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London’s EartH venue delivers all-round audio experience

Originally built as a cinema, this community hub has gone through many transitions over more than 80 years and has now been reimagined for the next generation

Picture: Maria Zhytnikova

The Savoy Theatre opened in 1936 and functioned as a cinema until 1984. It was then converted with the addition of a false ceiling going from the balcony to the stage. The former stalls became a Snooker Hall, while what was the balcony remained boarded off and unused. The Theatre’s foyer was converted into shops in the 1990s and the staircase that originally served the balcony was removed. The old stage area was converted into a restaurant. In 2014 the Snooker Hall was transitioned into a function room while the rest of the building lay derelict.

In 2017, Hackney Council granted planning permission to Auro Foxcroft and his team for its conversion into EartH (Evolutionary Arts Hackney). The hope is to continue the venue’s spirit as a forum for socialising and entertainment, which includes being the base for local charity Community Music, as part of a previously announced partnership and initiative declared by Auro Foxcroft to offer children and young people training and opportunities in music, arts and other creative disciplines.

Adlib’s installation division are part of the team which has helped to deliver Europe’s first installed L-Acoustics L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound system at EartH, a vibrant new arts centre for live music, mixed arts, and performance. Adlib worked closely with client Auro Foxcroft and his team, with support from L-Acoustics’ sales manager, Paul McMullan and applications engineers, Jeff Woodford (installation) and Sergey Becker (touring) to specify and install the 360° L-ISA system with the aim of delivering an all-round audio experience for audiences and artists alike.

EartH is the brainchild of Foxcroft, champion of Hackney nightlife and founder of Shoreditch venue Village Underground, a commercially successful, sustainable and community driven initiative that also provides affordable workspaces for artists and creatives. For this project, Foxcroft and his team wanted to restore the abandoned space to its former Art Déco splendour.

L-ISA configuration
Adlib director John Hughes explains: “… initially, when we first made contact with Auro, we were looking at a standard left-right configuration for both upstairs and downstairs spaces.” However, when Foxcroft met McMullan and Woodford from L-Acoustics on site, they highlighted how perfect the venue was for an L-ISA configuration.

“After a visit to hear L-ISA in action in Highgate, the EartH team were amazed by the technology and convinced that it was the solution for their venue,” says Hughes. “L-Acoustics were incredibly helpful and the resulting audio system was very much born from a collaborative approach.”

The old cinema’s balcony – which had been closed off and left derelict for 30 years after a final screening of Scarface in 1984 – is now a eye-catching 750-capacity theatre and concert hall space. The downstairs area has been reinvented as a lively, multi-purpose club and social area, and a new restaurant will be opened. Together these three spaces will be the heartbeat of an animated performance-orientated environment.

The Adlib team already has a very strong relationship with L-Acoustics and were asked to join this project to share their extensive knowledge and experience in providing high quality, dynamic sound systems, which meet touring and professional specifications and can cater for a variety of artists.

Upstairs, downstairs
The ground floor club-style venue demanded high SPL, and excellent low-end response for the DJ-led music programme. In the new theatre space upstairs, however, the brief was a lot more ambitious and complex; this is where Auro wanted the immersive system to support a diverse programme ranging from spoken word, dance and performance art to jazz, rock, electronic, and all genres of music.

L-ISA is a multichannel platform, suited to bringing immersive sound into experiential venues. It is designed to connect the audience to the sonic experience, bringing clarity so both audience and performers feel like they are part of a more intimate experience. The theatre’s L-ISA loudspeaker configuration comprises a frontal system, supplemented by surrounds and overheads providing a 360° mixing environment. The L-ISA Scene configuration features five hangs of seven KARA loudspeakers, spaced evenly across the stage in line with the proscenium arch. Low-end response is augmented by four KS28 subwoofers flown in an end-fire configuration. The surround system features 12 Syva co-linear loudspeakers, four each mounted on the side and rear walls, plus eight X8 overheads, which are flown from the ceiling to provide elevation to the mixing environment. Lastly, there are 10 X8s installed as lip fills, which are fed from the aux send of each object within the L-ISA Controller. Audio from the FOH consoles runs via MADI to the L-ISA Processor, which outputs on MADI. The signals are then converted to AVB and distributed to the 18 LA4X and one LA12X amplified controllers driving the system.

Picture: Maria Zhytnikova

“This is a very straightforward and immersive L-ISA system with side, rear, and overhead extensions,” comments Rob Crossland, Adlib project manager. “As more venues move to L-ISA, this approach will allow touring productions to move between similar systems without re-working their entire show every night.”

He adds that they were fortunate with the room’s straightforward shape – once a balcony when the cinema was first constructed in 1936 – and that there were no other levels or nooks and crannies to deal with as is sometimes the case with vintage buildings. This made it easy to model in Soundvision, which handles L-ISA configurations seamlessly.

On the L-ISA system, Crossland continues: “We’re only really scratching the surface of the system while we learn more about its scope and depth. As mix engineers start exploring the possibilities, I think we’ll hear some spectacular results that just couldn’t have been achieved with a conventional approach.”

Shared consoles
Adlib also supplied two DiGiCo SD12 consoles to be shared between venues – selected as it has on-board integration with the L-ISA technology via the L-ISA Desk Link, and has a mix of power and flexibility. In addition, an Adlib line system and an L-Acoustics stage monitor package comprising 12 X15 HiQ monitor wedges and two SB18 subs powered by LA4X amplified controllers were supplied.

A stereo KARA system, one SB18 and four KARA per side, is installed in the club on the ground floor, supplemented by four SB28 subwoofers and four ARCS WiFo delays. A comprehensive microphone stands and cables package from Adlib completed the specification.

Day-to-day, EartH’s house audio team of Luca Romani and Alessandro Melchior will be running the systems and providing support for visiting engineers utilising the L-ISA platform, they were also heavily involved in the equipment specification and installation.

They’ve been trained on optimising the system and the finer points of Immersive Hyperreal audio, as well as receiving supplementary on-site training on the esoterics of KARA, and the overall system management software, L-Acoustics Network Manager.