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26/08/2015

A New Home Opens With SSL Live

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Formed through the merger of two of Manchester's beloved arts organisations, Cornerhouse and the Liberty Theatre Company, HOME has moved into a new, purpose-built facility on Tony Wilson Place. Marking the completion of a £25 million project largely funded by Manchester City Council and Arts Council England, the new performing and visual arts complex includes two theatres, five cinema spaces and a gallery. The larger of the two theatres, Theatre One, features an SSL Live L500 mixing console at the centre of its new PA system.

The building and PA system may be new but HOME is no stranger to SSL LIVE. HOME Technical Director and Head of Production Jasper Gilbert and Sound Supervisor Paul Gregory chose an L500 for HOME's Summer 2014 theatre season, all of which was site-specific. Performances were held in locations throughout Manchester, including a production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet staged in the city's historic Victorian swimming baths. This production served as HOME's trial for the L500, cultivating the decision to install it in the new venue.

As Gilbert explains, "Paul was the Sound Designer for our production of Romeo and Juliet. He had a number of conversations with different suppliers, and became very interested and impressed with the capabilities of the SSL desk. Bearing that in mind, he very much designed a sound system that would allow him to present Romeo and Juliet across three Edwardian swimming pools at the Victoria Baths. As you can imagine, this was a live and echo-y space — not necessarily suitable for complex Shakespearean language. The console was purchased with that particular project in mind, but we knew that we'd use the desk in the future and that it would be eminently suitable for what we would be doing in our new space."

"I had 'auditioned' several different consoles from the usual suspects," elaborates Gregory, "and my reaction to them was indifference really. From my first demo of the Live L500, organised by HD Pro Audio, I felt that SSL had moved the goal posts. I felt a bit of 'a rush of blood', something quite rare for me these days! The flexibility of the desk is what made me want to have one for the new theatre. It so closely matched an idea that I‘d had for many years, whereby you could build a console to match the requirements of a show, from very simple set ups to shows requiring incredible complexity. The sound quality goes without saying, as does the build quality. We have had many positive comments about the quality of the sound."

HOME's first theatre production ran from mid-May to mid-June. "We held a couple of test events," reveals Gilbert, "and then had a seven-week run of our first HOME-produced work, the world-premiere of a production called The Funfair. Our Sound Designer for the production was Pete Rice. Paul was the Production Engineer on it and we also had an operator running the show — the same person who'd use the L500 on the production of Romeo and Juliet, so he was already very familiar with the desk. Pete had a mixture of live recorded sound, onstage musicians, quite a few radio microphones, and also a lot of video production. He extensively used various features of the SSL desk and was very happy with the results. It worked out very well."

"The L500 offers a lot of bang for the buck," adds Gregory. "The automation has been very well thought through and comes at no extra cost. We have also had show operators who couldn't wait to come to work in the morning and use the console!"

The main contractor for the theatre infrastructure was the UK-based Stage Electrics, while HD Pro Audio assisted in setting up the console. "Our L500," Gregory continues, "is equipped with sixteen local analogue inputs and outputs along with four fibre and eight MADI in/outs. We're using an SSL ML 32.32 Analogue Stagebox remotely via a MADI coax connection. This lives in the Rack/Amplifier room. From the Rack room there is extensive connectivity — analogue, fibre, data and co-ax — to the Theatre One stage as well as to the entire building. We have a play back rack that is connected to the console via fibre and additional MADI boxes for connecting computers, etc."

Gilbert says he and Gregory "have a fantastic relationship with SSL and HD Pro Audio and are really happy with the products. SSL have come up with some upgraded features that will be built into the latest release for the console, all of which are things we've helped develop.

"Prior to moving into the building, we had a couple of ‘industry days' that were very successful. We hope that over the next few months we can arrange a few more of these, whereby SSL and HD Pro Audio can come into the building and use it as a training base for the L500 and a number of their other products. People can come in, look at and try the products, talk to some of the users, and let it serve as an introduction. It's an ongoing, proactive relationship and we're delighted to be a part of it. The console is terrific and we feel extremely well-supported by SSL."

HOME's new 447-seat Theatre One is one of the first theatres in the U.K. to have an L500 permanently installed. "We moved here in April," notes Gilbert, "and had our official opening towards the end of May. Since then the building has been very busy. It's one of the first new buildings in this area, and it's helping to regenerate part of the city. We've been astounded by the amount of people who have come to rediscover an area of the city that has been a construction site for many years. For it to be as vibrant as it is now is great."

In addition to Theatre One, HOME's new complex hosts a 150-seat flexible theatre space, digital production and broadcast facilities, five cinema spaces, a 5,300 square-foot gallery space, plus a bookshop, bar, café bar, and cinema bar.

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