Turkey's National Congress and Cultural Centre in Ankara has been created to be the best-equipped theatre in the country. James Ling goes behind the scenes...
GEORGE ANDREOU IS NO STRANGER TO THE PAGES OF
Pro Audio MEA. As the technical driving force behind lstanbul"s Zorlu Centre as well as countless other smaller municipal theatres around the country, he is well-versed in meeting the needs of Turkey's theatrical community. So when the consultant sits down with PAM EA to discuss his 'biggest project to date' we can't help but be intrigued.
'After Zorlu, the challenge to design and build such a theatre at the heart of Turkey was irresistible' recalls the Desmus executive director. 'We had just finished Zorlu, so it was the perfect time to move on. We met with the architect of the project, Can Gokoguz, and we started working on the project designs immediately. This was done in parallel with the construction which made everything more challenging.'
During the construction of Turkey's National Congress and Cultural Centre, there was just six months available to turn the space from a concrete shell into the state-of-the-art theatre and conference centre that the client required. While completing the project on schedule in itself would be a major challenge (achieved thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Atempo installation team) getting the audio right provided the largest obstacle.
'The biggest challenge we had over there was the sound, this time I wanted to go one step further,' states Mr Andreou. 'We used Wolfgang Ahnert as the acoustician and he did a wonderful job. We made measurements after we completed the theatre and we compared them to the preliminary studies that we had and there was no difference.
'The whole theatre is very nicely isolated and acoustically designed,' he continues. 'We used a beautiful combination of diffusors and absorbers in a decorative way around the theatre following the concept designs. We have a very nice breakdown of frequencies and the solution works visually as well as acoustically.'
Aside from the acoustics, a further contribution from Dr Ahnert was the suggestion that many of the theatre's audio needs could be met by Astra Spatial Audio. 'In the beginning I was a little sceptical about it as I didn't know the company, but we went to Pro Light & Sound in 2016, I met with the guys and listened to the system. They showed me how it works and I found it very interesting, so we decided to go with it. We wanted to be able to have different effects going around the theatre, but Astra doesn't only do playback, it also does live and it does electroacoustics so we could achieve much more by using it.'
While the Astra Spatial Audio solution was new to him, the subsequent decisions saw Mr Andreou take a more familiar route. Playout is via an extensive d&b audiotechnik system comprising cabinets from the manufacturer's V-series and E-series, as well as its J-subs and 30D amplifiers. The front end matrix meanwhile is a Stagetec Nexus with a custom designed display to allow for simplified user control.
'We have every possible input at the Nexus and the user can choose on a touch display dashboard what they want to do,' furthers Mr Andreou. 'They can select stereo and plug the desk into the connections at FOH and the system will work as stereo. Or they could go L-C-R or 5.1. Accordingly, Nexus chooses which inputs they can activate and what they can take. If you go 5.1 then at FOH you have six XLR plugs and then you choose your desk and plug in to make your mix. It's very simple to use it. It's very complicated as a system, but we've made it simple and very user friendly.
'Then it goes onto the electroacoustics, where the Astra Spatial Audio Room Acoustics Pro module works with the Nexus matrix, activating the inputs of the Schoeps microphones above the stage and reproduces the natural stage sound, the signal is processed adding different reverberations throughout the venue,' he continues. 'It changes the characteristics of the room. You can have long reverberation times in the room, a medium one or a short one, or whatever you can imagine. Nexus is a huge matrix system which is very easily configurable and it sends the signal via Dante to the d&b amplifiers which handle the crossover and playout through the main system.'
While Mr Andreou is happy with the sound of the final system, this was not initially the case. 'When we finished with the site, the guys from d&b and Astra came and had a week inside
the theatre with an orchestra to tune the system,' he recalls.
'However, I was not that happy with the live performance of the system. A very trained ear could understand the reflections when it was playing in electroacoustic mode, but you need to think about the target audience, who are going into the theatre and what they are expecting from the system. You can't act like everybody has a trained ear and will understand. So we brought back the team to re-tune it a little bit more obvious than they thought it needed to be. Now people will understand the difference when you push the button. This was done a month or two later and now the system is playing beautifully.'
