December 06, 2012, by PSW Staff
The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) of the Houston Independent School District evolved in 1971 from a realization that gifted young artists need highly specialized and rigorous training in the arts to be prepared for the intense competition they will meet in colleges, conservatories, and the professional arts world.
The creation of HSPVA represented the first attempt by any public high school in the nation to correlate an academic program with concentrated training in the arts.
Recently, the HSPVA completed the installation of a Yamaha AFC3 (Active Field Control) System for the 400-seat Denney Theater. The system, provided by Sound Productions of Irving, Texas and installed by Covenant Communications of Houston, is the first AFC3 installation, using the new AFC-FIR card released at InfoComm 2012, in the world. The HSPVA AFC3 installation includes 20 speakers with four mics all out in the main auditorium.
The project’s architect, Abe Sustatia of Sustatia Architects, contacted Covenant.
“We were asked to design and install a new sound system for the Denney Theater and the black box theater,” states Shawn Mullins at Covenant. “While working with both Abe and the school to determine the best route for the sound system, they asked about options to help the acoustic environment in theater.
“They have multiple choral and musical groups, and since the theater was so acoustically dead, the school had to move musical performances to other venues that became costly and troublesome.”
“This is my fourth year as the Technical Director at HSPVA,” states Marc Duncan. “To say that we have had sound reinforcement issues would be an understatement of exponential proportions. After three years attempting to repair/replace or reinvent our acoustic orchestra shell and its implementation, we thought we had finally found what we believed was the best ‘sound’ we would ever achieve… until now.”
“We designed two systems, the reinforcement system, that is centered around a Yamaha LS9-32 digital console and digital snake and then the enhancement system,” Mullins continues. “We were familiar with two systems being used to enhance room acoustics, Yamaha and Meyer.
“We looked at both processes and felt that Yamaha suited the venue better. We contacted Yamaha Commercial Audio Systems and began the process of getting design assistance. As the project matured, we contacted Jeff Humphries of Sound Productions to make arrangements for the equipment.
“Sound Productions has been a great partner for us for over the past 12 years. The original design incorporated the previous generation of AFC equipment, so we were really excited when we were informed that we would be getting the new Yamaha AFC3 for this project.”
Active Field Control is a reverberation enhancement system that adjusts and enhances the acoustic characteristics of a facility while preserving the natural characteristics. This is achieved by creating feedback loops of microphones and speakers located in the reverberant field of the room to “recycle” the reverberant energy, thus extending the RT time.
Yamaha AFC is used to create varying RT settings to suit different performance applications within the same facility. The system can be used to add spaciousness to under balcony or stage areas so all audience members and performers can enjoy the same sense of connection to the music and a greater shared experience. AFC systems can also be used to add early reflections or as crowd enhancements systems.
The new AFC3 processor supports transfer of FIR calculations of AFC processing to dedicated hardware. The new AFC-FIR processor card can be mounted in the AFC3 processor, and in addition to handling the processor-intensive FIR calculations, the card also provides four AES inputs for system microphone channels.
“As a performing arts school that averages 30 different events in our Denney Theater a year, half of them being from the Music Department, it is easy to understand how much this system has benefited us,” says Duncan. “The look of shock and awe when our music department chairs heard the system for the first time was an overwhelming relief that we could finally provide a space to support the magic that takes place in our school every day.”
Duncan said the first event held for the Music Department using the new AFC System was a fundraiser where they had a 40-person choir, Symphonic Band & Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Young Performers Pop Concert, and a full Orchestra, all performing in the same space throughout the night. This event takes place throughout the whole building in all of the school’s performing spaces and averages 2,000 guests a year.
“Everyone raved about how great the sound was and how shocked they were that this was the same building they had been coming to for years, but had never heard ‘this’ before. Looking back, I wonder how we ever did the event at all without the Yamaha AFC system. When we want a dead space we turn it off, and when we want more, the question now is, ‘how much more?’
As the main operator of the system Duncan said he can’t get over how quick and easy the AFC System is to operate. “We can switch between five different room environments, taking about four seconds to load each setting, and we have a 10 db range of control depending on how live we want it to sound. We can access it from the booth or from backstage, all from a simple panel no bigger than a DVD case.
“The Denney Theater is not just a performance space; it is also used as a classroom. Now, when we have master classes or guest artists in the space during the day, changing the acoustics of the room to customize it is fast, efficient, and a breeze. The system sounds outstanding; it’s remarkable!”