YAC’s sound investment

Every seat in the Yukon Arts Centre costs the same.

Yet the sound is not the same in each seat.

That is why some people choose seats away from the speakers while others have figured out that there is “muddy sound” in the centre of the house.

“Right now, there are four spots,” says Al Cushing, the Yukon Arts Centre’s CEO.

He draws a diagram that shows sound emitting from various speakers. In the triangles, “you have overlap between the outputs. This turns to mud because the frequencies become subtractive instead of additive,” he explains.

“We’ve had people walking the room using pink noise (he imitates an annoying single note to demonstrate the definition) and it is really obvious where these drop-off points are and that’s where the ‘mud’ is.”

Then there is the simple math that limits the speed of sound to, well, the speed of sound: “It is different from the back to the front and from the right to left,” Cushing says.“The sound, therefore, is coming from the speaker, not the artist, and there is nothing you can do about that; it is mechanical.

“If you haven’t been exposed to what (the sound) could be, it isn’t bad; compared to a bar downtown, it is really good sound.”

But if you have experienced the sound in a modern facility, then, “this is a pretty bad sound.”

If all goes well, however, relief will be arriving at the end of this month.

Indeed, the new speakers have arrived and are ready for the installers. They are in the orchestra pit for now.

Cushing says they are white, smaller and will no longer need to be piled up by the sides of the stage. Instead, many of them will be suspended and out of the line of view of performers and guests.

That’s what you will see, but, it is what you will hear that is the most exciting.

“It doesn’t matter where you sit, you will hear the same sound in every seat,” says Cushing, following up with the possibility that there may be one or two seats that won’t.

The new system processes the sound for each speaker to deliver the same sound at the same time.

And services for the hearing impaired have been increased dramatically. Receivers will be given to those who need them. Personal ear buds can be plugged into them or headsets that are provided. Or the sound can be delivered directly to a person’s hearing aids.

“We are installing an infra-red system,” says Cushing. “So long as you are in the line of sight, the sound will be crystal clear.”

The performers, too, will benefit from the new sound system.

“One of the concerns was from the vocal soloists who could not hear themselves,” says Cushing. “We have a very soft house and the sound gets swallowed up and doesn’t get reflected back.

“The system gives them the illusion they are getting reverberation from the house. But it is a lot cheaper and more predictable than starting to muck about with the materiality of the room.”

Cushing adds that Jazz on the Wing patrons and performers will benefit from this feature as well.

In all, it costs $350,000. Canadian Heritage’s Cultural Spaces Canada program and the Community Development Fund contributed $260,000.

The Yukon Arts Foundation raised $40,000 and, backing it up with the YAC’s capital reserve fund, the new sound system was ordered.

But the remaining $50,000 still needs to be raised through the Sound Bites fundraising campaign because the YAC’s reserves are needed for the usual upgrades and replacement of equipment.

“We are taking every opportunity to bring it to people’s attention,” says Cushing. “There has been some personal targeting; for instance, we got a generous sponsorship from Bell through Erik Hougen.

“We are getting there, but it is slow.”

Those who want to help can donate at www.CanadaHelps.org. Just type in “Yukon Arts Centre” in the search box.

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