Its programming is ambitious, its architecture astounding. It’s The Shed, New York City’s latest addition to the arts scene. Occupying a position of honor adjacent to Hudson Yards on the West Side of Manhattan, this multi-arts complex has sophisticated technical capabilities. Jim van Bergen, head of sound for The Shed, provided production audio for the first series of shows, including Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, Reich Richter Pärt, Soundtrack of America, and Björk’s Cornucopia. Live Design chats with van Bergen about the sound systems and the sonic landscape at The Shed.
Live Design: What is the in-house sound system/rig for each space? How were the systems designed, and what are they intended to do? Is there flexibility from space to space?
Jim van Bergen: The Shed has several major systems.
There is a house infrastructure system based on d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers with V7P, V10P, Y7, Y10, E6, and V-Sub loudspeaker components, with Yamaha CL3 and QL1 mixing consoles, and 3224D and 1608D RIOs, Clear-Com and Freespeak communications, and Shure wireless microphones purchased from Specialized Audio Video (SAVI). For Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, which is mixed by Seth Huling, we utilized a rental package from Sound Associates to provide additional infrastructure as would befit a Broadway show, including amplification, Lectrosonics wireless with DPA microphone elements, plus cabling, comms, and playback for the show.
There is also an L-Acoustics Syva system that is primarily for the 8th Floor Event Space, which has been highly active with corporate events, high-end dinners, cocktail parties, and the like since the first opening week. It's pretty exciting and a gorgeous space with a massive skylight and tremendous views of NYC's West Side and High Line. We have a series of Yamaha consoles and Shure microphones to support the Syva as well as an in-house DJ rig. Akustiks also designed in-ceiling speaker systems that can be utilized for smaller events for a single microphone or background music systems, which provides a great option for shows that want a low profile, sleek look, or a less intrusive production visually.
Finally, there is The McCourt, which is our most unique and highlighted space. It features a technical grid and building shell that nests against the building and can be deployed and retracted to create a performance space atop The High Line. The McCourt's sound system is a touring rig that can come and go. The sound system has 32 boxes of d&b V8 line array, 12 boxes of V7P front fill & delay systems, 12 V-Subs, four InfraSubwoofers, powered from custom amplifier racks with Yamaha switches, d&B DS10 drive, and D20 and D80 amplification. This rig is controlled by a pair of Yamaha CL5 mixing consoles for FOH and monitors, with a set of Yamaha 3224D and 1608D RIOs, fiber, and Cat5 switches, with Clear-Com Helixnet and Freespeak wireless communications. There are Qlab playback systems, Shure Axient digital wireless microphones, and a custom microphone and stand complement for The Shed.
LD: Can you talk a little about the acoustics for each space?
JVB: The two black box theatres on level six can be run independently with an air wall in between, or used as one large space—as for Norma Jeane—so the space works as a 500-seat theatre with a large stage, beautiful scenic design, and great backstage room and access. We have good overhead clearance with 22' from the floor to the pipe grid, so while there is no fly rail, the room is both a nice and useful design as a theatrical space. It's one of the rare spaces in New York City that, instead of being built as something else and re-imagined into a theatre, this was actually built as a theatre. It has plenty of space and power to provide what any company needs from a black box and has a sprung floor. I'm hoping we'll see fashion shows, dance companies, and other theatrical guests do rentals and artistic residencies here during our off-season.
The Galleries on the second and fourth floors are hard- walled with concrete floors, but for Reich Richter Pärt, it is a perfect fit. The choir performing the Avro Pärt sounds fabulous, and the Steve Reich orchestra sounds gorgeous in this space—the Reich orchestra is actually amplified with a Meyer Sound UPJ-1P, UPM-1P, and USW-1P rental reinforcement system provided by Sound Associates, which is mixed on Shed-owned CL3 and remote surface by Alyssa Macaluso. The Gallery has a natural reverb time of about 2.1 seconds, which is a classic hall setting for many reverb processors, so the room gives engineers and designers something they know how to work with right away.
