The Fannin Performance Hall is undergoing renovations that include upgrading the sound system.
Jennifer Owen, coordinator of Technical Theatre, said she began working on the project in 2014 because there was some unevenness to the sound in the auditorium. As the music department grew and a variety of events were held in the Performance Hall, she said it was a struggle to get good sound out of the speakers.
Owen was asked to “take a look” at what could be done to resolve the problem. Years earlier in 2007, a former student who worked for a big sound company asked if he could do a sound demo at Richland.
“They brought in a whole bunch of gear and hung it in the Performance Hall,” Owen said. “It was just amazing” though she lost touch with the student.
It was then that Owen became involved in what was happening in technology. She did some research and in 2014 attended the United States Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT) national workshop in Fort Worth.
“All the major manufacturers of gear came to town,” she said. “It’s really a workshop geared toward colleges, institutions and professional technicians. It’s not so much about acting. It’s about the technology of the entertainment industry, specifically theater.”
Owen then went to the Cotton Bowl where there was a big speaker and soundboard demo.
“Listening blind, not knowing whose sound system was on, every single time I heard a sound system that I was excited about, it was D&B Audio Technica’s,” Owen said. “When we had the demo in 2007 here at Richland, I had heard rap music through those speakers. I had heard opera through them. I had heard hip-hop, about six or seven different types of music. Everything sounded fantastic.”
Owen said she’s looking for clarity of sound, particularly when you have complex ensembles, a place where each of the instruments can be heard within the mix so that there’s room for the low end sounds, room for the mid-range sounds and room for the really high end as well.
“In the college, we want to be responsible with our funding, and so I’m looking for a set of speakers that are going to sound good 10 to 15 years from now,” she said. “One of the advantages of the D&B speaker – that manufacturer puts a lot of research and development into what’s called, ‘passive design,’ so how the speaker sounds straight out of the box is dependent upon the materials used and the way those materials are engineered inside – unlike other speakers that sometimes get good sound out of them, but rely upon electronic capacitors and electronics within the speaker.”
Owen said she felt like the Audio Technica speakers are going to sound good 15 years from now because the electronics aren’t going to go bad.
“The second part of the sound system upgrade that we’ve gone to is, we have moved from an analogue soundboard to a digital board,” she said. “And for that, I chose the DiGiCo SD9. It is one of the top-end professional boards. It’s the reason I chose it.”
Owen said the DiGiCo SD9 was used in eight out of 10 rock concerts last year and the year before, and it is one of the most used consoles on Broadway.
“One of the challenges that I find in teaching students is, working in the Theater Department, we do things with sound that’s a little different than what a band would do,” she said. “So, if you buy a console that’s geared toward rock ‘n’ roll, it’s very difficult to make it work for what we need to do in theater. This console works for both entities.”
A lot of students coming out of high school who have worked on digital sound consoles, Owen said, have worked primarily with a rock and roll concert board.
“They get very frustrated when they try to use it for theater,” she said. “It’s just hard to make it work.
“Because this board is set up to do both, I feel like we can be teaching our students in top-of-the-line industry technology and in terms of a teaching tool, it’s going to be easy for them to learn, whether they’re in the Music Departmentor whether they’re in the Theater Department. It’sgoing to meet their needs,” Owen said.
The cost for the Performance Hall sound renovation is around $200,000, according to Owen.
She also said Bai Company, a sound consulting company, suggested an upgrade in assisted listening for students with hearing challenges. They can ask for an assisted listening device.
“Sound is one of those industries that is relatively new,” she said. “It’s an industry where we can train people to get jobs. There’s a huge market for highly trained people. We have alumniworking in the industry because of the training they got here at Richland.”
Owen said she will be working with students to help run sound for the first theater production in October.