Sound in the right direction

Following 4 years’ refurbishment and an investment of some 3.5 million Euros, the Bregenz Festival is set to debut its new improved sound system, “Bregenz Open Acoustics” (BOA), on the lake stage this summer. The festival’s chief sound engineer reported to BTR on the sophisticated new technology and the challenges and opportunities it presents.

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

Productions at the Bregenz Festival have become progressively more elaborate and spectacular since the festival’s founding 76 years ago. With expectations steadily rising, both on the part of the festival organisers and the audience, the sound technology has needed to constantly develop to keep up with the state of the art and meet those growing demands.

The BOA system was first introduced in 2005 to accommodate the huge leaps being made in audio engineering, and especially DSP technology.

Simply replacing the old fittings with new ones would no longer have cut the mustard. It was time for a complete update – so the entire sound system was redesigned from scratch and gradually installed. First a new mixing-console system was installed, then the technology for acoustic space simulation, surround sound and the directional mixer, and in 2021 the under-seat sound fittings were installed.

BOA was designed essentially to transmit what is happening on the stage in the middle of Lake Constance, along with the sound of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra playing in the main festival hall, to an audience of almost 7000 in the stands. The audience should feel like they are in a real opera house and be able to immerse themselves in the listening experience without any distractions.

That happens naturally in a conventional indoor theatre, where there are boundary surfaces that reflect the sound coming from the stage and distribute it throughout the auditorium. But the Bregenz lake stage doesn’t have those boundary surfaces; the spatial acoustics need to be reproduced by electro-acoustic means. Without a bricks-and-mortar opera house, we need to artificially recreate the acoustic experience of an oversize venue. And we are catering for a very varied listening public, ranging from home-entertainment lovers to purist opera buffs. It’s truly an acoustic balancing act.

The Bregenz lake stage is quite colossal. The stands are approx. 80 m deep and 90 m wide; the “proscenium arch” is around 40 m wide, and the shortest distance from the edge of the stage to the first row of audience seating is almost 20 m. Because of these dimensions and the lack of sound-reflecting surfaces, the sound system for the lake stage needs above all to do three things: First, it needs to use spatial simulation to create a listening experience that is as close as possible to what the audience would have in a real music theatre. Second, it needs to enable the audience to acoustically – as well as visually – locate the singers on stage, and acoustically convey the performers’ movements so that they can be followed from every seat in the stands. And third, it should provide full and impressive sound at the lake stage. After all, the sound here is competing for the audience’s attention not only with all the other aspects of the performance but also with the natural surroundings of Lake Constance, and we don’t want it to fade into the background. (…)

BTR Ausgabe 2 2022
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 122
von Clemens Wannemacher

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