North of the Silk Road
Superlative Convention and Event Centre in Tashkent
With a floor space of about 40,000 sqm and the overall budget of a medium-sized airport, the International Forums Palace Uzbekistan was probably one of the most remarkable building projects of 2009. Planning and construction of the complex was completed in just six months. The SALZBRENNER STAGETEC AVM systems house was responsible for all the AV and media systems — a unique challenge in this most modern events complex in Central Asia
In Greco-Roman classical antiquity, the historian Herodotus first described the course of the Great Silk Road. The Road’s main route interconnected the Mediterranean region with eastern Asia and significantly influenced trade between the Eastern and Western hemispheres for many centuries and also encouraged cultural exchange. Not too far from this economic and cultural artery lies Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. This is the location where the International Forums Palace Uzbekistan, was built last year. A mixture of buildings resembling a palace for state occasions and conferences, a high-tech convention centre and an 1,850-seat theatre, such a combination is probably unique in the world. For the extraordinary architecture, the lavish interior and the top quality technical installations, the Uzbek government relied mostly on German businesses. In order to ensure punctual completion in a very tight time frame, a modern version of the former Silk Road arose again. All required materials from plasterboard to a Christie projector were shipped via an »air bridge« between Germany to Uzbekistan — sometimes several hundred tons a day during the critical construction phase. But this logistical tour de force was by no means the only unusual characteristic of this extraordinary construction project.
Marble and Crystals
Since the autumn of 2009, the Central-Asian metropolis has had a new landmark: The Forum Palace located at the Amir Timur Square. Constructed of snow-white Thassos marble covering an area of 80×100 metres and with a dome that is almost 50 metres high, it can hardly be overlooked. When furnishing the interior, the architects were able to draw on abundant resources. Only the most exquisite materials were used. The property developers extended this ambitious approach to the technical equipment. The results are spectacular and unique in every way. There is luxury and exclusivity as far as the eye can see; huge faces of highly polished marble, lavishly plastered relief walls, a palladium-leaf finish in the central hall, and around 1.8 million Swarovski crystals, many of which are used in the construction of the huge spherical and elliptical chandeliers. The largest chandelier is a unique example with an overall length of 23 metres adorning the entrance hall. The large hall with the dome has an overall height of 48 metres. It houses a stage measuring 25 metres in width and up to 20 metres in depth, a complex lighting system comprising, amongst other things, multicoloured LED ribbons and portals made of highly polished ebony. In addition to the large hall, the complex houses a conference room, a banqueting hall, a restaurant and extensive accommodation for Islom Karimov, Uzbekistan’s president since1990.
The STAGETEC Systems at the Forums Palace
The Palace is now running a vast NEXUS audio network. At its heart lies the CRESCENDO digital console, which was installed in the large hall control room. However, thanks to its compact design, it can also be used in other locations on the premises. The extensive optical network provides connectivity to both the CRESCENDO processing hardware on the NEXUS STAR and the NEXUS Base Devices used as I/O components. In this manner it can also be used as an in-hall console.
The CRESCENDO was chosen deliberately because it provides not only the typical flexibility of digital desks, but also user-friendly setup options. With its 56 faders, the console offers a dedicated channel strip for each input source in all imaginable scenarios in Tashkent, so multiple layers will be used only rarely — a further advantage for intuitive operation.
In addition to the NEXUS STAR, which acts as host to the CRESCENDO processing hardware and as a node on the overall audio network, the audio system comprises ten Base Devices. Three of them are intended for use as mobile units connected by rugged optical fibres. These units can be hooked up to any of the six access points in the large hall stage area and there are 120 more access points located all over the complex. Some of them provide optical connectivity while others offer analogue microphone ports, enabling the NEXUS to be used in the auditorium and in the other halls.
NEXUS, CRESCENDO, and more
The audio system in the complex is so adaptable that high-quality sound reinforcement can be provided almost anywhere. There are more than 120 junction boxes inside the building, which offer enormous flexibility in combination with the NEXUS audio network and extensive additional analogue wiring.
