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Ignite at the Royal Opera House

Sponsored by Deliotte each year Ignite brings together artistes from many disciplines and the program ran in 2014 for four weeks in the autumn. We were fortunate enough to be involved in the opening weekend and with ongoing performances for the duration, brought in by Martin Adams to support his audio team through this very busy period.

Chris Watson has a background most of us can only dream about. Award winning recordings for various TV programs and films including Attenborough’s Life and Frozen Planet (a live performance of which by coincidence we recently did in the RFH with the Philharmonia) wasn’t enough for Chris though, who has moved on to creating soundscapes and sound environments. For Ignite, he produced a work called Migration for which he spent time in Iceland recording Whooper Swans. The work required that the multitrack be replayed over the length of the main escalators leading from the Paul Hamlyn Hall up to the Amphitheatre Restaurant and Terrace. It was crucial the playback was evenly distributed over the whole space. Working with Chris we came up with a plan to hang speakers over the escalators from the service track overhead, adding extra speakers at either end at low level to reproduce the sound of water and swans landing.

The space is very clean, with sheer walls and , just for added thrills, has gaps between the walls and escalators than reveal the box office two floors below.

The only access was what we affectionately called the shark’s cage, a kind of wheeled gantry that can be mounted on the ceiling tracks and would normally be used to service the lighting fixtures. Because we needed the track to hang our speakers we had to design a rigging method that dealt with the longest drops first and then worked back to the upper floors- once we rigged something we would not be able to return to it as we by definition would block the tracks.

Tony Birch took the bull by the horns (or the swans by the wings) and not only came up with the right kit, including a Mac Mini running Q lab but managed to produce a completely white set of speakers and associated rigging. This was no mean feat as the furthest speakers required drops of over six metres. Focussing the speakers to bounce off the walls spread their dispersion to ensure we had no hot spots apparent on the escalators themselves.

Tony and Richard set out to rig the system whilst Ben Evans and Jay Heigl were rigging the music system that was to be used next door in the Paul Hamlyn Hall. Despite a delay to get the shark’s cage safety checked the installation went in perfectly albeit slowly.  Tony did sterling work on the rigging and the biggest problem was keeping the kit in its original pristine white. By the end of the night we retired very tired but delighted with the result.

Chris wasn’t able to hear the completed system till after the building opened to the public and our collective breaths were held till he declared himself happy.


Dear Richard and Tony,

Thank you for all your hard work, consideration and long hours during the install last week.

I really appreciate what you did for the piece and look forward to hearing it when I’m back down

later this month.

Best wishes,


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