Located adjacent to Stanford University, Palo Alto High School enjoys a stellar reputation for academic excellence spanning all subject areas, from high technology to fine arts. It’s hardly surprising, then, that the new Performing Arts Center on campus leverages the digital wizardry of Meyer Sound’s Constellation acoustic system to provide optimum support for the school’s outstanding programs in drama, musical theatre, and instrumental and choral music.
Michael Najar, the school’s choral director and chair of the visual and performing arts department, was adamant from the outset that the 583-seat theatre in the proposed new facility provide a level of acoustical quality and flexibility that was absent in the aging facility it would replace.
“Many works of music and theatre were created to be heard in a specific acoustical environment in a certain kind of room,” observes Najar. “But, there was no way we could build a 16th century stone church, a jazz hall and a black box theater. So when I heard Constellation, I knew it would be the best option going forward for venues like ours. For us, it’s been a game-changer.”
A Constellation solution was first proposed by Jedd de Lucia and Ian Hunter of the San Francisco-based Shalleck Collaborative, the theatrical and AV consultants for the project. To confirm their recommendations, Najar attended a Constellation demonstration at Meyer Sound’s Berkeley headquarters and also experienced an eclectic variety of music enhanced by Constellation at the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox performance venue. “The different acoustical characteristics they could accomplish in the same room was truly unbelievable,” he says.
Constellation is an active acoustic system that augments the room’s physical acoustic with additional early reflections and reverberation to help tailor the room to suit the performance. Choral performance benefits from a much different acoustic than musical theater, for example. Because Constellation operates in conjunction with the physical room, the room must be designed with a natural acoustic that is balanced and with a relatively low amount of reverberation. Bill Dohn of Dohn and Associates in Morro Bay, California worked with the architects to design the room to be optimal for Constellation.
“Initially I had some concerns as this was the first time I’d designed a room to host Constellation,” he remarks, “but I am exceptionally pleased with the end result. I was particularly impressed by how the system couples the stage and house seamlessly, giving performers the perception of being in one big room with the audience. This greatly enhances musical performances in a way that is almost never achieved using an orchestra shell behind a proscenium.”
At the core of Palo Alto High School’s Constellation system is a D-Mitri digital audio platform, that hosts the patented VRAS algorithms for generating the early reflections and late reverberations that define a room’s acoustical characteristics with completely natural effect. Arrayed around the room and over the stage are 24 sensitive miniature microphones for sensing the ambient room acoustics, with a total of 52 full-range loudspeakers and 12 compact subwoofers placed overhead and around the perimeter to replicate the desired aural environment. Using a touch-screen controller, the system operator can select presets optimized for any type of musical performance – from choral and orchestral to small ensemble and big-band jazz – as well as for musical theater, drama and lectures.
All Constellation loudspeakers employ Meyer Sound’s unique IntelligentDC technology to provide the sonic benefit of self-powered systems with the installation ease of a single cable carrying balanced audio and low-voltage DC for powering the internal amplifiers. Models represented include UPJunior-XP, UP-4XP, HMS-10 and Stella-4C loudspeakers plus MM-10XP subwoofers.
For direct reinforcement, the venue is equipped with a separate Meyer Sound system anchored at the proscenium by four UPQ-1P loudspeakers, with one each left and right and a pair in the center. For delays, fills, sub-bass and loudspeaker processing the system also includes two UPJ-1P and 16 MM-4XP loudspeakers, two 600-HP subwoofers and a Galileo 408 processor. The system front end comprises a Yamaha LS9 digital mixing console and a Biamp Tesira DSP and matrixing unit. Installation of both Constellation and direct PA was contracted to PCD Audio-Video System Integration of Santa Rosa, California.
Palo Alto High School Performing Arts Center was designed by Deems Lewis McKinley Architecture of San Francisco with Gunkel Architecture of Emeryville serving as project architect. Built at a cost of $29 million, the new venue also features a 68-foot high stage house, an orchestra pit that can be raised and lowered, and a drama class