In the Service of Music
The Imposing AURUS Installation at the Berliner Philharmonie Hall
Virtually every culturally minded Berliner will be familiar with No. 1 Herbert-von-Karajan-Straße in the Tiergarten district. This address is where you will find the Berliner Philharmonie, one of the top concert halls in the world. The hall is home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by such legends as Furtwängler, Karajan, Abbado, and Simon Rattle. Of course, the Berliner Philharmonie only uses top-class technology. For example, the AURUS in the newly refurbished Studio 3
The Berliner Philharmonie houses several sound control rooms within the prestigious building, Studio 3 being the most important. Thus it was chosen to be the home of the new AURUS. Studio 3 is also the most recent Philharmonie control room, commissioned as recently as 1992. Here, concerts by the world famous Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra are
recorded as well as many other Great Hall events. In addition to mixing performances directly to stereo, the team also produces multitrack recordings for subsequent mixing in surround formats. Moreover, the studio is also available for CD productions and can be rented by broadcasters and record companies. This utilization by external recording teams also had an infl uence on the design of the new audio system.
Renovation at the Double
After almost 15 years of continuous operation, an extensive studio overhaul was scheduled for 2006. A modern digital solution was scheduled to replace the somewhat outdated analogue console. With due regard to the prestigious building and the orchestra it houses, only the highest quality solutions were considered. Starting with the newly designed acoustics and not forgetting the technical equipment, the aim was to create a representative and state-of-the-art studio providing optimal working conditions with due regards to the needs of the many guest producers.
For the project to succeed, the entire studio renovation including the installation of all the new digital audio and media equipment and all the user training had to be achieved within the two-month summer break in 2006. The first concert recordings had already been scheduled for late August!
In order to select an appropriate mixing console, some internal specifications had been agreed. These described the user interface, integration into the studio environment of the Philharmonie and the normal in-house work flow. In the end, the AURUS proved to be the best fit with the requirements, not least because its interface is closely related to analogue console concepts and does not demand radical rethinking on the part of the users. Head of the audio department at the Philharmonie, Klaus Peter Gross, comments: »We particularly like the large number of touch-sensitive controls on the channel strips that allow many channel settings to be made instantly. AURUS embraces operating concepts that have been developed and proven successful during many years of analogue working.« Another key criterion was flexibly integrating NEXUS into the existing analogue cabling. Equally important was the option of making surround productions in a much more convenient way than ever before; a field the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra focussed on early, for example with various SACD releases. Next, the handy snapshot functions of the AURUS proved to be very practical because there are frequently multiple productions happening simultaneously. While one team deals with the current series of concerts, another is already busy preparing the next.
Step by Step
For the implementation phase, a step by step transition from analogue to the digital domain was planned, using the existing analogue inhouse audio cabling for the time being. Proven workflow concepts were to be retained in the digital domain, and the existing technical infrastructure was to continue into the future. This, again, was an important decision regarding the frequent guest productions hosted at this studio.
Therefore, an independent digital studio complex was created where a big pre-existing Lemo patchbay is now used as an interface to the complex in-house analogue cabling. This patchbay makes available more than 50 microphone inputs in the great hall as well as outputs and tie lines to the other studios, the entrance hall, and the neighbouring chamber-music hall.
The various components of the digital system are distributed over two floors to fit perfectly into the available space. The AURUS console in Studio 3, which is luxuriously equipped with 56 channel strips and communicates through fibre optics to the NEXUS STAR installed in Studio 1. This STAR router houses the AURUS boards and is also the heart of the star topology digital audio network. Next to the STAR is a NEXUS Base Device containing six XMIC+ boards with a total of 48 microphone inputs, fed from the LEMO patchbay. Studio 3 itself houses two more base devices. One is used for connecting external peripherals, and the other for the six multitrack recorders used for backup recordings. The main recording medium is a Sequoia system which is connected directly to the STAR via MADI lines. Another DAW of the same type in Studio 1 is used mainly for post-production of recordings.
The STAR router provides two extra MADI ports which are used, for example, by Radio broadcasters as the source for their recording systems.
Two big hi-res displays are provided on top of the console for a multitude of tasks, for instance to display all 48 recording buses at the same time using the new NEXUS multichannel metering feature.
