NO IMPOSSIBLE MISSION &NDASH; BY SIMON HONYWILL
'We walked in the cold air, freezing breath on a window pane...'
Vienna, Ultravox, 4 weeks at number 2 in the UK charts in early 1981. One thing is certain, they were certainly not singing about the same Vienna as I have recently returned from, where it was a mild 35 degrees minimum every day for the 5 days it took to stage the world premiere of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation at the Vienna State Opera House. It was absolutely roasting, as hot as any show I've undertaken in the Middle East, albeit amongst infinitely preferable surroundings. It was a very successful visit however, and this is the story of how a highly experienced team from RG Jones Sound Engineering tackled yet another unusual event.
What's it got to do with anything other than showing off? Almost every single loudspeaker deployed across two systems had a Martin Audio logo on it, and the applications were as highly demanding as the environmental temperatures. The Red Carpet event involved the building of a vast scenic platform in front of the Opera House where film clips, interviews with the stars and music were pumped out to around 3000 fans through a combination of MLA Mini and MLX subs, whilst inside, a system of MLA Compact, MLX subs and DD12 was very carefully installed to deliver 5.1 surround sound for the IMAX™ screening of the new movie.
The Red Carpet system was challenging purely for the fact that there were very few places to actually place any loudspeakers. Two raised positions built into the set, either side of the central catwalk, were given to us by the design team, but that was all. Not even MLA Mini and all its wonders would deal with a crowd of 3000 stretched over a 35m x 120m area across the front of the Opera House. We had four systems of MLA Mini with a wide variety of hardware to deal with most situations, plus some fills to plug the gaps. The client (Live Nation/Universal/Paramount) was looking for some big levels for the film clips and documentary action, but a pair of Mini systems was just not going to cut it. We negotiated some wide positions for the other pair of Mini systems, and got position A for the MLX subs, placed on the ground directly beneath the video screens either side of the catwalk. The use of some judicious time alignment and equalizing for loudness yielded some quite spectacular results, a whole world away from any open-air cinema system I've heard recently. To add to the challenge, the Vienna tram system has a stop directly in front of the Opera, made of glass. With a standard line-array this would have created problematic reflections and potentially compromised coverage, but we were able to optimise the Mini to negate any destructive reflections whilst maintaining full coverage from the crowd barrier back to the tram stop. MLA technology wins again.
Inside was another story altogether however. Like many of its counterparts, the State Opera is essentially a huge 3D parabola, a fantastic environment for acoustic opera but a potential nightmare when it comes to generating a coherent soundfield from a focussed sound system. The prescribed 5.1 system for IMAX™ was precisely positioned according to convention. The LCR screen arrays consisted of 8 MLA Compact each side, with these being supported by a single MLX mounted on the 7 MLX that formed the LFE. For the left and right surround, we mounted two DD12's on top of a single MLX in portrait format. The entire system was networked through Vu-Net for processing and level balancing. The request from IMAX™ sound engineer Gary
Harbison was for each section of the system to sound identical and to be capable of 85dBA at a central reference point. Gary suggested that we would be surprised at how many systems he was presented with that didn't deliver!
It was my intention that he should walk in to a system that needed little or no equalisation, and Mark Edwards worked his magic to achieve something that Gary rarely witnessed, a system that 'does exactly what you said' (to be read with an Alabama drawl). One interesting aspect was the potentially detrimental effect of an IMAX™ screen in front of a fully optimised MLA Compact system – the suggestion from Martin Audio towers was that we may well experience some strangeness going on and that we should try switching off the eq/phase element of the process. The effect of this was to give us a magnitude optimised line-array, without the real voodoo of Display 2. We duly tried it, and immediately re-optimised with the eq/phase switch on. The difference was remarkable, with no discernible problems from the screen and all the full range, even coverage that one expects from an MLA™ system.
Security against any pre-launch stealing of un-released footage was tight, so it wasn't until a locked-down full run through of the film that we got the chance to really assess the results of our efforts. The desired curve for cinema sound systems is applied to create an approximation of the studio in which the soundtrack was created, and generally involves a 10dB lift from around 125Hz down and a gentle roll-off from 2KHz upwards, dependant on the room size. The LCR is full range with a high-pass at 80Hz, in our case rendering the MLX associated with each hang of MLAC unnecessary, but the 7 MLX handling the LFE track provided all the over-processed, banging deep bass that everybody has become conditioned to with abject ease. It was, despite less than ideal acoustics for cinema, the best cinema sound I have experienced, since being privileged enough to visit the private cinema of a certain South African business man and Martin Audio fan (see my previous article 'The Cinema at the End of the Universe' for the full extraordinary story). The DD12 surrounds generated enough power to easily keep up with the LCR and matched exactly the voicing of the MLA Compact, something that Martin Audio have admirably achieved across all the MLA range and ancillary products.
If you enjoy big action movies and haven't yet seen Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation I can't see that there would be anything here not to enjoy – the stunts, spectacle and chases are delivered in the style that Mr. Cruise and the Mission impossible franchise has now become associated with, and with an MLA Compact system to convey the soundtrack, I certainly enjoyed it more than I cared to admit at the time. All that remains for me now is to knock down all the walls in the house, build an IMAX™ screen and hang some MLA Compact up behind it.