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Dame Kiri To Karrinyup

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa tees off at the Lake Karrinyup Country Club to the excited screams from her audience… in the right rough. ‘Fooore!’

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30 September 2005

Text: Graeme Hague

I’ve figured out that playing golf and operating audio compressors is about the same for me. I only needed a few weeks to understand how these things were supposed to work, but nearly 30 years later, I still haven’t gotten any better at them – particularly the compressors. All right, I’m crap at hitting golf balls, I admit it, but it doesn’t stop me trying. I can’t explain the compressors thing as easily. I wish golf came with presets.

So I was tempted to chuck my clubs in the boot when AT sent me to the Lake Karrinyup Country Club to check out a concert starring none other than Dame Kiri Te Kanawa accompanied by the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Not that I’m an opera buff or a big fan of symphony orchestras – although they sound great – the real attraction for me was a bloke called Neil Campbell and his company’s latest acquisition: two-dozen boxes of the new L-Acoustics Kudo line source array speakers.

It was the Australia Day long weekend and just about everyone had 10 live gigs to work on somewhere over the next few days. I decided on seeing WASO’s dress rehearsal on the Friday evening, and Neil had already rigged the speakers two days before to fit his own busy schedule. At the front gates the security system realised I was only driving a Toyota Camry and wouldn’t let me in. ‘Country Club’, right? It was around the back entrance for me, down a goat track the PA trucks must have loved, until I finally popped out at the foot of the driving range which made for a neat, grassed amphitheatre.

As you’d expect for a full orchestra, it was a big stage. WASO’s own portable sound shell was rigged overhead with acoustic panelling at the rear and sides. The front edge was flanked by two large television screens poached from Subiaco Football Oval and outside of these were the scaffolding towers to fly the Kudo. The organisers were expecting 6000 people to each of the two scheduled concerts, but there wasn’t going to be any kind of upmarket moshpit crammed with sweaty chardonnay-set punters here. Concert-goers would be spreading themselves almost the entire length of the driving range – 180 metres uphill back to the wine and food tents, and across about 60 metres as well. I reckon it was about a three iron from FOH to the tents so the PA was in for a decent workout.

For those of you who didn’t read Chris Holder’s article in Issue 42 (and we’ll be coming around to ask why) the Kudo use a unique blend of L-Acoustics’ DOSC Waveguide technology and an innovation called K-Louver Modular Directivity, which is a movable Perspex panel to alter the flare angle of the speakers. Kudo can also be used on their sides to maximise any lateral coverage and it’s possible to combine any of these configurations to achieve what you need. With so much choice, I was keen to hear how Neil had tweaked the Kudo to get the best result for this show.

‘Nope, straight out of the box,’ he said.

Okay. So much for that techno-discussion.

180 metres uphill back to the wine and food tents... I reckon it was about a three iron from FOH

Fortunately, the why, how and where of actually rigging the speakers gets much more interesting. Neil broke out his laptop to demonstrate.
L-Acoustics has its own ‘Soundvision’ software which includes the new Kudo in its database. Similar programs have been around for a while, but Soundvision is written specifically for the L-Acoustics equipment, so the level of accuracy is much higher. Basically, you draw in the characteristics of the venue – in this case a long, gentle slope upwards, quite narrow and with a drop-away near the top edge (the ladies’ tee, I think). Next, you tell Soundvision the proposed height of your arrayed rig, how wide they’re apart and the number of speakers you have at your disposal, and after a bit of number-crunching the software advises you of the best angles, directions and preferred height to set the Kudo. It also gives a detailed diagram of how well the coverage should work. Alternatively, you can enter in more variables and let Soundvision suggest how many speakers, etc, you’ll need. I’ve simplified things quite a lot here and I should point out that L-Acoustics offer a three-day training course to understand Soundvision fully (of which 12 hours is probably devoted to turning off Windows Messenger!).

For this show Neil had decided on importing extra boxes and ended up with 14 per side controlled by a pair of XTA DP-266 processors. The signal path was simple – straight out of the mixing desk into a Klark-Teknik EQ, then onto the processors. There was no extra compression or parametrics used. The EQ was completely untouched except for a minor cut at 250Hz alone, more because Neil couldn’t bring himself to have a flat setting – it’s just not natural. Four of the passive L-Acoustic MT112B’s provided centre fills since the stage was so wide. Foldback was also straightforward: a couple of fills for the orchestra to keep in touch with the opposite side and a pair of wedges for Dame Kiri.

72 channels of condenser microphones and ‘bugs’ (for the violins) were spread across two Midas desks, a Heritage 3000 and an XL3. It was a frighteningly live stage and no one was surprised by the occasional, threatening rumble of low feedback for the first few numbers.

Finally, when WASO cranked into action and all the mics were opened, the sound was immediately very, very impressive – and this was in the first minute. Then, as we took a walk up the hill, the consistency in volume was just as remarkable. One of WASO’s management passed by and commented that it was perhaps too loud. We were 150 metres back by then. At the top of the slope another 30 metres on we guessed a drop of 5dB overall. Crispness and clarity were excellent, even competing with a fresh sea breeze. It’s not long before you hear yourself debating whether the lower-mids on the cello’s need attention or some of the brass section should be told to shut the hell up or go home (the only option with brass musicians, I find) – then you remember these minor quibbles are being listened to from a decent three-iron’s-drive distance away!

As Chris mentioned in his article, line arrays and V-DOSC have changed everything. The days of using walls of multiple 15-inch driver cabinets and amplifiers stacked to the ceiling are long gone – well, almost. Don’t look in my garage.

But the Kudo’s performance was truly impressive – at another level again – which should have L-Acoustics’ competitors back at the design boards and scratching their heads for answers. And maybe muttering the same kind of bad language I frequently use trying to hit that stupid, golf ball around the bush.

Oh, and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa can warble out a passable tune too, by the way…

A 14-element L-Acoustics Kudo array awaiting Dame Kiri’s arrival.
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