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London Arts College Brings Music Back To Campus With Audinate Dante

To adhere to social distancing requirements, performances are constructed across four separate rooms and performed synchronously with one another using Dante.
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Collaboration underway via Dante networking at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London. Photo credit: Clive Totman

Premiere arts college Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London has recently adopted Audinate Dante to help enable them to overing pandemic-related challenges both with live performances and a virtual learning environment.

Key to the school’s musical curricula is its annual award for The Gold Medal – a performance competition that began in 1915 and had taken place uninterrupted through 2019. Due to the global pandemic in 2020, the annual May performance had to be put on hold as teaching moved online during the summer term.

“Because of COVID we needed to be swift in our response to ensure things like The Gold Medal could occur and, very importantly, that in-person classes could still take place with full-scale participation,” explains Julian Hepple, Head of Recording and Audio Visual at Guildhall School. “To make that happen we quickly turned to Dante and Dante Domain Manager. And, in September, as we returned to in-person teaching, we were able to hold The Gold Medal and broadcast the performance online.”

To adhere to social distancing requirements, The Gold Medal performances were constructed across four separate rooms. The largest space was populated by those on string instruments and the piano, with each participant located two meters apart. Woodwind and brass instruments were split up each into their own rooms, with three meters of space allocated between performers. Finally, the conductor was located in a fourth room. The challenge of this setup, of course, was collaboration between the multiple rooms.

Photo credit: Clive Totman

“We had 90 musicians in total across the different rooms and building,” Hepple says. “We needed to manage a number of inputs and outputs across the space and have them be as latency free as possible. They needed to be able to perform synchronously with one another.”

To do this, 40 Neumann, Rupert Neve Designs, Schoeps, and DBA directional microphones were strategically placed across the space to capture instrument audio. These feeds are brought into SSL, Yamaha and Neutrik preamplifiers where they’re translated into Dante-native channels. These Dante feeds then head to Cisco and Dell switch infrastructure across two buildings, and then routed to a Solid State Logic System T mixer that allows for broadcast specific processing. The audio feeds are then delivered out to two locations: to the broadcast mix for live playout via a live production system, and to the other performers via headphones.

“With Dante we were able to deliver the correct mix to the different rooms with an imperceptible level of latency,” Hepple states. “Our conductor went into rehearsals on day one, and within 20 bars he said he was ready to go. This is someone who has decades of experience in the classical performance space, and it was an immediate acceptance of the new setup.”

Despite the unique visual – the setup across four different rooms – the production is a quality performance. “There was a time when we were worried this could be cancelled,” Hepple says. “However, with Dante we were able to keep it alive. And that’s a big deal right now because our rooms, which are normally alive and vibrant, had been silent for six months. Bringing the music back was important for everyone.”

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The setup will next be used to present an upcoming Guildhall Symphony Orchestra concert conducted by Jessica Cottis, which will be available to watch online for one week from Saturday, Nov. 7 at www.gsmd.ac.uk/gso.

Dante has also helped ensure that in-person, performance-focused instruction and coursework continues. By using a similar Dante workflow across its multiple performance spaces, the School is able to route audio into video conferencing applications that is of high enough quality to allow collaboration.

Guildhall School embraces the many different technologies and tools used in the crafting of an audio performance and leverages Dante’s AoIP to feed into a Solid State Logic Origin analog console via SSL’s A32 Dante-enabled stagebox, which form part of a fully analog recording studio. The studio is primarily used for jazz ensembles, classical chamber, and voiceover radio workshops.

“So, for example, we can put three pianists in one large room – or in three separate rooms – and have their audio output via video conferencing to the instructor of the class,” explains Liam Halpin, Director at DataSound Consulting, the firm that integrated the system. “Those feeds can be heard by anyone on the platform, and they are all high-quality audio. That’s very important to allow an instructor to teach the class.”

Photo credit: Clive Totman

Halpin adds that with the potential for around 70 Dante devices to be in use across Guildhall’s multiple concert halls, recital rooms, and classrooms, the need for both robust management and security was important. Thus, the School turned to Dante Domain Manager network management software that enables user authentication, role-based security, and audit capabilities for Dante networks while allowing expansion of Dante systems over any network infrastructure. Domain Manager organizes a network into zones called “domains” that each have individual access requirements, making it clear to know who can access any area of the system. All activity is logged, tagged, and date-stamped so problems can be identified and solved.

Domain Manager also allows for use across multiple subnets on a single network – allowing Guildhall to keep its network infrastructure intact. “With Dante Domain Manager we can give access to students in very specific areas, and without giving them access the rest of the network,” Halpin says. “We use 10 domains to achieve the separation required, but still have a lot of shared audio channels to provide feeds of room mics and other inputs to the SSL System T. Support from Audinate EMEA throughout the project has been incredible, as always.”

Across the campus, 35 rooms are “Dante enabled” by way of 70 different devices. Those Dante-capable devices include:

Neutrik NA2-IO-DPRO & DLINE microphones (preamps and IO units)
Yamaha (CL, QL &) TF-Rack digital mixers
I/O units from both SSL and Yamaha
Multiple computers utilizing Dante Virtual Soundcard
An SSL System T broadcast platform

“We really are performing together while apart,” Hepple concludes. “Because of Dante our entire campus is now one big studio. We have 70 more live performances planned in the coming months, available to watch online for free at www.gsmd.ac.uk/autumn_2020. Everything from live music to dramatic performances will be enabled by this Dante workflow. The faculty is emotional seeing performances return. The students are excited about this technology and the creativity it can enable. And the families and friends and fans of the performers get to see performances again. It’s beautiful what we’ve been able to create with Dante.”

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