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‘A contemporary upgrade mixing the very new with the very old’: Norwich Arts Centre revamps sound system with Martin Audio WPC

A regeneration of the venue is being implemented to help place it on the map for the touring circuit, as it hosts live music as well as a theatre and art gallery

Norwich Arts Centre is being refurbished after being awarded £499,000 by Arts Council England, which includes the installation of Martin Audio’s Wavefront Precision series by pro sound and light installer Old Barn Audio (OBA).

The 40-year-old venue is independently run and located in St. Swithin’s Church, which dates back to the 15th century. The regeneration of the venue was implemented to help place it on the map of the touring circuit, as it hosts live music as well as a theatre and art gallery. Its mission is to facilitate the development of artists and emerging talent across a variety of art forms and honour the legacy which has seen it help start the careers of music moguls Ed Sheeran, The Stone Roses, Nirvana, Savages and Kate Tempest.

The venue has racked up quite a few impressive accolades as a small live music venue in the UK. In 2014, the venue received the NME Britain’s Best Small Venue award, having previously been shortlisted for the award in 2011, 2012, 2013. In 2014 it was also granted both an EDP People’s Choice Award for best small to mid-scale venue, festival or organisation and the Dr Frank Bates Musical Theatre and Dance Award. In 2015 and 2016, it also received the LIVE UK Music Business Awards for Best Venue Teamwork.

OBA was first contacted 18 months ago when the facility, which already had Martin Audio wedge monitors, proposed the idea of an upgrade to the company’s director and project manager, Phil Clark. On a site visit, Clark realised that the PA and lighting systems they had been running were largely a mismatch of disparate components.

“[The venue] wanted a state-of-the-art and rider-friendly PA because although it is not a big room, the capacity was being extended to 350 in order to place them on the touring circuit,” he said. However, he was aware that as a listed building everything had to be free-standing, so he designed a six-leg truss system that supported a new AV system as well as offering the capability of flying trapeze artists too.

OBA then arranged an A-B comparison between the Wavefront Precision Mini (WPM) and Wavefront Precision Compact (WPC) systems. “The WPM sounded really smooth as we knew it would, and they were extremely impressed,” said Clark. “But then we fired up WPC and they instantly said, ‘no, that’s the one we want’. The extra weight of sound was incredible and so they opted for the bigger solution.”

OBA’s system design features four WPC per side in a L/R hang in two-box resolution, with three SXH218 subwoofers set under the stage in a broadside array. A pair of Martin Audio XD12s, flown off the truss, provided the side of stage fills on each wing. The speaker complement was completed with six of Martin Audio’s classic LE100 wedges supported with a pair of LE200’s. The entire system was powered by three Martin Audio iKon iK41 and an iK81, all managed via the dedicated DX4 system processor partly over a Dante network. These formed the centrepiece of a highly specified audio package including Soundcraft FOH console and an array of professional microphones.

Clark concluded: “In addition to providing the level of PA they were seeking, I believe the other reason we were awarded the contract was that we were sympathetic to the building, helping to expose its natural features while installing a modern infrastructure – a contemporary upgrade mixing the very new with the very old. Being able to produce renders of the system design and entire building was the major selling tool and took our tender to the next level.”

Technical manager Alex Unstead stated: “OBA did a great job with the installation, first removing the old rig, which was always going to be a daunting task. As with this kind of project, there were changes made throughout and it was great that they were able to accommodate these as it was important to get the aesthetic right for the space.

“When OBA brought in the Martin Audio WPC system for testing we were very impressed with the depth and clarity it offered. At Norwich Arts Centre, we needed a system that would cater to a diverse range of artists, something both flexible and powerful. OBA was great throughout in helping us achieve the best possible outcome.”

For the NAC regeneration project to be completed and to receive the full grant amount from Arts Council England, the venue must raise £40k themselves. You can donate to the project here.