With origins dating back to 1772, the Grade II listed building that houses Square Chapel Arts Centre in Halifax, West Yorkshire, has weathered many a storm. Recently saved from seemingly inevitable extinction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Square Chapel Arts Centre is now supported by Wigan-based non-profit Arts at the Mill, and has returned with a vibrant programme of music, theatre, dance, visual arts and cinema.
Sound and Light Concepts installed a new sound and lighting system as part of a major refurbishment that upgraded the Grade II listed building’s multi-purpose auditorium and added a versatile cinema/studio theatre space.
The brief was for both performance spaces to provide the open architecture of a DCI (digital cinema initiatives) specification, which required a unique approach for audio system designer Tony Bottomley. In addition to offering full 5.1 cinema surround sound, the speaker system was also required to deliver L/C/R concert system performance.
“The auditorium’s bleacher seating comes right up to the front of the stage, so we needed a low-profile cabinet in a horizontal format with high SPL capability and focused directivity, since the high-level screen runs virtually the full width of the auditorium,” said Bottomley. “We were also looking for a box that would have enough fidelity – the clean, crisp vocal performance – for cinema, but also deliver the ‘oomph’ required for the rock and roll acts that Square Chapel often puts on.”
No sightline obstruction was permissible, and because the one-metre grid ceiling offered only approximate hanging points for the FOH cabinets, specialist steels were required to accurately position the centre boxes.
Bottomley and Square Chapel’s Head of Technical and Operations Martin Clarke opted to install EM Acoustics MSE-159 full range cabinets high up on the grid, mounted horizontally with HF waveguides rotated to avoid blocking sightlines. A pair of EMS-121X compact 12” cabinets deliver FOH centre coverage while two EMS-81Xs provide rear surround sound at the back of the hall.
As the space is used not only for theatre and cinema but also for classes that require the space to be struck completely, the supplemental EMS-118 subs also needed to be quickly removable. Power for the speaker system comes from one EM Acoustics AQ-10 and one AD-9, giving six channels of amplification.
A Yamaha MRX7 audio processor enables non-technical staff to select cinema, concert or presentation setups at the touch of a button. It allows switching between 5.1 cinema surround sound, stereo L/R sub/top concert setup, L/R with mono centre, true L/C/R or even L/R or L/C/R with rear speakers for effects depending on the application. Background music levels and overall system volume can also be easily controlled using the remote wall panels, while both analogue and Dante inputs are provided so that incoming touring productions are always catered for, whatever type of desk they bring.
A similar system is implemented for the smaller Copper Auditorium, consisting of EM Acoustics EMS-81X cabinets for front of house L/C/R, and a pair of EMS-51s for rear surround sound, with a single EMS-115 subwoofer providing low frequencies.
“We really love the warmth of the EM boxes – in fact, we described it as an acoustic hug, it’s like giving your ears a cuddle!” said Clarke. “We also felt that that they could deliver the diversity we need, from theatre, to live music, to cinema to the spoken word – the flexibility was very important to us. Finally – and this is so important - we could afford it. It’s no use loving something if it’s way outside your budget, otherwise it’s just a dream.”
“The EMS-159’s rotatable waveguide means that we could mount them horizontally, giving us a wide 60° by 90° dispersion that suited our requirements perfectly. It’s the ideal solution that optimises the functionality of a space that has to deal with everything from cinema to rock and roll,” said Bottomley.
“The response from visiting companies is fantastic,” agreed Clarke. “They love to come to us now and have total confidence in the system. It actually exceeds people’s expectations, especially for theatre. It’s also going down well with the music acts, even the louder ones. We’ve had lots of nice comments about the monitors, too. People appreciate their small footprint and warm, musical sound.
“Sound and Light Concepts were fantastic from start to finish. They worked tirelessly in order to stay within budget, and I’m very grateful to Tony and all of his team for a fantastic job.”