The iconic Union Station in Los Angeles, California is not only the largest rail station in the western United States, but also the bustling hub of many historical and pop culture events since its opening in 1939. With its beautiful architecture inside and out, this landmark has also brought inspiration to the fine arts. Its large, ominous walls were showcased in classic noir flicks like In the Mood, and its cavernous, former ticketing hall was used several times for The Dark Knight trilogy.
This week – Invisible Cities, an opera about Marco Polo?s descriptions of his journeys to Emperor Kublai Khan, was the first of its kind to be performed, processed, and delivered live wirelessly to a ?roaming audience?, who were experiencing it all in an active public space. But because every cast member, singer, and dancer is integrated into the environment (think ?flash mob?), each audience member experiences different elements of the unfolding events depending on his or her location, giving it a more personal feel.
Senneheiser, a leader in wireless equipment for live events, provided key components to ensure that this 70-minute production, from capture to delivery, was as clean and uninterrupted as possible in a large, RF-heavy environment. The vocal performances were captured with Sennheiser?s Digital 9000 Wireless Systems, transceiving uncompressed signals with great dynamic range. Each performer also received customized audio feeds of vocal and orchestral buses, powered by Sennheiser?s 2000-series IEM (in-ear monitor) systems, to make sure everybody was on the same page.
The humble orchestra, outfitted with an array of Sennheiser and Neumann condenser microphones, performed the opera inside Union Station?s Harvey House restaurant, which was mixed and connected by a fiber optic line to the control room, 1000 feet away in the main hall. Inside there, the vocals, music, and effects were processed, compressed, panned, and prepared for delivery to each audience member?s RS-120 headphones via FM stereo broadcast, managed by Bexel antenna systems.
So what was it like? Well, we could post up a video, however with such an event where the audience is individually and personally experiencing it on headphones, the result would be frustratingly out of context. In fact, if you took off your headphones during the show, you?re instantly thrown out of the experience, and all you see is a lone man appearing to sing to himself amongst waiting passengers and the homeless, inside a crowded, noisy train station. Basically, you just ?had to be there?. I can offer this quick glimpse though, with my cans pressed up against my smartphone (sorry about the shakiness):
From the video, you can probably hear that the delivery isn?t as remarkable as the attention to detail given to all the steps beforehand. Granted, this was a makeshift recording on a mobile device, and should be taken with a grain of salt. The overall mix was broadcast over FM radio for the best coverage to more than 50 listeners roaming around a wide area, and so it needed to be compressed to fit the bandwidth. Ironically, this limits the resulting quality, and introduces noise and RF interference issues to what these engineers painstakingly prepared for in the capture and processing stages. But this preparation ensured the best accompaniment possible for a mesmerizing evening.
If you?re interested in experiencing the next show (I highly recommend it!) limited tickets are available at the Invisible Cities site until mid-November 2013, with some special discount pricing available. For more information, visit: www.invisiblecitiesopera.com
Additional photgraphy credits – Dana Ross and Joshua Park