One of the world’s newest concert arenas designed to host international recording artists opened this summer in Batumi. Paddy Baker reports on a very wide-ranging installation project.
The ultra-modern Black Sea Arena is located close to the coast near the Georgian city of Batumi, with a commanding view of the beautiful landscape between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountains. Designed by German architects Drei Architekten, the venue features an open auditorium that can be covered over in a few minutes by means of a retractable membrane roof. On the façade, 168 rotating translucent lamellas can be positioned to protect the audience from sun, wind and rain, or opened completely.
The auditorium has a capacity of 10,000 seats in circular grandstands, with visitor lounges, VIP areas, four cinemas, auxiliary areas and technical rooms below. The auditorium, with a 36m-wide stage, has been designed to accommodate the largest productions of international performing artists.
Two Lithuanian companies, systems integrator TVC (Television & Communication Systems), working in co-operation with integrator and event services company STS (Scenos Techninis Servisas), were tasked with the turnkey installation of lighting, displays, sound and stage structures.
Main contractor TVC was responsible for the video and broadcast parts of the project, including the media control room, IPTV, intercom, and the supply of two OB trucks. STS was engaged as a subcontractor and provided sound, lighting and stage system installation. The overall aim was to equip the concert hall with everything needed to host world-class performers, so there would be no need to hire anything. In all, the project involved more than 30 tonnes of equipment.
Climatic conditions were a special consideration. The arena is situated in a subtropical climate zone that experiences erratic weather, excessive humidity and salinity. To ensure that systems run smoothly and prolong the life of the equipment, all facility controls are kept in a room equipped with an extremely powerful autonomous microclimate system.
The engineers designed and installed a mobile and highly versatile large-scale lighting set-up: 70 classic theatrical Spotlight fixtures with incandescent lamps; eight colour-changing Robert Juliat followspots with discharge lamps; 138 multifunctional programmable stage luminaires with discharge lamps, including Robe Robin BMFL, MMX and pointe models; 224 multifunctional programmable Robe LED stage luminaires; 96 calibrated ETC white light floodlights; and 42 effect lights, including Martin strobes, Robe Cyclones (with integrated turbine) with LED backlights, and Litecraft blinders.
These are also supplemented by a generous provision of smoke, fog, CO2, confetti and fire machines – 36 devices in total.
The entire system is controlled by four grandMA consoles – two full-size and two Light models – each supplemented by a grandMA Fader Wing. The consoles have been equipped with 16 touchscreens.
The consoles support video integration with the coolux servers used in the video system; these can be controlled from the lighting desks using Art-Net or MA-NET protocols, enabling the video and lighting systems to be operated simultaneously.
The lamella wall structures, movable roof and the size of the audience area (80m x 120m) all make the architecture highly sensitive to sound, meaning that the modelling of the arena’s acoustic performance, as well as the installation of the loudspeakers, had to be precise.
Two software packages, CATT-Acoustic and L-Acoustics’ Soundvision software, were used for the acoustic modelling. The main L-Acoustics system is configured in a left-centre-right pattern: the central array comprises six K2 line source speakers; the left and right arrays each comprise 13 K2 with a K1-SB sub. Additionally, two ARCS II speakers are positioned on each side of the audience, and eight ARCS WIDE speakers cover those sitting close to the stage. LF is boosted by 16 hanging and eight groundstacked SB28 loudspeakers.
The system has four acoustic presets for the different possible arena configurations: lamellas open or closed, roof open or closed.
The speakers are driven by a total of 32 LA8 amplifiers, six of which are mobile for use on stage, while the others are installed in the environment-controlled rackroom.
The arena has two AVID Venue Profile consoles – one for front of house, one for monitoring. Stage equipment includes 40 wireless and 387 wired microphones (including Schoeps, Sennheiser, AKG, DPA, Neumann and Earthworks), in-ear monitoring from Fischer Amps, L-Acoustics SB18 and KARA loudspeakers, and two types of L-Acoustics floor monitors: 16 115XT HiQ and eight 112P.
Much of the audio equipment – including the amplifiers, consoles and microphone receivers – can be monitored and controlled on tablet devices via WiFi.
The arena’s video system, installed in co-operation with Lithuanian company Prezentaciju spektras, is based around 660 SpectrumPro 6.9mm pixel pitch LED modules, each measuring 0.5m x 1m. These can be combined into displays of various sizes and shapes.
Video content is handled by coolux Pandoras Box servers. coolux Pandoras Box Manager handles the distribution of content between all nodes of the system and ensures frame synchronisation of all devices. It can also be used to for content creation, simulation and system pre-configuration – enabling customers to see what will be show on the screen, long before the installation.
The displays can broadcast pre-recorded visualisations or stream live video of the stage or areas of the arena. Separate screens can display different images, or a single image can be split across all the screens.
Live footage from the stage, as well as satellite TV channels or promotional video clips before and after the show, can be shown around the stadium via a Teracue IPTV system. Aminet set-top boxes are deployed individually on nearly 100 Samsung displays in locations such as restaurants, VIP rooms, corridors and make-up rooms.
The installation also encompassed two OB trucks, 14m and 12m long; stage flooring and platforms, and a 40m x 20m stage curtain; Prolyte trussing and hoists, with their accompanying control systems; and Prolyte crowd control barriers.
Installation and after
The equipment was brought to the venue in 24 trucks, and the installation began in summer 2015. A total of 52,900m of cable was laid, and 105 electrical and other connection boxes were assembled.
Once the installation was complete, STS and TVC personnel trained arena staff in how to use all the new equipment: not just how to cable all the equipment correctly, but also how to use it to its full potential. The task was made more difficult by the staff’s limited professional experience, and also the language barrier. On completion of the training, the arena staff underwent examinations and received certificates.
After an intensive installation and testing period, the first demo was organised in June 2016. The venue’s opening concert was given by Christina Aguilera at the end of July 2016.
The end result is a system with a high degree of flexibility for visiting productions. “The stage set-up can be assembled according to event requirements, architecture and scenography,” comments Edmundas Stumbrys, regional and project manager of TVC. “Cabling and mechanical systems can be adapted to different scenarios.”
“All in all the installation of this project went pretty smoothly,” comments Dimitri Beridze, managing director of Black Sea Arena. “We knew we could rely on the supplying integrator, they’re known for their reputation in Georgia of supplying excellent products and product support, which to us is really what makes the difference for a turnkey project of this size. The build of the stage system went really well and the stage elements were built in a record time, the installed equipment are really foolproof and easy to build.”