Following the same model as the Zorlu Centre, the National Congress and Cultural Centre has been designed to meet the needs of productions by stocking a vast quantity of equipment. For example it owns multiple consoles including DiGiCo SD8s, Yamaha CL1s and CL5s and Soundcraft Vi-7000s as well as analogue GB4-16s. 'We again bought a very nice, big set of mies and anyone who comes into the theatre is happy,' furthers Mr Andreou. 'We have all the classics from Shure, Sennheiser, AKG, Schoeps, DPA and Neumann. Whoever goes in will be able to do anything they want.'
In addition to this there is the split and adjustable orchestra pit, which can also double as a stage elevator from and to the storage space below the stage for moving equipment and instruments. Equally, the venue houses a Wenger orchestra shell.
'Eramita did a great job with the Wenger Diva shell but more importantly, the orchestra is also very happy using it,' says Mr Andreou. 'We did some test events with a big 70-piece orchestra and they were happy. We had to do lots of tests to figure out what the best positioning was for them so we had to get them to move around a lot, but this is what you have to do.'
Adding to the flexibility at the congress centre is a Riedel Artist intercom system which has connection points around the venue. Likewise, a portable set of equipment from d&b with monitors, amplifiers and Y-series cabinets ensures that productions or speeches can be staged anywhere.
Away from the theatrical side, the venue also holds an important position as the host for government speeches and meetings. The international element that many of these events take on meant the National Congress and Cultural Centre required a 12 language simultaneous translation system that would be robust and provide clear audio to every audience member throughout the hall. To meet these needs, a Shure wired system was installed and integrated into the Figueras seats.
'I didn't want to go infrared in there because a lot of people from the government come and wireless signals can be challenging in this situation,' he explains. 'So I tried not to use frequency-based equipment and instead send the signal over cables. The quality through cables is always better. In every Figueras seat we have incorporated a Shure module that you can plug your headphones in to, you can choose the channel for any of the 12 languages it can handle and change the volume and that is all you need to do. It is very simple. The quality is amazing. It doesn't matter if you are under the balcony or not, wherever you are you get the same signal and we make sure that it is always 100 per cent guaranteed.'
While the theatre is obviously the main focus of the building, there are a further 10 meeting rooms which have also been installed with d&b sound systems and Shure conferencing solutions. 'These have all been equipped with sound and projection systems and connection boxes that means you can connect to almost anything you want and as you want,' explains Mr Andreou.
Away from the audio the theatre features an Exterity IPTV solution, projectors from Barco and LED displays from Liantronics. Lighting sees the combination of ETC modular dimmers with grand MA desks and moving heads from Robe and Martin Professional. 'We did the stage engineering system with Eramita, J&C Joel and J R Clancy,' recalls Mr Andreou. 'It consists of 42 bars at 1 tonne and four bars at 2 tonnes to carry the orchestra ceiling. The whole system works flawlessly and we have had no problems.'
While the installation ran smoothly, some unforeseen circumstances that nearly derailed the whole venture took place. 'On July 15 the attempted coup happened in Turkey, that was the day when we had the first test concert,' explains Mr Andreou. 'The orchestra came and set up, we had a lot of people attending and everything went smoothly, it sounded wonderful. Then around 10pm the attempted coup had started. There was an explosion in the yard of the theatre 50m away so all the facet glass was broken. Our team of around 16 people including local and foreign technicians, were on site at that time. It was a very scary situation, as we had to figure out how to get everyone out safely and to a place away from the trouble. We found a hotel between Ankara and Istanbul and stayed there until everything calmed down. On the following Monday we had to send people in to see if there was any damage to the theatre.'
While this was a challenge that could not have been predicted, there was also a further sense of responsibility felt from this being a publicly-funded project. 'We tried to use the investment the best way we could,' says Mr Andreou. 'It's not good to spend money without thinking so we tried to figure out ways that every penny we spent would be on equipment that did multiple things. It is a huge responsibility to design a place like this and there are many factors that need to be taken into account for a successful handover. To avoid problems the Desmus team operated the theatre for the first six months with the customer to make sure that all operations and systems ran smoothly and properly.'
The final result is one that the Desmus executive director is clearly proud of. 'The customer is really happy right now, they use the theatre almost every week for different things,' he reflects. 'It has hosted speeches, conferences, congresses, some galas and opening ceremonies. They use it for multiple things but they haven't done a musical yet. It works flawlessly and it is very easy to do anything you want. This is very important for us. We are very proud of it, it was hard work but it became the diamond of Turkey.'