Jeroen ten Brinke is one of The Netherlands’ most experienced theatre sound designers, with a raft of hit productions to his name such as Les Misérables, Beauty and the Beast, The Wiz and Ciske de Rat. His latest project held many technical challenges and took him into uncharted territory.
Soldaat van Oranje (De Musical), based on the book by Erik Hazelhoff Roelfsema (himself a World War II hero) and the film of the same name, has already seen more than 200,000 visitors pass through its doors. It tells the story of a group of Dutch students in the Second World War, each of whom follows a different path during the conflict, either as a collaborator or as part of the resistance under Nazi occupation. To accommodate its sheer size, the production is housed in a converted aircraft hangar at a former military aerodrome in Valkenburg, near the city of Leiden.
It is performed in the round - but with a twist. The raked audience seating sits on a large revolving turntable in the middle of the hangar, with the perimeter divided up into a number of different stage sets, including a lifelike sea. A turntable measuring over 30 metres in diameter allows the seating to revolve from scene-to-scene and 180 degree video projection, together with the actors walking between the sets, maintains continuity as the 1,100-strong audience revolves.
The production’s size - this is by far the biggest theatre show The Netherlands has seen - is matched by its technical complexity. “It was a project that couldn’t be done ‘by the book’, because there is no book for this,” said ten Brinke. “Surround sound was essential and my first idea was to place all speakers on the revolving turntable. However, because of the weight and the momentum when turning the wheel, that wasn’t feasible.”
The solution was a huge surround system fed via an optical cable, fitted on a drum system that turns through a total of 7,000 degrees to avoid the possibility of breakage. Supply and installation was performed by Amsterdam-based Focus Advanced Event Technologies with Meyer Sound’s D-Mitri chosen for audio processing and distribution, with an LCS Cue-Console the choice for the front of house position, this being the only desk that could accommodate the number of inputs and outputs needed with the required audio quality to get the maximum out of the Alcons pro-ribbon arrays and ClickTracks program utilised for effects.
Each scene features an L-C-R array of Alcons LR14 pro ribbon loudspeakers, plus a 15” sub - 14 arrays in all - with additional fill and delay cabinets. The LR14s are driven by 30 ALC4 amplified loudspeaker controllers. A huge, 144 x 144 matrix routes audio from the actors and a hidden band to the main loudspeaker system and three delay arrays of three further LR14s each.
The system is configured so that, as the seating revolves, the right-hand array from the previous scene becomes the left array of the next one: the quality of the Alcons LR14s is said to be crucial in making these transitions smooth and lifelike.
“I chose the LR14 because of its linear response and exceptional sound quality,” ten Brinke said. “As the audience is moving round, the change from listening to one cluster to another is hardly audible. And as we move the sound across the arrays, it is a remarkably smooth transition from one to the next. You would have expected much more drastic phase behaviour while the audience was moving, but the sound is extremely smooth and stable throughout.”
ten Brinke has been specifying Alcons systems for some time, because of both the quality of the product and the flexibility of the company.
“They are always ready to go that extra mile to help and ensure that the systems deliver the very best sound,” he said. “I love the sound of Alcons loudspeakers; the high end is so open and clean, and speech intelligibility is excellent at both high and low SPLs. This is a very varied production - even the styles of music change from scene to scene - so the main system had to be highly adaptable.”
And Alcons founder Tom Back is delighted to support Jeroen in this unique project.
“It is great to have Alcons loudspeakers as the main house system on Soldaat van Oranje,” said Tom Back, founder of Alcons. “The story is part of The Netherlands heritage and that is important to us as a local manufacturer. The fact that it is a technical production that people will be talking about for years only makes us more proud to be part of it. Jeroen, along with operators Chiel Blaauw and Jos Diergaarde, who were also part of the development team, have done a tremendous job.”