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Feature: The bigger they come

Feature: The bigger they come
The 20m-high sanctuary posed a challenge

Feature: The bigger they come

Following a destructive typhoon, the rebuilt St Patrick’s Cathedral in Bunbury has resolved its poor intelligibility, reports Richard Lawn

Sat aloft the city’s tallest hill, St Patrick’s Cathedral has dominated the Bunbury skyline since the first stone was laid in 1919. However, that lofty height contributed to its downfall as an Indian Ocean typhoon swept into Western Australia in May 2005. Badly destroyed, the cathedral was demolished before being replaced by an impressive brick structure that was dedicated in March 2011. As part of the refit, a beam-steered audio solution was favoured to mitigate reverberation created from the abundant glazing and concrete within the 20m-high sanctuary. However, what appears optimal in a simulation, does not necessarily work in the real world over time.

The rebuilt St Patrick's Cathedral
The rebuilt St Patrick's Cathedral

“It would not be right to highlight the loudspeakers as the sole source of poor intelligibility,” comments parish manager at Bunbury Catholic Diocese, Ian Lewis. “Spoken word is paramount, but we are also blessed with a choir, keyboard player and organist. In addition, we also play gentle choral and other background music during the day and during confession. There is a natural reverberation time of 3s in the room and it’s hard to control. In addition, the analogue playback controls were often adjusted by various personnel and these were never reset correctly.”

Perth-based Pro AV Solutions was called upon to design and install a digital audio system that would enhance both the spoken word intelligibility and the BGM audio functionality of the main sanctuary. “Having successfully completed the AV works at Geraldton’s St Francis Xavier Cathedral, we were confident that we could deliver the solution required for the St Patrick’s Cathedral project,” commented Pro AV Solutions’ WA MD, Steve Travia. “For this project, we planned to replace the existing column arrays with Martin Audio point source loudspeakers. To better cater for the cathedral’s ease-of-use requirements, we added a Crestron control system.”

AV and lighting parameters are controlled from a rack mounted Crestron 17 inch touchscreen
AV and lighting parameters are controlled from a rack mounted Crestron 17 inch touchscreen

An audio patching system was installed to connect the various microphone points dispersed on various levels throughout the cathedral. In the digital domain, a Q-Sys Core 110f is connected to a Cisco SG250-20 network switch. With its eight inputs and eight outputs, Pro AV configured and stored all the DSP functionality and settings within the processor’s software. The card-based DSP solution integrates eight Flex I/O channels, offering greater functionality with Layer 3 routing and SNMP monitoring.

“An EASE model of the cathedral was created during the design phase of the project and consultation undertaken with an acoustician,” furthers Travia. Both the acoustically reflective nature of the space and the requirement to deliver audio to the lower and upper levels made the configuration of the audio system a challenge. Eventually, we determined that a Martin Audio point source audio design would be most appropriate and would provide better benefits than a line array configuration.”Serving the upper gallery and downstairs nave, a distributed loudspeaker system consisting of respective Martin Audio CDD8 and CDD12 two-way enclosures have been affixed to the divide between the central apex and lower ceiling height side pews. Favoured for their inherent coaxial differential dispersion driver technology allowing the cabinets to be easily rotated and orientated horizontally or vertically, Pro AV Solutions has positioned each CDD8 and CDD12 towards the congregation and away from hard surfaces. The CDD driver point source summation of the LF and HF sections successfully eliminates off-axis variations in frequency response. The entire upgrade was conducted between Sunday masses in October 2019.

The CDD cabinets are flexibly orientated and rotated
The CDD cabinets are flexibly orientated and rotated

While a digital, point source upgrade has significantly improved the audio qualities, the new distributed audio system relies upon the same amplifier originally installed in 2010. The 10 CDD speakers draw their current from a single pre-existing Lab.gruppen C 10:8X eight-channel 1,000W amplifier. Serving as monitors, two QSC self-powered K10 cabinets are located under the pews on the front platform, while a third is located in the gallery as a keyboard monitor.

The AV and lighting parameters of the room are managed and controlled from a 17-inch rack-mounted touchscreen connected to the Crestron Control CP3 processor, which hosts all the VGA, HDMI and audio inputs. “Only one other colleague and myself can access the AV parameters of this digital system as it is passcode-protected. If we need assistance, there is a technical page we can refer to but, overall, it is very user-friendly.” The simple setup allows Lewis to change the BGM setting or the service setup between choral, confessional or prayer.

A third K10 is used as a keyboard monitor on the balcony
A third K10 is used as a keyboard monitor on the balcony

For readings and sermons from the main pulpit, a pre-existing Shure Microflex gooseneck continues to serve with distinction. In addition, the cathedral draws upon five Shure SLX microphone channels for its wireless needs, while the choir continues to use the KSM109 condensers that were acquired in 2010. For assistive listening requirements, an Ampetronics ILD1000G amplifier connects the perimeter induction loop system.

Now adorning the north and south walls as large windows, Melbourne-based Digiglass recreated the 14 original biblical paintings by Australian artist, Robert Juniper. In addition, the original crucifix was rescued from the remnants of the destructive typhoon and is exhibited within the cathedral precinct. Welcome reminders of the impressive structure that was flattened on that fateful May Day in 2005. Rather than distract the congregants, the upgraded audio system creates the perfect ambience at the swipe of a touchscreen.

This feature appears in the November - December edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at www.proavl-central.com/subscribe/worship

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