The worst seat in the house at the Christopher Cohen Performing Arts Center (PAC) is onstage — but the PAC staff is trying to change that.
The sound quality for the audience in the PAC is fantastic said David Arrivée, Cal Poly assistant professor and Cal Poly symphony director. However, performers can have a hard time hearing each other causing timing to suffer.
“Hearing front to back and side to side is a huge challenge,” Arrivée said.
The PAC is currently doing research with Meyer Sound Laboratories Inc., a Berkley-based audio equipment company, to install a state-of-the-art, first-of-its-kind electronic on-stage sound amplification system for performers.
“There is a lot of hope for electronic sound support,” said William Spiller, chair of the music department.
The sound system will pipe music from hanging microphones on one side of the stage to speakers on the other. The system will be installed before the fall of 2012, said Jim Chernoff, manager of technical services at the performing arts center. There is no cost estimate for the new system.
The process of making excellent sound quality for both audience and musicians is a seemingly endless one, Spiller said. Getting the sound perfect is nearly impossible. However, he said, it is possible to make significant improvements.
“I think that you can make people happier and happier,” Spiller said.
Getting the sound right is difficult in the PAC because it is a multi-use space, Spiller added. The PAC features musicals, plays and both acoustic and amplified concerts. The acoustic needs of a musical compared to a symphony performance are very different.
It is especially important that road shows have good sound quality since the PAC is competing to secure those shows against other venues, Spiller said.
Trying to achieve the perfect acoustics is a challenge faced by many different halls, Arrivée said.
“You can’t predict how good a hall can be before it’s built, even with all the science we have,” he said. “Some of the best acoustics are in boxes that were built in the 18th century.”
As well as the high-tech solution of improving sound quality on stage, a low-tech solution is being utilized elsewhere.
An acoustic curtain is being put in behind the President’s Box, which is located at the end of Dress Circle Right. The curtain is designed to improve the sound quality for the audience, Chernoff said. The curtain will reduce unwanted reverberation to create clearer sound, he said. The curtains will be in place for amplified and acoustic shows and will only be retracted at the request of a performer.
The curtain and installation is expected to be more than $1,700. The money is provided by the donations for acoustic improvements.
In addition to the curtain, improvements have already been made for the lobby.
Ten new video monitors were installed this week. The monitors will have coming attractions and, when the performance is under way, it will show the performance to audience members when they are in the lobby or for latecomers who didn’t get seats. The monitors were funded by donations totaling between $10,000 and $15,000, Chernoff said.