With this, the user can see at a glance what is actually being recorded. Other applications include a magnified representation of the Sequoia user interface and various video inputs from the hall that can be routed using a media-control system. This is based on logic functions incorporated into the AURUS console.
The Berliner Philharmonie requires a split of the microphone signals so that, for example, the sound engineers in one of the other control rooms can work with the same microphones but independently of Studio 3. At first it was planned to use an external microphone splitter but in the end it was clear that this could be achieved in a much more elegant and cost effective manner. The solution was to use the new XMIC+ microphone boards which can also act as a splitter. The XMIC+ includes four digital outputs per input, each with freely adjustable gain. One of the four outputs is reserved for use on the AURUS console. A second output can be used independently, for example, for sound reinforcement, in one of the other studios or for forwarding to an external OB truck.
Another issue arose in connection with this subject. A microphone splitter output can offer different levels on the various outputs. However, independent external phantom power switching control is not available. Phantom power is either switched on or it is not.
Working on the AURUS in Studio 3, the user has the option of switching the phantom power individually for each microphone. But what happens if the engineer switches off the phantom power of one microphone and then shuts down the AURUS? An external user such as the engineer in an OB truck connected to the Berliner Philharmonie would have no way of switching the phantom power on again, simply because he has no AURUS or NEXUS user interface.
An elegant solution to this problem is a new feature of the NEXUS XCI board. The XCI neXus Communication Interface board is equipped with an SD memory card that can, for example, be used for storing multiple NEXUS statuses defi ned previously by the user. A status stored in this way cannot easily be overwritten, so it is truly protected against misoperation arising from stressful circumstances.
Phantom Power Auto-On
The system installed at the Berliner Philharmonie has two predefined phantom power statuses. One for when AURUS is being used as the mixing console in Studio 3 (in-house production), and another for using an external console in one of the other studios (guest production). If the AURUS is switched off, NEXUS will automatically load the status for guest production where phantom power for all inputs on the NEXUS microphone boards is switched on. When the AURUS is turned on once again, the XCI board triggers a changeover to the in-house production status with the phantom power status as stored in the loaded project.
Essentially, the previous XCI board was also capable of providing such a solution, but only by using an external computer. The new solution brings a number of benefi ts because, unlike an external computer, the memory board on the XCI is subject to the NEXUS internal error-checking function, improving reliability. Moreover, it cannot be switched off by mistake, a key issue when using an external PC.
Seamless integration of NEXUS and AURUS with the original analogue network is an unusual facet of this particular installation. In this case there are good reasons for an evolutionary approach.
There is yet one more extraordinary feature of this installation. It strikes the eye as soon as one enters the control room. It is the size of the AURUS, not only the expansive sound processing capabilities but its physical size. Seven fader panels with eight channel strips each on an overall width of 2.73 metres, or almost 9 ft. This is the biggest AURUS console available in the standard version on two legs. A console more than suitable for one of the most renowned concert halls in the world!
New Hall Concept
Berliner Philharmonie was designed by German architect Hans Scharoun between 1960 and 1963. Scharoun is considered to be one of the leading exponents of Organic architecture. At first, the hall was controversial because, unlike many other contemporary halls, Berliner Philharmonie is minimalist with few architectural frills and trimmings.
On the other hand, it is distinguished by harmonic lines and curves that almost literally radiate musicality. A novel and effective concept for a concert hall. Scharoun’s idea was to eschew the conventional layout with the audience and the orchestra opposite each other. Instead the total of 2,440 seats are laid out in circles, terraced in an irregular pattern around the centrally positioned podium. This was inspired by the circle listeners intuitively form when listening to a musician performing outdoors. Every spectator sees not only what is going on the stage but also other spectators at the same time.
Acoustically, Berliner Philharmonie also has a lot to offer. This has been appreciated not only by musicians, conductors, and concert goers but also by the local audio engineers to this day. Head of the audio department Klaus Peter Gross says: »If the object to be recorded is a well-balanced orchestra, two correctly positioned omnidirectional mics with just a minimum of accents are suffi cient for making perfect recordings in this hall.«