the sound reinforcement system.”

“We do a lot of community-based venues, with audio, lighting and communications,” adds Gunnarsson. “The important thing is that the spaces are flexible – for music, theatre, speech, conference – because usually it’s the only place in the town built for these purposes. That doesn’t mean that the installations are mobile; many of the speakers, for example, are fixed permanently – such as subwoofers under the stage. That’s why the choice of box is critical.

“There will always be some customers who simply look at the price, but in many ways it’s not worth it for us to chase that business. You might end up setting up a system that you know will not perform how they expect it to, even though you have explained its limitations. We specialise in systems integration; we’re not box shifters. We’re showing this market the true value of the brands we use.”