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Autograph Installs New Digital Infrastructure At The Barbican

Opened in 1982 and situated in the heart of The City of London, the Barbican Centre is Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue. The sheer diversity and ambition of the programming there is remarkable, with everything from major classical music events to avant-garde jazz and world music, art, theatre, dance, film and creative learning events taking place within its Grade-II listed walls.

Naturally a world-class venue has to be able to offer the very latest in technical infrastructure to the artists and engineers that use it and to this end Autograph Sales & Installations have recently completed a major overhaul and upgrade of the audio control systems in the Barbican’s Concert Hall. DiGiCo consoles were specified by the venue and form the hands-on aspect of the new installation, but in reality the realisation of the client’s requirements lay in the design and implementation of a sophisticated bespoke audio-networking infrastructure. The project was managed by Autograph Sales & Installations’ Euan MacKenzie and Chris Austin, who takes up the story:

‘The Barbican Hall needed to upgrade to a modern digital mixing system that would support their increasingly complex productions now and for the foreseeable future. It had to be immediately familiar and acceptable to visiting engineers as well as the in-house team and able to provide enough capacity not only for their immediate needs but also to offer scope for future expansion. It also had to be able to handle in excess of 100 input channels, to have dual-engine backup facilities and also allow the technical team to easily source compatible additional control surfaces when necessary’.

‘For these reasons the consoles specified by the client were both from DiGiCo - an SD7 (with Waves allowing visiting engineers to bring in SoundGrid servers if necessary) for main front of house duties and an SD9 for the control room, supplied with a D-Rack so it can be used as a standalone console for performances in the foyer, or for smaller shows and classical works which can be mixed from the control room. The SD7 was supplied with an SD-Rack which provides 56 inputs and 24 outputs as the main stage rack, plus an SD-Mini rack with 24 inputs and 8 outputs which can be used as a remote connection box or integrated into the main system as required. A second SD-Mini Rack was installed in the control booth to accept inputs from wireless microphones and provide outputs to the main house sound system (a Meyer Sound Milo system also previously installed by us some years ago)’.

He continues, ‘Very unusually, at the Barbican the actual control surfaces are slightly incidental to the main project goal which was to allow the greatest possible flexibility in terms of both system control and connectivity to a variety of other parties and equipment as needed. This was achieved by installing a discreet networked system using about 10km of cable and including almost 600 fibre terminations, at the same time as adding HD video capability and extending the existing CAT6 network. All the engineering works were done in overnight sessions so that the working life of the venue was unaffected. The original schedule allowed for five weeks’ worth of work and it overran by just one day - not bad for a job of this scale and complexity’.

‘The end result is the flexible infrastructure defined by the client, which allows the DiGiCo control surfaces and racks to be put almost anywhere within the Concert Hall and back stage areas, including the TV gallery, the BBC’s facilities back stage and OB trucks outside - the DiGiCo racks also provide MADI splits which are used to provide broadcast and / or recording feeds to the BBC who are regular visitors. Separate multimode and single mode fibre was added for video, data and future use, supplementing the existing (minimal) multimode cabling, and each location now also has an HD coax HD-SDI connection as well as CAT6’.

“The timeline of this project was difficult to accomplish due to the nature and complexities of the Barbican Centre”, says Luke Freeborough, Barbican’s Technical Manager in charge of the project. Autograph’s team were invisible during the installation and due to their excellent project management, they caused no disruption to the day to day operations of the concert hall or the Centre as a whole.  The new infrastructure will see us well into the future and supports all facets of the high definition requirements of us and our visiting companies.

With the addition of the DigiCo mixing surfaces and I/O we are able to facilitate any amount of complex set ups as are required now.  We regularly have 2 x SD7’s in the concert hall being plugged up using the OpticalCon network.  This saves us a huge amount of time and gives our sound engineers more time to work the room rather than just plug in a lot of copper.

“We are delighted with the sound and the flexibility of the DiGiCo desk and racks”, agreed Mark Bloxsidge, Technical Manager of Music Events at the Barbican. “Chris Austin and his team were very helpful and worked closely with us to design practical solutions for the Hall, including custom enclosures to fit into small spaces behind the wooden panelling. We were extremely impressed with the quality and speed of their work. The new equipment and infrastructure have greatly improved our facilities here at the Barbican Hall.”

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