A STAGETEC CRESCENDO digital console with 56 faders, located in the large hall control room, and a NEXUS STAR router lie at the heart of the audio system. The console control surface can also be deployed in other locations in the house by connecting it to the STAR router via the optical cabling installed throughout the building. For example this enables the console to be used in the body of the hall .
The audio-specific project requirements placed particular emphasis on equipment that can be installed and operated quickly and safely without complex training. The CRESCENDO was chosen deliberately, because it not only provides the flexibility typical of digital desks, but also user-friendly setup options. With its 56 faders, the console also offers a dedicated channel strip for each input source in all imaginable scenarios in Tashkent, so multiple layers will rarely be used – this is beneficial to intuitive operation. The console is used in combination with peripherals installed into two racks: various players and FX processors plus a NEXUS Base Device for connecting the console.
Apart from the STAR router, the NEXUS network comprises 10 Base Devices of different sizes and configurations placed in strategic positions around the building. Next, there is extensive analogue cabling, for example, to the numerous junction boxes. Analogue lines are even run to the two amplifier rooms that feed the hall speakers; however, these are for backup and will only be used if the digital main connection should fail. The large Base Device in the control room features numerous analogue audio ports enabling any analogue channels to be connected to the digital router. This is useful, for example, for servicing locations inside the building that are not in close proximity to a Base Device, or to have a fallback solution at hand, in case of failure, that can be used by untrained operators.
Sound on Stage
Three Base Devices are used as mobile stage boxes and serve for connecting microphones and for monitoring purposes. Each of these units features 24 microphone inputs and 8 line outputs. They can be connected to any of the six junction boxes in the stage area using rugged optical fibre and robust Neutrik connectors. Alternatively, the stage boxes can be located in the auditorium or in any of the other halls. In addition, two racks with Sennheiser wireless systems are available in the hall. Each system supports 8 receiver channels for microphone signals plus 4 transmitter channels for in-ear monitoring systems. In order to ensure reliable operation of the wireless systems and to select appropriate frequencies, the local frequency spectrum was first examined using sophisticated measurement equipment. However, the large hall is well shielded thanks to its palladium shell, so RF interference is unlikely to be a problem.
Public Adress System
It was decided there would be a two pronged approach to sound reinforcement in the large hall. The main PA system consists of white-painted speaker systems, which can be hidden in the ceiling void, when not required, using special lifts. A secondary speaker system, used mainly for speech reproduction, remains invisible even when in use – it is concealed behind covered frames, flush-mounted elegantly into the ceiling structure. 12 additional speakers mounted on the edge of the stage are used as near-fills supplying the front rows.
The amplifiers for all systems are installed in two amplifier rooms. They are fed with digital audio over an AES/EBU multicore cable from a NEXUS Base Device located in the stage-management centre. All the amplifiers are remote controlled and monitored from the control room using laptops running a special remote control software application. In this setup, the computers and the amplifiers communicate over a CAN bus – appropriate TCP/IP converters make it possible to use the cable lengths required in this installation. The speakers in the other major halls in the building can be controlled in the same way.
Conference and Banqueting Halls
In the conference and banqueting halls mobile audio racks housing players and compact third-party mixers are available. These racks not only provide for flexible independent sound reinforcement, but also connect to the NEXUS network using a MADI board in the mixer. For security reasons, the operator can block the audio-network connection from the conference hall to prevent eavesdropping.
The other parts of the complex – for example, the foyers and the restaurant – are catered for by around 400 wall and ceiling mounted speakers. In addition, high-performance column speakers with digitally controlled directivity, which can be reconfigured within seconds using presets, were installed in the foyer. Those speakers are routable independently, so individual delays can be applied. Public address intelligibility for announcements conforms to German standards – a key criterion in case of an emergency.
Another control room is to be built on one of the upper floors. This secondary control room will feature a Pro Tools system and will be connected to the NEXUS audio network. However, this studio, which will be suitable for live recordings, was not yet installed at the time of our visit.