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Exclusive: L-Acoustics, A&H deliver 360° audio for Arcadia Bristol’s Metamorphosis

The set-up achieved "SPL levels in Bristol city centre […] better than they would be at a festival"

An L-Acoustics sound system mixed through an Allen & Heath desk supplied the 360-degree sound field for the recent Metamorphosis shows in Bristol by Glastonbury regular Arcadia Spectacular.

Arcadia is a Bristol-based arts collective renowned for its shows fusing sculpture, technology, music and performance art. At Glastonbury 2015, its 50t Spider structure – built from recycled military hardware, including afterburners for eyes – was the main platform for Metamorphosis, and the Spider returned home for the first time on 4–5 September, to Queen Square in central Bristol, with its usual pyrotechnic pomp accompanied by DJs Leftfield and Roni Size/Reprazent.

“The 360° [sound] system is something we pioneered some time ago, but because this produces sound energy in all directions – and often in very noise-sensitive locations – we were getting a number of off-site noise complaints,” comments Bert Cole, co-founder, with Pip Rush, of Arcadia. “Since we’ve changed to an L-Acoustics system, however, it’s been a lot better. The other advantage of using L-Acoustics is that it’s readily available in Asia, and we do a lot of work there.”

Audio company AF Live has worked with with Arcadia for a number of years. After deploying successfully an L-Acoustics KARA system with the Spider at Glastonbury 2014, it decided to implement the same combination for Metamorphosis in Bristol.

“Arcadia encourages people to have the whole 360-degree experience,” adds AF Live director Paul Rose, “so we need to have a sound field that encourages people to move around the whole arena.” Achieving a consistent result, with homogenous sound throughout the field is made easy because all L-Acoustics products have the same signature sound. This means going from a line source array covering the main area to a localised fill system using ARCS and XT’s is not a headache to tune.

To cover a sound field 80m in diameter in a hexagonal layout, six arrays of nine KARAs and four SB28s in a cardioid set-up were positioned by AF Live around the perimeter of the hexagon and flown approximately seven metres above ground level, pointing back towards the Spider, which sat in the centre of Queen Square.

Two arrays of five KIVAs on the Spider’s legs covered the area directly beneath it. One half of the circle featured outfills of six ARCS Wides and four SB18s for the middle, with three ARCS and two SB28s either side to cover the area beyond the perimeter, pointing outwards. Monitoring for the DJ booth comprised four 8XTs and two 115XT HiQs.

In designing a system for the Bristol show, AF Live’s Matt Howes – who also served as FOH engineer – worked with L-Acoustics’ Dan Orton to optimise the best possible result in SPL and coverage (while maintaining the off-site propagation issues).

“This isn’t a standard set-up, but it works really well,” says Rose. “Delays between the stacks are very important: each one has to be an equal distance, so from point to point it’s precisely 40m.

“We’ve been working with Arcadia for six years now and we do the majority of their shows. We’re used to working with the 360-degree setup, but this was the first time a show had featured a live band. Roni Size Reprazent headlined on the Friday night, and we had members of the band positioned on the podiums on each the Spider’s three legs, with Roni up in the DJ booth and the vocalists on the walkways.”

“Between them they managed to achieve SPL levels in Bristol city centre that were better than they would be at a festival,” adds Cole.

Metamorphosis sound recordist Johnnie Parker describes the show as having “the busiest FOH environment I’ve ever worked in”.

An Allen & Heath Qu-Pac rackmount mixer (pictured) was Parker’s choice for the event, with the engineer praising its blend of space-saving design and flexible functionality: “It’s no cliché when I say that absolutely anything can happen during an Arcadia show, so in order to be able to adapt to and overcome any eventuality ­ while not taking up more than my fair share of space in FOH ­ I need the Swiss Army knife of the audio world. It needs to facilitate multi-track audio recording while also offering the flexibility and toolset of a modern digital mixing console.”

“Qu-Drive was child’s play to set up and arm, he adds, “and then happily recorded 18 tracks of audio for seven hours without a single hiccup or write error. On importing the audio files into my DAW for post-production the results are fantastic, and my initial audio bounces for the tight-deadlined after-event video edits sound dynamic and vibrant, capturing the atmosphere of the event in just the way I wanted.

“All in all I’m very glad I chose the Qu-Pac – it’s compact, simple to use, reliable and powerful, and ­ it does everything I ask of it with plenty of routing capabilities and features. In the end the Qu-Pac did’t just tick the boxes for the Arcadia Spectacular – it smashed them.”