When the curtain rose on William Shakespeare’s Macbeth at Lincoln Center Theater, Masque Sound, a leading theatrical sound reinforcement, installation and design company, was on-hand to provide Sound Designer Mark Bennett and Associate Sound Designer Charles Coes with a custom audio equipment package that would ensure complete and pristine audio surround sound and coverage throughout the venue for the famed scribe’s powerful and dark tragedy.
Macbeth tells the story of the title character and brave Scottish general who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia, and he soon becomes a tyrannical ruler as he is forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion. The bloodbath and consequent civil war swiftly take Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of arrogance, madness and death. In this new production, Ethan Hawke plays Macbeth opposite Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth.
Bennett and Coes’ goal in designing the sound was to create a flexible system that was capable of delivering a surround sound experience, while also providing complete coverage for every seat in the large, extreme three-quarter Vivian Beaumont Theater. Since Macbeth is a play, and not a musical, Bennett and Coes wanted to create an environment that was as natural sounding as possible.
“The audio solutions that we were able to come up with in collaborating with Masque Sound were great,” says Bennett. “Masque Sound was always able to find alternative ways to achieve our vision, if they didn’t immediately have the ability to do that with their existing inventory. The quality of the equipment that Masque has provided is consistently excellent.”
The Vivian Beaumont Theater has one of the deepest stages in New York City, rivaled only by The Metropolitan Opera and Radio City Music Hall. As a result, Bennett and Coes were able to create tiers of sound in off-stage areas, giving them the ability and flexibility to pinpoint where they wanted the sound to source from in a very large environment.
Another important component of the sound was O’Brien’s desire to have the supernatural world play a large part in the play. O’Brien wanted the show’s “Three Witches” to be able to use the weather as a force to be reckoned with throughout the piece. In order to move the weather and other sound effects around the theater, Bennett and Coes used a combination of heavy Yamaha DME processing and a variety of Meyer Sound loudspeakers, as well as tapping into the Beaumont’s SIAP system, to create rings of surround throughout the theater.
At the heart of the custom equipment package, provided by Masque Sound, was a Yamaha PM5D digital mixing console with a DSP5D editing side car. According to Coes, “The PM5D gave us the most flexibility. It integrated very well with the Yamaha DME’s, which allowed us to accomplish the very transparent vocal reinforcement that we were shooting for. It also provided for a lot of deep control using the delay matrix.”
Bennett and Coes also utilized a 32-channel playback system to further move the sound fluidly around the surround channels as well as a Meyer Sound Matrix3 Audio Show Control unit. A Meyer Sound-based loudspeaker system was used for vocals including UPA-1P’s coupled with a USW-1P subwoofer, and an array of M1D orchestra and balcony delays. The music system consisted of an array of Meyer Sound UPA-1P’s, USW-1P’s and an additional Meyer 650-P effect subwoofer. For the fills, which were very close to the audience, a passive d&b E-Series array was used.
In deciding on microphone selection, Bennett and Coes began with the idea that they were going to use foot mics throughout with the occasional body mic. As the design progressed, they discovered that by using nearly equal amounts of both, they were able to provide that intimate feel needed for many of the scenes while also aiding in the final transparency of the piece. Masque Sound provided Sennheiser MKH 8040 cardioid microphones and AKG E460 pre amps for the foot mics. Sennheiser SK5012 transmitters and DPA 4061 lavalier elements were used for the body mics.
“We chose the gear we did because conceptually it allows us to work with the music by installing each cue with a variety of splits,” adds Coes. “This really allows us to separate out what the bass is doing, what the percussion is doing, what the mid-range fills are doing, and then where we are placing the solo instruments per cue. With 15 delayed individual foot mics to every speaker in the vocal reinforcement system and each of the RF mics existing in one of 12 zones on the stage, Mixer Marc Salzberg does a great deal of switching of zones, for individual mics, at any given moment to keep everybody in as accurate a zone as possible.”
Masque Sound also worked with the show’s RF Engineer Adam Smolenski to provide frequency coordination for the 20 channels of wireless plus 12 wireless intercoms that are utilized during each performance.
According to Coes, “With more than 1700 lines of code in QLab, around 300 cues taken for content-only and an additional 30-40 taken for reinforcement, there is an incredible intricacy of the musical and playback content of the show. Masque Sound understood the needs of the project and provided us with gear that can deliver night after night with reliability and stability; that is one of the great aspects of working with them.”
Macbeth opened to rave reviews on Thursday, November 21 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The limited engagement of Macbeth is scheduled to run through January 12, 2014.
About Masque Sound
Founded in 1936 by a trio of Broadway stagehands, Masque Sound evolved into one of NYC’s most successful theatrical sound reinforcement, installation and design companies specializing in theatrical, house of worship, sporting, corporate, TV broadcast and live concert events. Celebrating more than 75 years in the industry, the company is lead by Geoff Shearing, the firm’s 3rd generation owner, and Vice President and General Manager Stephanie Hansen. The company also operates Florida-based Professional Wireless Systems, a leader in the development and implementation of wireless technology. Credits range from major Broadway shows and tours including “Phantom of the Opera,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Lion King,” “Jersey Boys,” “Memphis,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Newsies,” “Once” and “Kinky Boots” to yearly Super Bowl broadcasts and installations of varying sizes, including New York’s New Victory Theater and historic St. Bartholomew’s Church. Masque Sound’s 70,000 sq. ft. corporate headquarters and main assembly facility is located at 21 East Union Ave., East Rutherford, NJ, 20 minutes from midtown Manhattan. For more information, call (201) 939-8666 or visit www.MasqueSound.com.