The Colorado Symphony recently performed Oscar-winning composer John Williams’ full score for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back alongside the film’s screening at the 1STBANK Center in Broomfield, Colorado, with the help of L-ISA Hyperreal Sound technology.
Clearwing Productions deployed the technology, and happens to be the first North American company to utilise the system, initially for an outdoor Santa Barbara Bowl show with ODESZA. This event marked the first time that the production company had deployed this technology for an orchestral event, and it came at the specific request of the Colorado Symphony.
Aric Christensen, who has served as the symphony’s head of audio for the past decade and a half, first heard L-ISA for himself when Lorde’s Melodrama tour stopped at the Pepsi Center last year. “That was obviously a pop show, but I quickly saw how an orchestra could benefit in terms of being able to accurately represent a massive number of instruments across something much wider than just a traditional left-right format,” he said.
L-Acoustics invited Christensen to the L-ISA studio in Westlake Village. “When I was there, I listened to an immersive recording of an orchestra that was absolutely breathtaking,” he described. “Keep in mind that I do rehearsals and shows with an amazing orchestra five days a week, but this listening experience wasn’t simply like sitting amongst the orchestra members; it was almost like I was actually inside of the players’ instruments, and the emotional impact it had on me was incredible. I wanted our audiences to be able to have a similar experience.”
According to Clearwing account executive Justin Beneke, the L-ISA Wide configuration for The Empire Strikes Back at 1STBANK Center was comprised of 60 Kara flown in five identical arrays of 12 enclosures, with two outer arrays of 12 Kiva II each serving as the Extension system. Eight more Kiva II, double-stacked in four pairings, were evenly spread across the floor as audience front fills, while an additional four Kiva II per side delivered fill coverage to the front floor and bowl seats on the far sides of the performance area. Eight KS28 subs, flown in two cardioid hangs next to to the centre Kara array, delivered the low-end reinforcement, and the entire system was driven by a combination of LA12X, LA8 and LA4X amplified controllers.
Mixing the shows on the orchestra’s newly Quantum-equipped DiGiCo SD7 FOH mixing console, Christensen noted that there was a total of 85 performing musicians, all individually mic’ed for maximum gain-before-feedback and isolation. Added to these inputs were three sets of stereo inputs for dialogue, sound effects, and auxiliary effects –including Chewbacca’s and R2-D2’s “voices.” Furthermore, an outboard master stereo reverb unit was also utilised to give the strings and woodwinds, in particular, “a more concert hall-like feel in an arena,” he added.
“L-ISA allowed me to do some very cool things,” Christensen explained. “Although the second violins in contemporary orchestras are always seated right next to the first violins, which are on the house left, I chose to sonically put them on the opposite side of the sound field to create a point-counterpoint interval play between them, which was really nice.
“Also, with a huge panorama of seven arrays to work within, I used L-ISA’s ‘width’ feature to stretch out each of the violin sections over several hangs – the first violins being panned out further to the left than they actually were on stage, and the second violins in the same position on the right. It gave us this really lovely, lush string sound that would be impossible to achieve with a traditional left-right or left-centre-right system.”
Even though there was a year between the two Star Wars film score performances, Christensen can recall how the first one sounded, and how the second one was an improvement. “Last year, I mixed the orchestra into left and right arrays, then mono-summed the vocals and effects to the centre. While doing some virtual sound checks this year, I was tremendously impressed with the improved coverage and truly panoramic imaging throughout the arena. L-ISA technology brought a new sense of orchestra fidelity to seats that normally wouldn’t be hearing a full mix of the orchestra.”
Christensen continued: “An older, retired gentleman who lives across the street from me took his grandkids to one of the show. He knows where I work, and when I saw him a few days later, he said, ‘Hey, that was really way above what I was expecting; my grandkids thought it was over the moon and one of the best concerts they’d ever seen.’ Of course it’s always cool when trained audio professionals tell you something sounds great, but when someone who has no background in audio comes up to me and says the orchestra sounded better than they’ve ever heard, to me, that’s the biggest compliment because it means that even non-audiophiles noticed how special it was, even though they don’t have the terminology to articulate how and why.”