Visiting the Intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts

Apple frequently talk about being at the “intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts” but we rarely experience that other than through their hardware and software. Thanks to the encouragement of our friend Cirina Catania, we (Cirina, my partner Greg and myself) experienced the Invisible Cities Opera in LA’s Union Station. That’s a really unusual place to stage an opera, and indeed this was a most unusual artistic experiment and experience, involving large amounts of production skills – staging, singing, etc – and some amazing technical chops from Sennheiser and Bexel (Burbank CA).

The concept to stage an opera in a public space, feeding the music to the audience via headphones, while they move freely within the spaces around Union Station was the brainchild of lead sound designer Martin Gimenez. The opera was a fascinating experience. I’m not qualified to critique the opera or performance, but they seemed top notch to my inexperienced ears.

What was fascinating was the integration of technology into the artistic form: the topic of this post. Sennheiser and Bexel did an amazing job supporting a 12 piece orchestra in a remote function room feeding via optical fiber to the main mix room. There were 15 radio microphones on the singers, and two “listening” radio system: one for the ear buds singers and dancers wore, and the other for the audience using Sennheiser RS 120 wireless headphones designed for in-home listening repurposed to cover most of Union Station.

There were four distinct zones and all three wireless systems had to work in all spaces, while allowing performers and audience to move freely between the zones with no interruption. Bexel did the frequency co-ordination and antenna setup that took more than a week to fine tune. This is an amazing achievement, since most of the antenna farms had to be taken down at the end of each performance and set up again – with precise accuracy – for the next performance.

The technology worked flawlessly, except the very occasional crackle in the headphones in very quiet passages in some of the more remote locations. While we were there as another Lumberjack test, the experience was simply amazing and unique.

And with all well designed technology, it disappeared at the service of the creative team. Congratulations to all, especially (from my perspective) the technical team.

Performers and audience mingle almost chaotically.
Performers and audience mingle almost chaotically.

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