Inspired by Paris one century ago, the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) 2011 is a month-long cultural celebration that began April 7, bringing together the worlds of dance, music, visual arts, theater, film and literature. The PIFA 2011 events take place across several Center City locations. “Styling a Second Empire: A Light and Sound Experience,” located adjacent to Philadelphia’s historic City Hall, is an outdoor visual experience that included a soundtrack delivered by an EAW® line array speaker system. Saben Shawhan, senior A/V systems consultant with Philadelphia consulting firm Metropolitan Acoustics, LLC, designed the audio system, and Starlite Productions of Moorestown, New Jersey, provided technical and logistical support. The EAW system consists of two stacks, each comprising four EAW KF740 three-way line array modules plus two EAW SB1002 dual 18-inch subwoofers. EAW FB174 flybar/ground stack frames support each cluster. Six Lab.gruppen FP 14000 amplifiers power the two speaker stacks, which are managed by two EAW UX8800 four-channel digital signal processors. A Lab.gruppen NLB 60E NomadLink bridge and network controller, along with a Crestron CP2e and TPS-6x touch panel, handle automated power sequencing and scheduling of the three nightly show times. An EAW DX1208 DSP Matrix Mixer routes signals within the system.
“They’re lighting up the first five blocks down South Broad Street from City Hall,” explains Shawhan, who was engaged by architectural lighting designer Alfred Borden, Principal at The Lighting Practice. “They contacted us to help with the sound design and also to help with synchronizing the audio with the lighting, which we’re doing with time code and a flash-based audio player.”
The options for positioning the EAW speakers were restricted by the National Historical Landmark status of Philadelphia’s City Hall, which at one time was the tallest habitable building – and is still the second tallest masonry building – in the world. “There was no possibility of getting rigging points,” Shawhan reports. “They wouldn’t even let us put a steel cable around a column or open certain windows. The only location that all of the City Hall entities would approve was the 700 level roof, and it’s 127 feet about street level.”
Starlite Productions, with the help of the students and project interns, had to push all of the equipment down three long hallways, up a freight elevator and then carry everything up three flights of stairs just to get to the approved location on the roof of City Hall. “Then they had to assemble the ground stacks, safety them off and get cable to each location,” Shawhan recalls.
Students at University of Arts in Philadelphia, which is just down the street from City Hall, have generated the audio and lighting content for displays that are positioned on various buildings along south Broad Street. “It’s a one-hour block that runs three times nightly from sundown to about midnight each night for the six-week period,” says Shawhan. The stereo soundtrack of original music is being played from a Tascam HS-8 flash-based eight-track player that is also producing time code. The time code is then fed into a Strand Light Palette VL console, to provide synchronization between the audio and visual systems. The Crestron system provides basic on/off control, level and routing control for the show. It also automates the three nightly show times so that it can run daily without an operator.
Shawhan utilized the EAW Resolution speaker prediction software program when designing the system. “The coverage is really good from about 300 feet back from City Hall out to about 1000 feet, then airborne absorption takes over,” he reveals. “At the 300-foot mark in the middle of South Broad St. we’re at about 86 dBA. Back at 1,200 feet it’s at 80 dBA – and that’s with the speaker clusters 127 feet off the ground and only four boxes a side.”
For PIFA 2011, the City of Brotherly Love has taken its inspiration from the City of Light in 1911, when Paris was a hotbed of creativity in music, literature and the visual arts. Philadelphia, the birthplace of the United States, hopes to ignite a creative and cultural revolution through the spirit of collaboration, innovation and creativity in the PIFA program, which represents every arts discipline. The first-time arts extravaganza takes over stages, museums and public spaces in Philadelphia from April 7 through May 1, 2011 and features 31 commissions, 135 events and more than 140 arts partners.