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Bringing the Barbican into the new age of networking

The venue’s latest audio upgrade is centred around the provision of multiple DiGiCo consoles and a sophisticated network infrastructure

Located in the heart of London, the Barbican is the very definition of the modern multi-performance venue. Although perhaps best known as the home of the London Symphony Orchestra, the Barbican regularly stages performances from across the musical spectrum, as well playing host to a wide variety of cinema screenings, presentations and workshops.

Backed by owner and financier the City of London Corporation, the Barbican has kept pace with the changing audio times, with recent developments including the installation of additional Meyer Sound equipment on two foyer stages during 2012.

Now, in the latest phase of work, the Barbican’s concert hall (pictured) has been provided with multiple new DiGiCo mixing consoles and a bespoke audio networking infrastructure masterminded by Euan MacKenzie and Chris Austin from Autograph Sales & Installations. As Austin explains, the new configuration had to be capable of satisfying both current and likely future requirements.

“It had to be immediately familiar and acceptable to both visiting engineers and the in-house team, and able to provide enough capacity not only for their immediate needs but also to offer scope for future expansion,” he says. “It also had to be able handle in excess of 100 input channels, to have dual-engine backup facilities and allow the technical team to easily source compatible additional control surfaces when necessary.”

Tom Shipman from the Barbican’s audio team – one of the venue’s regular in-house mix engineers – was a keen advocate of a DiGiCo-based solution, having recently had the chance to play around with an SD9. “I got to grips with it very quickly. It was amazingly easy to use and felt very intuitive,” says Shipman.

After careful consideration, the audio team opted for an SD7 at FOH (equipped with Waves to allow visiting engineers to bring in SoundGrid servers, pictured) and an SD9 for the control room. The SD7 was supplied with an SD-Rack, which provides 56 inputs and 24 outputs, as the main stage rack, plus an SD-Mini rack with 24 inputs and 8 outputs, which can be used as a remote connection box or integrated into the main system as required. A second SD-Mini Rack was installed in the control booth to accept inputs from wireless microphones and provide outputs to the main house sound system.

DiGiCo provided guidance throughout the specification process. “The DiGiCo team invested time to fully understand the Barbican’s requirement today and offered them a solution that can expand as more demands are placed upon them,” says DiGiCo MD James Gordon. “It’s no secret that adding the Barbican to the DiGiCo family is something we are very proud to have achieved. Their international recognition and reputation reinforces DiGiCo as the ultimate range of live sound consoles, and we look forward to working with them in the coming years to further strengthen our relationship.”

Flexible networking
But the specification of the DiGiCo systems was only one component of the project. With a similar emphasis on flexibility, Autograph was asked to design and implement a new audio network that would ensure adaptable system control and connectivity. “This was achieved by installing a discreet networked system using about 10km of cable and including almost 600 fibre terminations, at the same time as adding HD video capability and extending the existing Cat6 network,” explains Austin.

The DiGiCo desks and racks have been equipped with Optocore fibre connectivity on Neutrik opticalCONs, complementing the infrastructure installed by Autograph. “This links all the racks they are using for the show with the SD7 at FOH, or the SD9 in the booth, depending on what’s going on. Often they rent in another SD7 and link this in too for monitors,” says Austin.

The upshot is a highly flexible configuration that allows the desks to share every input and for them to be put “almost anywhere” within the concert hall and backstage areas, including the TV gallery, the BBC’s facilities backstage and the OB trucks outside. “The DiGiCo racks also provide MADI splits which are used to provide broadcast and/or recording feeds to the BBC, who are regular visitors,” says Austin. Indeed, the BBC contributed to the expense of installing the new tie-lines.

With a view to possible future requirements, the Autograph team also installed separate multi- and single-mode fibre for video and data use, supplementing the existing multi-mode cabling. Each location now sports an HD coax HD-SDI connection, as well as Cat6, too.

Guiding PSNEurope around the Barbican shortly before a Heritage Orchestra-assisted performance by cult glam-electropop duo Sparks, Shipman pays tribute to the efficiency of the Autograph team. “It was really a very good cooperation with Autograph,” he says. “I would also highlight the quality of the work; for example, the cable terminations are superb.

“One of the BBC engineers who mixed the broadcasts from the recent London Jazz Festival highlighted how incredibly clean the was and actually suggested he would have to put more room noise in to make it sound more like a live mix. The whole project has gone so well, and we are very happy to have an infrastructure that sets us up nicely for the long-term.”

With special thanks to Dave Wiggins.