In summer 2022, the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) returned to the Southeast Asian city island for the first time in two years. Titled The Anatomy of Performance – Ritual, the event featured over 70 performances staged at seven unique sites and venues, all designed by creative designers in various performance art disciplines. Opening the festival with a performance in a defunct power station, SIFA presented the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound provided by J5 Productions.
The Singapore Chinese Orchestra, together with the Tuyang Initiative, a Sarawak-based creative agency that focuses on the cultural heritage of indigenous Borneans, opened the festival with their performance of MEPAAN. In the language of the Kayan peoples of Borneo, mepaan means ‘always,’ and the performance was a sonic and visual voyage through the spiritual and cultural nuances of the Kayan. Backed by an orchestral score, the 75-minute performance was directed by SIFA Festival Director Natalie Hennedige and featured song and dance by lead performers Adrian Jo Milang and Mathew Ngau Jau from the Tuyang Initiative.
Staged in the decommissioned Pasir Panjang Power Station, a cavernous industrial space built in steel and concrete, the show brought together costume designers, photographers, filmmakers, set, lighting, and sound designers, as well as multimedia artists to transport audiences into the pristine rainforests of Southeast Asia. SIFA appointed Jeffrey Yue of Ctrl Fre@k to design and manage the audio system. Ctrl Fre@k is no stranger to the festival, having designed sound for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s performance at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s intimate ” Fragments ” concert at the Esplanade Theatres.
“When designing the audio system, I knew that the space’s 30-metre high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling metallic pillars would generate heavy sound reflections throughout the cavernous power station,” said Yue. The experienced sound and system designer knew that achieving a high degree of intelligibility and faithful reinforcement of the orchestra would be an immense challenge. The absence of acoustical treatment in the space and the audible fan noise of an air conditioning system added to the challenge.
Yue had attended hands-on L-ISA sound workshops at Concept Systems Technologies L-ISA Auditorium in Singapore led by Chung Wah Khiew, L-Acoustics Application Project Engineer for APAC. Yue knew of the advantages of object-based mixing to achieve clear, natural sound, so he turned to Khiew for advice on deploying L-ISA technology for the MEPAAN performance. “Khiew and I were sure that object-based mixing and localisation would enhance the lush orchestral sound in the venue,” continues Yue.
“Jeffrey [Yue] shared details of the MEPAAN project and the difficulties presented by the venue’s acoustics. We worked together to plot the architectural set design and audience seating elements of the space in Soundvision to create an L-ISA configuration that would provide pristine clarity to the show’s audience of 350,” explained Khiew. “Due to the nature of the space, different frequencies respond differently in various areas. With the orchestra’s wide dynamic range, and dynamic score, achieving uniform coverage was our top priority,” Yue resumes. “We worked with the production team to adapt set and seating design details. We were confident that our ability to localise elements of the orchestra in the mix using L-ISA technology would bring production values to the next level.”
The duo landed on a design based on L-Acoustics A Series to achieve precise horizontal and vertical coverage that would bathe the audience in sound while avoiding the venue’s bare concrete and steel skeleton.
Five hangs of two A Series—one A15i Focus and one A15i Wide each—were hung at the height of 6-metres to ensure the precise coverage of the audience seating area only. Two SB28 subwoofers were deployed in cardioid mode to minimise low-frequency interference on the stage, where a total of 56 microphones were used to capture the various instruments of the Chinese orchestra. L-Acoustics X12 and X8 coaxial enclosures were used for onstage monitoring. The whole system was driven by LA8 and LA4X simplified controllers.
Their calculation proved effective for the application, with 94.7% of the seated audience falling inside the L-ISA zone of immersive coverage.
The performance was mixed using the L-ISA Controller natively integrated into a DigiCo SD5, backed by an L-ISA Processor, before output via L-Acoustics amplified controllers to the main scene system.
Upon a successful run of opening shows for the festival, Cindy Yeong, Production Manager of SIFA at PPPS, felt that MEPAAN was one of the best-sounding shows of any she had been involved in at the Pasir Panjang Power Station.
“I believe we would not have achieved the results we did without A Series and the L-ISA technology,” Yeong said. “Composers and Singapore Chinese Orchestra management commented that object-based localisation in L-ISA helped position the individual orchestral instruments for great clarity and a high level of intelligibility,” she concluded.