Meyer Sound Constellation Transforms Repurposed Concert Hall Venue

The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall recently installed a Meyer Sound Constellation system for a rich and natural reverberance throughout the hall.

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Meyer Sound Constellation Transforms Repurposed Concert Hall Venue
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Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall  in Portland, Ore. recently installed a Meyer Sound Constellation acoustic system. The system provides a rich and balanced natural reverberance distributed evenly throughout the hall. Meyer Sound, located in Berkeley, Calif., provides integrated solutions for sound reinforcement, spatial sound and acoustic systems.

After the venue reopened after a pandemic hiatus, patrons attending the season debut of the Oregon Symphony, experienced an improved sound performance, according to Meyer Sound. The company further states that there was a balanced natural reverberance distributed evenly throughout the hall. Furthermore, it emphasized the audio clarity for musicians despite the disappearance of the physical stage shell.

Addressing the Issue

Currently, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall has a seating capacity of 2,776 people. It is also one of a quintet of venues operated by the appropriately stylized Portland Centers for the Arts. It was built in 1928 as a vaudeville house. Two years later, it transitioned to movies and finally went dark in 1982. However, after a $10 million renovation project, the venue reopened in 1984 as a multipurpose concert hall. It also became the new home of the Oregon Symphony.

The company reveals that the 1984 renovation did include significant changes to the architectural acoustics. One of them was installation of a large stage shell. This was done to make the baseline reverberation suitable for symphonic performances.

However, the company acknowledges that problems remained. For instance, seats under the deep balcony experienced noticeable sound imbalance and attenuation. The stage shell also fell short of distributing sound evenly throughout the hall. Moreover, the aging shell was difficult and time-consuming to move and store. It started to raise safety concerns, as well.

Robyn Williams, Portland’s executive director, and other key decision-makers had initially set aside an active acoustic solution. It was based in part on experience with an earlier generation system from a different manufacturer at another hall in Oregon. However, Williams says she changed her mind after experiencing Constellation at the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox venue.

“The [concert hall] shell was at the end of its life, and we were reluctant to spend far into six figures for a solution that served only one arts organization. Constellation would not only improve acoustics for the symphony on stage and in the audience, but it would afford flexibility for the wide variety of other musical genres we host here,” Williams remarks.

Transforming the Venue

Williams; Scott Showalter, Oregon Symphony’s president and CEO; and symphony musicians thus made trips to Berkeley to hear Constellation at Meyer Sound’s headquarters. They also visited UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. After making a consensus decision, the team’s plan came into motion.

Historic preservation specialist Architectural Resources Group worked with The Shalleck Collaborative, comprehensive theatrical consultants. They worked on overall planning and providing the framework for technical specifics from Meyer Sound’s own Constellation team.

“It’s transcending, a night and day difference,” Showalter says. “The musicians can hear each other better, and the sound is more visceral in the audience. Regardless of where you are sitting, you hear a true balance of all the instruments.”

Detailing the Meyer Sound Constellation System

The Constellation is based on a patent in digital processing for acoustic spaces. It places a multichannel reverberator between arrays of microphones and loudspeakers distributed throughout the room. The reverberator increases the apparent volume of the physical room while varying the gain on the microphones. This changes the apparent absorption or reflection of room surfaces.

Furthermore, the sound in the room supplements early reflections or extending reverberation. Thus, it behaves as if the room were larger, differently shaped or constructed with materials exhibiting varying degrees of absorption or reflection.

The sound energy introduced into the room is continually recaptured, with the room reflections decaying in level according to the preset program. This helps create the specifically desired reverberant effect. Meyer Sound exclusively supplies all components of the system. Moreover, the Constellation team is responsible for design and commissioning.

Installing the Acoustic System

The Constellation system comprises 86 ambient sound-sensing microphones and 294 meticulously positioned small loudspeakers. Various combinations are assigned to four distinct acoustical zones on stage and in the hall. Acoustical enhancements are created using the patented VRAS algorithm, hosted in a D-Mitri digital audio platform

According to Meyer Sound, Sound Image installed the The Constellation system. It is the largest Constellation system in the U.S. in terms of total loudspeaker and microphone deployment.

John Pellowe, Meyer Sound project director for Constellation, supervised the exhaustive tuning process. Pellowe used a variety of ensembles on stage as the musical source. The system’s debut occurred in early October. Here, the Oregon Symphony’s first subscription concert played under David Danzmayr, the new music director.

Also Read: Meyer Sound Updates Sound System for Philadelphia’s Verizon Hall Reopening

Williams reiterates that the venue became the first vintage movie theater restoration to install Constellation. Thus, it was a bit of a learning curve. Williams adds, “It’s a sophisticated system but it’s getting rave reviews. The audience experience is much better. Those who don’t even know Constellation is in here are saying the hall sound is very good now, and those who do know about it say it’s a game changer.”

Williams also applauds the expanded acoustical flexibility. “When they lowered the baseline reverberation for Constellation, it made the hall better for louder amplified music with Constellation off, while at intermediate settings, the hall is better for jazz and light pop concerts,” she says.

Looking Onward

Williams notes that dozens of other movie palaces across the country are ripe for repurposing as multi-use concert venues. She now expects the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to possibly become a hub for peers.

“Constellation is something that breathes new life into these grand old buildings,” Williams clarifies. “It creates a new and flexible acoustic without large reflective panels or floating clouds, so it doesn’t impair the visual aesthetic. It is discreet and respectful of historic architecture.”

View photos of the installation by clicking on “View Slideshow” on the upper-right corner.