LD: Did you do the sound design for Soundtrack of America? If so, can you talk about the challenges and solutions there?
JVB: I'm not credited as such, but the title would be accurate enough in this instance, though concerts rarely have sound designers credited. The original speaker system design was driven by Drew Levy from d&b audiotechnik and supported fully by Michael Cusick of SAVI and his team. I reviewed Drew's suggested layout for the room, then looked at several alternative design options in ArrayCalc and modeled those possibilities. In the end, I returned to Drew's approach, and we tweaked that together to suit the scenic design, stage layout, and audience areas as they adapted. As with all new spaces, we figured out how to solve some of the system questions as we aligned the room and added audience. Specifically for this room, the outfills and the balcony delay system for SoA were the bits that needed more tweaking, but the design and system were quite successful; as we got some tremendous responses and reviews on the show. Soundtrack of America was an awesome and inspiring show, as we did five unique shows, each of entirely different content. Greg Phillinganes's GP Experience band was absolutely outstanding, and it allowed the 25 emerging artists who performed, five on each of the unique performances, the option of performing by themselves or together with the GP experience. For a show that tracked the history of African American Music in America, it allowed so much flexibility-to go from a single instrument or voice to an entire band backed with 12 of the top industry players. From songs that originated in slave culture to jazz, showing the roots of R&B, soul, rap, and pop music—every genre was covered, and our audiences went wild for the content and the players. As an engineer and designer, each performance was a thrill to participate in, work with the producers and artists. There is nothing like mixing a single performance than isn't repeated: the engineer is the bond in the relationship between performer and audience. Unless you've personally felt that electricity in your nervous system, there is nothing to compare it to.
It's imperative to recognize the huge contributions from my audio team: superbly skilled monitor engineer Jon Hiltz, who made all our artists happy with their mixes; RF tech Chad Lawrenz, System Tech Josh Liebert; FOH mixers Adam Faquharson, and myself. Of course, the shows simply would not have happened without the strong deck audio crew who did our changeovers: Steven Bettridge, David Paupaw, Josh Hobbs, Matt Lebe, Michael Mittelsdorf, and Anthony Trentinella. Our entire crew is comprised of all Local One IATSE stagehands, throughout the building. Last but not least, SoA had great support from Firehouse Productions. When the input list increased, Firehouse kindly supplied a Yamaha PM10 Rivage console to support 32 stereo IEM monitor mixes with eight wedge mixes, plus kickers, onstage subs, and various band fills. At FOH, in order to carry the 120 plus inputs each evening, I mixed The GP Experience, house RF and our DJ, while Adam Farquharson mixed the emerging artists. That is to say, almost every moment we co-mixed different inputs on every song. We put together a pair of CL5s each with 64 different Dante inputs but we shared our matrix busing. At rehearsals, we'd constantly communicate and coordinate on how to find the right balances. Co-mixing Soundtrack was a lot of fun and a good challenge, with each unique set being a group effort and accomplishment from both the artistic and technical teams, at the same time keeping an eye on SPL to ensure we were within the NYC sound ordinance and to be respectful of our neighbors in Hudson Yards.
LD: For you, what is the most exciting thing about The Shed?
JVB: It's a new challenge every day with high artistic goals, and I love that. While I have a long history of doing a lot of different types of live work—sound design, mixing broadcast, Broadway, touring, and shows from Rocktopia and circuses to Blue Man Group, The Pope, rock bands and theme park design—you name it, my experience has been a great precursor and prepared me well for the challenges that The Shed's productions have presented. To top that, I love the artistic integrity and the artistic goals that are outlined by artistic director Alex Poots, and the culture of production and daily show operations that is being curated by director of production Marc Warren, and his production management team that supports and enables the employees and our facilities group, operations team, and our Local One crews. There is an insanely talented group of people here; everyone working here has been handpicked for a reason. And that probably doesn't translate to anyone unless you have been in this exact situation. But to be in the middle of it and be able to recognize it, is a rare, genuinely beautiful thing, and I'm thankful for it every day!