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Open-Air Performances with 3D Acoustics: Vivace Supports Traditional Passion Play

Oberammergau Passion Play 2010 in a Virtual-Acoustic Environment Created by Vivace

In its 41st season, the Oberammergau Passion Play is following new technological routes: For the first time in its almost 400 year history, the organisers are using sound reinforcement. The hardware setup includes a Vivace digital system, used to create virtual acoustics. Vivace systems are used typically to improve the acoustics of environments that are too small or insufficiently reverberant; however, in the large Passion Play theatre with its wide open-air stage, the system has been used for the first time not only to create concert-hall acoustics, but also to provide high-quality speech amplification with accurate imaging.

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For sound reinforcement, the organisers turned to Neumann & Müller Veranstaltungstechnik, a renowned provider of PA systems. Early in the planning stage, the experts identified the need to implement a Vivace system: “From a purely technical standpoint, it was obvious right from the start that we needed a sound-reinforcement system to meet the intelligibility and high-quality sound-reproduction requirements of today’s audiences. On the other hand, the organisers – and, in particular, the conductor – were rather concerned that the PA system might sound artificial. In order to prevent this effectively, we decided to specify a Vivace system in order to achieve three-dimensional acoustic improvements,” explains Rudolf Pirc from Neumann & Müller.

From April to October with more than 100 performances and countless rehearsals Vivace emulates an ideal acoustic environment which, in reality, does not exist. The stage is, traditionally, in the open air, – the large canopy only covers the audience area. Numerous stationary microphones plus a few radio mics acquire the onstage sound and the music from the orchestra pit. Vivace then analyses and processes these signals. A carefully configured loudspeaker installation reinforces the direct sound from performers and musicians. This creates impressive three-dimensional acoustics for the orchestra, the choir, and the soloists.

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At Oberammergau, Vivace provides extended functionality. It enables microphone and speaker signals to be delayed and adjusted in level independently in order to maintain appropriate directional imaging. For radio mics these parameters are varied dynamically in order to maintain the correct directional relationships critical to natural reproduction.

After five months use in the open-air, the organisers are happy with the results. Thanks to Vivace and the outstanding performance of the on-site audio engineers, intelligibility and sonic transparency are better than ever before in the history of the Passion Play, which goes back several centuries. Thus, the production now matches the standards expected of major contemporary events.

About Vivace

Vivace is a state-of-the-art electronic acoustics emulation system which creates highly convincing spatial acoustic environments in any indoor or even outdoor location. A Vivace system consists of a few microphones, the mainframe, an audio matrix, multichannel digital amplifiers, monitored remotely, and loudspeakers. Vivace analyses and processes the microphone signals in real-time and subsequently outputs them in real time to speakers, positioned precisely. Using a patented algorithm Vivace can recreate almost any acoustic environment. Vivace adds missing acoustic features to environments that are too small, have inadequate reverb characteristics, or where they simply do not exist (in the case of outdoor events). It creates the aural illusion of an ideal concert hall or any other room – either permanently or just for a specific event. Vivace also enables sources and effects to be moved around, virtually, in the acoustic environment.

Vivace ensures a high degree of detail veracity, perfect transient response, and exceptional feedback stability. The result is a homogeneous and entirely realistic three-dimensional sound which meets individual on-site acoustic requirements with the utmost flexibility and accuracy.

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About the Passion Play

In 1633 bubonic plague was raging in Europe. Many citizens in the towns around Oberammergau were dying. So the town elders vowed to stage the Passion of Christ every 10 years and for ever more if Oberammergau and its citizens were spared. No people died and the first Passion Play was staged in 1634 and performances continue to this day. For the inhabitants of the small Bavarian town this means dedicating almost a year to rehearsals and the 102 performances of the play, which takes place outdoors whatever the weather conditions. Roofed seating provides sufficient space for around 4700 spectators to experience the five-hour event. When it rains, the entire orchestra pit can be moved under the stage. For the first time this year there is also a rain shelter for the stage and the 800 actors and participants. This sounds like an extremely complex acoustic environment and that is exactly what it is.

For many centuries, the play was always based on the same texts from the Bible that the spectators were familiar with. Therefore, intelligibility was not a key issue. However, for this year, the 41st Passion Play season, this has all changed. In the meantime, the performances have become a really big event with international recognition. Thus, there is now considerable emphasis on vivid staging and impressive music reproduction. Of course, the spectators should also be able to follow the play without continually referring to the text. Consequently, this year the Oberammergau Passion Play has resorted to using sound reinforcement support.

Regardless of the compelling arguments, the participants were doubtful initially as to whether these requirements were compatible with the main objective of achieving natural sound reproduction. However, Neumann & Müller Veranstaltungstechnik and Müller-BBM designed and operated the sound reinforcement system expertly, meeting all the requirements. Many spectators were enthusiastic about the sound. The 102 performances of the Oberammergau Passion Play 2010 take place between the 15th of May and the 3rd of October 2010.

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