Plaza Suite: Mike Cusick Designs the Sound for a Themed Experience in Brazil


A train station dating back to the early 1800s serves as the backdrop for a themed experience in downtown Curitiba, Brazil, offering a wide range of entertainment and shopping options enhanced with audio technology. Dubbed Estacao Plaza, the $70 million (US) urban renewal project combines private enterprise interests with the city's desire to pump life back into the downtown district. The advent of alternative forms of transportation had led to the demise of the once thriving station and adjacent rail yards before Brazilian development firm Casa Moro Construcao led the revitalization effort.

What has resulted is a complex of seven buildings on a seven-plus-acre site that includes more than 130 retail establishments and restaurants, a 24-lane bowling facility, and 10-screen multiplex cinema along with a large musical performance stage and discotheque.

Specialized Audio-Visual Inc. (SAVI) of Clifton Park, NY, provided extensive sound design and affiliated services on the project, with system installation supplied by a local sound contractor hired by the general contractor. SAVI, noted for its sound design work on several recent high-end US projects, worked closely with the Estacao Plaza development and management teams to develop concepts for sound systems fitting the vision of the venue. The company first tackled creation of a venue-wide sound system going beyond the normal definition of "background music and paging."

"The theme of Estacao Plaza is a natural given the history of the space, and this tends to be mostly reflected in the architecture," explains Michael Cusick, president of SAVI. "One of our primary sound design goals was providing the ability to distribute sound according to the needs of a specific area of the plaza in addition to supplying an effective means of enhancing ongoing marketing efforts."

Sixteen loudspeaker zones have been established throughout the facility's concourses and walkways. A series of Rane CP 64 two-channel paging processors, located at the system's control room, enabled creation of a multi-priority-level music and paging system. Each CP 64 includes two gated paging inputs, four program inputs, and two zone outputs. Each output includes independent level, program select, ducking, limiting and seven-band equalization.

At the first priority level, music provided by an Otari CDC-600 multi-CD player can be distributed via the CP 64s to any or all zones. Featuring database management software, the CDC-600 can be programmed to automatically play certain types of music at specific times of the day, depending on the preferences of management.

The next level is "priority music," where a feed from shows at the performance stage or disco can be distributed through the system, with the CD music automatically ducked. Pre-recorded messages, stored on a Digital Audio Labs sound card in a PC in the control room, take priority over the first two programming levels. Again via the CP 64s, these messages--from parking information to promotions of upcoming events--can be sent system-wide or to specific zones. The two top levels are reserved for live paging announcements from management or security staff originating from the control room.

"It's a relatively simple, straightforward analog priority system that does the job exactly the way they want it done," notes Cusick. "There are a lot of more sophisticated digital units available that you could use in an application like this, but what we've established fully meets their needs while also being quite cost-effective."

A 24-channel Allen & Heath mixing console and Aphex signal processing gear help maximize the dynamic characteristics of the background music. The vast majority of the system's distributed loudspeakers go beyond the typical "can" ceiling variety, with Turbosound Impact 50 two-ways mounted on walls and poles throughout each zone.

Management dictated that the audio control room be located next to the facility's security offices for centralization purposes. >From a practical audio standpoint, however, the location was more than 500' away from what was determined to be the best location for the power amplifiers, particularly those for the performance and disco systems. SAVI identified a vacant room in the parking structure to address the problem.

"The amplifier room is about 200' from both the performance area and the disco, keeping cable runs to those systems at an acceptable level in terms of loss," Cusick explains. "While the music/paging system, operating at 70V, didn't present these concerns, we wanted to locate all amplifiers in one location in the interest of convenience and simplicity."

This raised another concern, however. Standard copper cabling transporting audio signal from the control room to the amplifiers would be highly susceptible to electro-magnetic interference generated by volatile AC power distribution lines that would likely be in the same location. The solution proved to be one of the first fiber-optic audio signal transport systems ever implemented in Brazil.

BEC Technologies' SigmaNet Series 16-channel fiber conversion/transport units supply the analog to digital conversion for fiber signal transport at the control room, with the process reversed by BEC units at the amplifier location. Further, SAVI proposed a park-wide fiber-optic backbone be implemented at the same time, a recommendation accepted by management. The result is a 3,000'-plus fiber "loop" around the property, with all seven buildings outfitted with a termination point giving them access to a six-pair, fiber-optic multipair cable.

"The beauty of the BEC system is that you can insert audio anywhere you want in the fiber loop," says Cusick. "In fact, the fiber system paid off even before the venue officially opened. Management wanted to insert the output of an onsite broadcast disk jockey into the music and paging system for playback in certain zones. We simply patched him into the 'fiber beltway,' routing the signal back to the control room for distribution."

All power amplifiers driving the systems are Crown Com-Tech, exclusively. They provide handy 70V operation, meeting the needs of the distributed system, while also affording the necessary dynamic and power capabilities to drive the larger performance and disco systems.

The performance stage, located adjacent to the main food court, hosts a busy schedule of diverse live performances, with headline performers featured at least one night a week. And to appeal to as diverse clientele as possible, theme days are a regular occurrence. For example, a "Brazilian Samba Day" would include several samba bands on the bill, commencing in the early evening and lasting well past midnight.

The stage, about 32' wide, is made of poured concrete that includes openings across its front--specified by SAVI-- to accommodate the sound system's subwoofers as well as front-fill loudspeakers. Other openings on the stage surface house stage monitors covered by metal grates, keeping them out of the sightlines for a very clean look.

SAVI specified a concert-level sound system to accommodate virtually any style of entertainment. Coverage to the main listening area comes courtesy of two EAW KF850 loudspeaker arrays flown from a truss above the stage that also accommodates lighting. Meanwhile, additional KF850s are flown from the sides of the truss, providing coverage to promenades converging with the stage area. Even more KF850s are attached to the rear of the truss, filling another prime listening area across a lagoon.

The very front of the primary listening area, out of the coverage pattern of the two main arrays, receives fill from EAW JF80 compact two-way loudspeakers built into the stage cutouts. EAW SB850 concert subwoofers also reside at this location.

"A decent amount of acoustic treatment has been applied in this area. There's a lot of concrete, glass and parallel surfaces, so the treatment provides welcome relief from the worst of reverberation and other acoustic anomalie s that otherwise would be present," says Cusick. "In addition, all zones of the music/paging system adjacent to the performance area are shut down when the performance system is in use to prevent any delay/arrival problems."

The house mix booth is well positioned in the food court, allowing system operators to clearly see and hear everything. Able to be secured when not in use, the booth is anchored by a 32-channel Allen & Heath GL4000 mixing console accompanied by a Yamaha O3D digital mixer for auxiliary needs. There's also a modular rack of Aphex compression, gate and limiter cards, Lexicon and Yamaha delay and reverb units, as well as several Klark Teknik DN360 third-octave equalizers that allow each mix engineer to tailor the system for their specific needs.

Cusick says that the systems were implemented very well, a process overseen and coordinated by Alexandre Sresnewsky. He was able to effectively translate the design goals and documentation to the installation firm--no small feat, given the language and cultural differences.

"One of the most exciting aspects of this project is that management readily adopted this design, and in particular, the tremendous future connectivity provided by the fiber-optic backbone," Cusick concludes. "Currently, systems with this type of capability aren't widespread in Brazil, and it's nice to know that despite this fact, they were willing to step up and look ahead."