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Electro-Voice Loudspeakers Deployed In Force For Film Premiere At Fenway Park

The key technical challenge for the system, which was modeled by Michael Rome of BLS using Electro-Voice Line Array Prediction Software (LAPS), was to recreate both the power and the nuance of the soundtrack in a setting designed for baseball rather than sound

By PSW Staff October 14, 2010

Electro-Voice line arrays in place at Fenway Park for the premiere of "The Town" (larger image below)

“A lot of people dream of hitting a grand slam in Fenway, but we actually did.” That’s how Larry Habetz, founder and owner of Southwest Louisiana’s Gulf Coast Sound Productions (GCS), describes the experience of deploying a sound system incorporating more than 100 Electro-Voice loudspeakers at Boston’s Fenway Park for the premiere of the new Ben Affleck film The Town.

Specifically, the system included three line arrays, surrounds, and a large complement of subwoofers, helping to project the 5.1 channel soundtrack’s clarity and dynamic range while bringing home the full impact of the movie’s action.

When the film’s producers settled on the premiere’s unconventional setting, event projection specialists Boston Light & Sound (BLS) were brought in to oversee technical aspects of the screening. “We actually like going into places where people think you can’t do a good job showing a movie, and Fenway Park was one of those,” says Chapin Cutler of BLS

BLS specified an Electro-Voice line array system to cover seating for about 2,500 behind the third-base dugout. “A decade ago we worked with the late Monte Wise at ShoWest on what was probably the first use of a line array for Dolby Digital theatrical playback,” Cutler says, “and ever since then we’ve been using Electro-Voice arrays whenever we can. The pattern control we get with these arrays means that we can control sound levels very precisely from front to back and deliver superior intelligibility across a large area.

“So we’ve been a believer in EV speaker systems for many years, and we selected Gulf Coast because they are an EV provider and we knew from previous experience that they are a terrific company to work with.”

The key technical challenge for the system, which was modeled by Michael Rome of BLS using Electro-Voice’s Line Array Prediction Software (LAPS), was to recreate both the power and the nuance of the soundtrack in a setting designed for baseball rather than sound.

“Movies are very dynamic,” says Habetz. “You touch on so many different aspects of the audio range, from mild to wild, from a whisper to an explosion.” Because of this sonic variety, soundtracks can reveal a lot about loudspeaker capabilities.

“Some company’s boxes sound great doing a particular style of music, like rock and roll, because their characteristics complement those kinds of sounds,” he adds. “But there may be other types of sound that they don’t handle as well. For a movie, your speakers have to be able to do it all. They have to be able to reproduce all the dynamics as accurately as possible, and to shine in all aspects.”

The specifics of the system configuration were largely driven, Habetz explains, by the goal of providing the most even coverage from the front seats to the back, as well as the requirement for at least 20 dB of headroom above the nominal theatrical-standard operating level of 85 db SPL. “They want the ability to provide that dynamic range without stressing any components in the signal chain.”

The left, center, and right channels of the soundtrack were handled with three line arrays, each composed of 12 XLC127DVX three-way, high-output compact line-array elements. oversaw the crew “We had to build a grid over the third-base dugout, and each box had to be lifted up there before being flown. If the boxes were big and heavy, or the rigging wasn’t user-friendly, it would cost us in time and labor to put up those arrays. So we chose XLC127s for their intelligibility and ease-of-rigging, and because they pack a lot of horsepower in a small size. We’ve had a great return on our investment in those boxes, because EV designed them with upgradeable electronics, so even the first units we purchased seven years ago are still cutting-edge technology today.”

For the low end, the system combined 16 Xsub dual 18-inch subwoofers with 24 XLC-118 high-output subwoofer line-array elements that Habetz says were “used as a kind of bridge between the 12-inch drivers in the XLC127DVXs and the dual-18s in the Xsub.” With a total of 56 18-inch drivers stacked behind the screen, he adds, “we moved some substantial air. The impact was huge — you could feel the park literally shake during the explosions – so it really had that larger-than-life, Hollywood feel.”

For left and right surround channels, 24 XLE181s were deployed in groups of four at three locations on each side of the seating area. “We wanted nice dynamics with controlled coverage to get a smooth transition from the closest seat to the farthest. And we needed something that was light but with good horsepower. The XLE181s are only 38 pounds, but they have a lot of bang for their size and a lot of bang for the buck. So it worked out great.”

Overall installation coordination for the undertaking was provided by Celine Larimer with the assistance of Daniel Beedy, both from BLS. As a sound engineer and the technical liason for the project, Larimer was able to coordinate the efforts of all parties in the project with the many departments at Fenway Park.

“When dealing with an historic structure like Fenway, and the huge concern for protecting the ball field itself, the logistics for this project were daunting,” Larimer says. “Because of our long standing relationship with the Park, we were able to work with them in hanging the surround arrays from the roof overhang and bring a level of comfort to the Park management,” she adds. It is believed this event was the first time a film has ever been run in Fenway Park.

To power all these loudspeakers and maintain the required headroom, the system incorporated 60 Electro-Voice P-RL amplifiers. “We have been using these amps for years, largely for outdoor festival work.” Habetz says. “They bounce around in the back of the truck and they are very robust on the road. But they also deliver a lot of dynamics with very low noise. The movie people were really on the lookout for hiss and other noise, but when our rig was fired up they walked around and they couldn’t hear anything.”

The amps’ on-board DSP was used for limiting and some time alignment, while the rest of the system processing, including FIR filtering to optimize the signal for each speaker model, was applied via an Electro-Voice NetMax N8000-1500 digital matrix controller.

“NetMax is phenomenal,” Habetz says. “It does so much, and we’re not even scratching the surface of what it can do. We have a tablet computer attached to the NetMax via WiFi, and after it rained and there was some concern that the sound had changed, we were able to remotely pull up the real-time status of each amp to show that the system was operating normally, and that the change was due to water on the perforated screen.”

With the integration of NetMax support across a broad spectrum of components, Electro-Voice has made it easy for companies like GCS to stick with a familiar, consistent solution for a wide variety of situations. “100 percent of our speakers and 98 percent of our amps are EV,” Habetz says. “Getting it all from one manufacturer is a huge advantage. If you have a problem you don’t have to call five different places. With EV, you have a single source, and all the engineering staff works together to help you. They know you, and they treat you like part of the family. That kind of relationship is very important to the success of our business.”

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