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Starr performance at the Tate Modern

The Tate Modern Starr Auditorium has been rejuvenated as the Starr Cinema, thanks in great part to the efforts of IPE and Veale Associates

By the end of 2015, the 15-year-old, 250-seat Starr Auditorium in the iconic Tate Modern gallery was a tired and technically outdated facility. In May 2016, it reopened as a re-vitalised, high-spec, multi-function venue, offering facilities unique within the UK.

The new Tate Starr Cinema is the result of the transformative skills of installation specialist IPE ltd, working alongside acoustic consultant Veale Associates, delivering the technical elements of the project and consultation on the acoustics and build design. West One, Tate’s principal building contractor on the project, gave IPE a brief for a state-of-the-art, technological solution that integrated cinema, live performance and presentation into a single facility.

The cinema requirements alone ranged from the installation of a pair of Ernemann 15, 35mm projectors, allowing full-length 35mm features to be shown without the need to splice precious archive material, through to a full 4K DCP installation with Dolby ATMOS certification. The performance stage needed full multi-channel live sound capability, while the presentation facilities should provide both the capacity for high-profile corporate hire use through to internal AV educational/informative presentations.

“It was important from the outset, from our perspective, to deliver a single-system solution that met all these individual briefs, yet offered the Tate the flexibility to evolve how the system could be used in the future as its requirements change,” reveals IPE MD Colin Judge on PSNEurope’s visit earlier this summer.

Before the technology spec could be addressed, the building structure and acoustics had to receive a major refurbishment. “It was a bit basic before,” says Eddie Veale. To whit: a stereo speaker arrangement at the front, plus a reverb time of around three seconds – not good for intelligibility during corporate events. Four fixed supporting columns, and the overall ‘square box’ nature of the space, didn’t help matters.

The solution involved stripping the auditorium back to the slab and structural walls, and constructing a more acoustically satisfying room inside that (and one that removed any leakage from the adjoining Tate restaurant kitchen!)

“A ‘scalloping’ effect in the new secondary walls, and the ‘sawtooth’ nature of the design in the walls and ceiling, pushes the sound to the back of the room,” says Veale. Bass traps concealed in theses walls help to swallow LFE issues. “We got the reverb down to 0.5-0.6 seconds, with no sweet spots.”

The Tate’s architects Herzog and de Meuron had the final say in the overall aesthetic design, including the brief that none of the 44 JBL loudspeakers installed should be visible or exposed, with the exception was the compact JBL line arrays (a CBT70J-1/JE-1 combo) either side of the stage, which also form part of the ATMOS surround system. (Dolby didn’t like the line array idea at first, reports Veale, but once it was integrated into the overall ATMOS system, Dolby gave it the thumbs up). Amplifiers hail from the Crown DCi range – over 30kW of power in fact, more than enough for a venue of this size.

Regarding ATMOS compliance, Veale says: “The room isn’t high enough to use the standard Dolby arrangement; the columns blocks certain speakers. So, instead, we paired speakers so two share the same audio channel: one of each pair is available to every seat, therefore there is no sound shadowing.”

The necessity to be able to map and switch routing preset configurations from the various cinema and AV sources through the multichannel loudspeaker system suggested a BSS-806 Soundweb system, and this was the eventual networking choice. While there is a certain amount of Dante implementation involved in the final spec – for the Shure ULX D radio mic system, and the Yamaha LS9-32 presentation desk, in particular – it’s good old Blu-link that takes the strain here.

Some months after its official opening, the Tate Starr Cinema is hosting a full calendar of events, and, no doubt, will establish a revitalised reputation for corporate events and live performances – especially as the Switch House, the new extension, has come online and Tate Modern is very much a go-to destination. But when wasn’t it?

The final word on the cinema space must go to Eddie Veale.

“I’ve wandered around while [demos] have been playing,” he says. “It impresses me. And it takes a lot to impress me!”

Pictures: Top: Control room with Yamaha mixer for presentations. Second: The ATMOS cinema: sawtooth-like secondary walls help transfer sound. Third: (L-R): Colin Judge, Eddie Veale and design engineer Mark Whittam. Fourth: Ernemann 15 35mm projectors, for state of the art screenings.