LOS ANGELES, CA—“Opera is inherently an adventure,” according to Yuval Sharon, artistic director of experimental opera company The Industry. “Part of the adventure is offering audiences new ways of listening, looking and feeling.”
The Industry’s latest production, Hopscotch, described as “a mobile opera for 24 cars” and presented every weekend throughout much of November, is certainly an adventure. The story, told in 36 chapters, or scenes, is presented inside 24 limousines and at various stops along three different routes that wind through and around the downtown Los Angeles area.
Hopscotch is a unique opera with individual performers broadcasting live from 24 mobile limousines to a Central Hub. The ambitious production’s logistics are mind-boggling: 128 performers, backed by a 94-person production team, presented 90 minutes of work by six writers and six composers three times daily in 24 precisely scheduled and sequenced vehicles. Audience members—four per car—on each separate route experienced eight chapters, presented out of sequence, performed by singers, musicians and actors traveling along with them. Set pieces at locations along the way, indoors and outdoors, featured larger ensembles, including dancers. Ten additional chapters were made available as short animated features online.
“Each audience member is experiencing the story in a completely unique way, in a random set of chapters,” said Sharon. “What they experience is the city going by and this music as a way to augment our experience of Los Angeles.”
One route set off with a motorcyclist buzzing around the limo as it drove through the city, the rider interacting with an actor in the car. At one stop, audience members transferred to a parked Airstream trailer, where two singers and two musicians delivered another chapter. Some in-car chapters lasted only a few minutes before the audience was ushered to an outdoor performance, returning to the route in a different limo with different performers.
Meanwhile, at the Central Hub, a temporary structure built in the parking lot of the Southern California Institute of Architecture in downtown L.A., 24 TV screens in a circular array showed live audio and video streaming from each of the in-car performances. To capture the audio in the cars, on rooftops and at other locations in order to broadcast it to the Central Hub, The Industry turned to Sennheiser, with whom the company had worked on its award-winning production of Invisible Cities (PSN, November 2013), “an invisible opera for wireless headphones,” at L.A.’s Union Station.
Key audio technology for this asphalt opera included Sennheiser’s new AVX digital wireless microphone system as well as the company’s wellestablished 2000 series equipment. Lavalier mics hidden inside 10 of the limos were connected to an AVX wireless belt pack transmitter. That signal hopped to a receiver in each car that was plugged into a smartphone, where it was combined with the camera image and sent to the Central Hub via carrier signal using the Livestream broadcast application. Each of the three routes was within a five-mile radius of the Hub.
The 24 separate broadcast streams were fed into an HDMI matrix at the Hub for distribution to the installed display screens. Audio from each stream was routed into Sennheiser’s guidePORT system—which is more typically associated with museum applications—for broadcast to 24 individual wireless channels. Audience members milling around at the Hub (where admission was free) could select a channel on their wireless guide-PORT receiver corresponding to a display and listen on Momentum 2 headphones to the performances in real time. At the end of the day, the limos delivered audience members and performers to the Central Hub for a grand finale live performance.
One limousine on each of the three routes was installed with Sennheiser 2000 series multi-channel rack units, comprising six channels of EM 2050 receivers and four channels of SR 2050 IEM wireless transmitters. Sennheiser A 1031 U passive, omni-directional antennas were mounted to the roof of each limo. These systems enabled bi-directional communication between the vehicles and production staff as well as performers, such as the motorcyclist. On one route, Sennheiser 2000 series and G3 Series wireless equipment interconnected three downtown L.A. rooftops, where performers interacted over distances of up to a quarter of a mile.
According to Dave Missall, manager of customer development and application engineering at Sennheiser, “Yuval wanted to be able to have performers interacting with audience members inside and outside each car across various parts of the city. We opted to go with the Sennheiser 2000 wireless series because the transmitter has 100 mW of output, giving us the ability to boost output power to get the coverage we needed.”
In July, 2014, Sennheiser launched its Momentum campaign, designed to raise awareness of the product range. “Hopscotch is part of our Momentum campaign,” said Achim Gleissner, head of commercial management, broadcast and media at Sennheiser. “We inspire people, we inspire artists, to go the next step, to push the limits, push the boundaries. And we are there to help out and make it happen.”