One of the UK’s most important gothic buildings has commissioned a new multimedia infrastructure to extend its multifunctionality within the precincts of Bristol University. The entire integration at Wills Memorial Building was undertaken by local contractors, Sounds Commercial. Knowing that the facility would be used for a wide range of events and presentations — by both skilled and unskilled personnel — they specified a pair of BSS Audio Soundweb London BLU 160 digital processors to store the gain structure, facilitate auto mixing and optimise the sound reinforcement system in the high vaulted Grade I-listed building.
“Whenever budgets allow we will always opt for the flexibility of Soundweb to fulfill an advanced DSP solution,” stated Sounds Commercial project manager, Blake Gifford.
The DSP devices, along with a Soundcraft GB2 24/8/2 mixing desk and Crown XLS 602 amplifiers, were supplied by Glastonbury-based dealers, Batmink.
Sensing that buildings of this nature are often inherently ‘live’, the specification was set by Blake Gifford, and senior project engineer, Lee Stephenson, working in conjunction with project architect, Tim Stephens of Kendall Kingscott, and main building contractor, Stone BCI .
However, belying its apparent age, the Wills Memorial Building acoustics are fairly forgiving. “The heavy wood panelling provides quite good diffusion, and even though the floor is slab stoned, it’s suspended, with several plenums built in,” points out Blake Gifford. And this further helps to deaden the sound.
One of the last magnificent Gothic buildings constructed in England Wills Memorial Hall was only designed in 1912 by Sir George Oatley and eventually completed and opened in 1925 by George V and Queen Mary.
It was commissioned and funded by Sir George A Wills and Mr. Henry Herbert Wills, the tobacco magnates, in honour of their father, Henry Overton Wills, benefactor and first Chancellor of the University.
The central feature is the stone-constructed Wills Tower which is 215 ft tall while the interior contains beautiful feature windows and carved wood paneling.
The construction houses eight seminar rooms, tiered lecture theatres, meeting rooms and an exhibition space — but the centrepiece is the Great Hall itself. With its two balconies it can seat up to 900 people for plenary lectures and 270 for banqueting.
The Great Hall hosts a vast range of functions and events, including Christmas carols, organ recitals, graduation day ceremonies, VIP and academic lectures — and third party usage. And it is here that the new installation has taken place.
Although Sounds Commercial had worked a lot with the university in the past — often hiring out AV system for events — the contract for this significant upgrade had to go through a tender process.
“We were up against four other companies,” reports Blake. “But one of our advantages was the ability to quote for the lighting, sound, control, programming and AV. Being locally based was a further advantage as was the fact that the university was already knowledgeable about us.”
The patching and system EQ are handled by the Soundweb London BLU-160’s — one configured 8-in/8-out, the other 16-in/0-out. Mindful that the system would be operated by unskilled personnel, Sounds Commercial needed to provide adaptability — “tying in with the mixing desk so the sound can either be controlled through the house Soundcraft GB2 desk or automated through Soundweb with a third party control system. Once we had calculated the notch filters as a base line, we were able to work back from there.”
“The big advantage of Soundweb is its complete configurability, saving of rack space and easy automation,” adds Lee Stephenson. “As the hall is surrounded by other teaching buildings it was critical that the sound was contained.” With six channels of radio mic the EQ presets in Soundweb eliminate user error for presenters at the fully-equipped lectern, who are not blessed with microphone technique.
The choice of mixing desk was also carefully thought through, and aside from the Soundcraft pedigree, Sounds Commercial knew that the GB2 would serve all the functions of a multipurpose desk
“The whole operation is designed so that anyone can use it. As for Soundweb the end user section is restricted but there is password access to greater control for the more skilled technicians.”
These components form part of a complete multimedia package, including architectural lighting.
Summing up, Blake Gifford says, “The university authorities have quickly realised the additional marketing opportunities that this upgrade offers.”