The $100m Event Centre tops The Star’s $870m transformation.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
So it is finished. The Star’s $870m transformation has had its multi-faceted $100m Event Centre jewel neatly placed into the crown, and the job is done.
Featuring an overall capacity in theatre-style for up to 3000, and the ability to host 1000 for gala functions – with the help of a new commercial grade kitchen – the Event Centre is being branded as ‘Sydney’s premium events and entertainment destination’.
But titles can be misleading.
What’s not trumpeted quite so loudly, is the fact the Event Centre is arguably the best-sounding performance venue in the country.
Simon Lappas, Director of Audio Systems Logic – which was part of the integration joint venture, together with Stowe Electrical and Jands – is a little less equivocal: “It is the best amplified concert venue in Australia. I can comfortably say that. And there won’t be anything to rival it for quite some time. Echo Entertainment had the money, and was not shy to spend it. But they wanted to ensure that what they were spending money on would be the best they could achieve. They certainly did get that.”
So, yes, Star has an A-grade events centre on its hands, but it has a superb concert venue – something the Australian entertainment community is only beginning to get its heads around.
A SONIC BELTER
We’ll take a look at the lighting and staging a little later, but the real action is in the audio. The d&b PA is a belter and the venue itself has been acoustically treated to get the most of it. As I mentioned – the Event Centre is a thoroughbred concert venue. Stephen Wickham, Entertainment Manager for the Event Centre isn’t complaining. “The sound is the most talked about element of the venue since it opened; and believe me it has quite a few other amazing features, such as the vision and broadcast facilities.
“The primary purpose however was to be capable of presenting ‘A list’ concert artists with quick turnarounds,” confirmed Wickham. “Installing a sound system of the highest spec that would be acceptable to any touring artist was part of the plan to achieve this.”
The main PA packs 12 J cabs per side (10 x J8 and 2 x J12s), with 4 x J-Subs flown and six of the cardioid 21-inch J-Infra subs on the floor.
Lappas: “The d&b J-Series provides a very hi-fi like sound: a very smooth and controlled top end, very good upper-mid attack, and amazing low frequency energy. Yet, it’s all tightly controlled, and remains quite neutral and dry. It doesn’t add anything extra that doesn’t need to be there.”
“We had Garbage in here earlier in the year,” enthuses Technical Manager, Ben Whatmore. “We had the band sitting at 115dB at the mixing console and the amps were only ticking over at around 30% capacity. There’s mountains of headroom.”
BANQUET HALL WITH THE LOT
Crown ought to be watching its back, as the Event Centre in banquet mode is something to behold. The dedicated kitchen and floorspace can accommodate 1000 sitting down. Each table has its own dedicated, permanently installed Martin MAC101 moving light for pinspot mood. As you’d expect, there’s a large (7m) screen upstage-centre for a Christie Roadster HD20K-J to do its work. Either side of the proscenium are two other permanently positioned Christie Roadster HD20K-J projectors. There are two screens either side – high, for when the balcony is in use, and low, for banquet mode – and the projectors move up and down to suit.
Dimming & Power
ETC Sensor3 System with
264 x 2.3kW dimmers
12 x 5.0kW dimmers
198 x Hot Power modules (for moving lights)
Conventional Stage Lighting
24 x ETC Source Four 19°
24 x ETC Source Four 26°
6 x ETC Source Four 50°
12 x ETC Source Four zoom 15°-30°
12 x ETC Source Four zoom 25°-50°
60 x ETC Source Four PAR
9 x 4-way Molefay
12 x Vari-Lite VL3000 spot
12 x Vari-Lite VLX3 wash
4 x Clay Paky Alpha spot 1200
2 x Clay Paky Alpha wash 1200
2 x Clay Paky Alpha wash Halo
90 x Martin MAC 101
4 x Robert Juliat Super Korrigan 1.2kW HMI
GrandMA2 Ultra Light
Fittingly, John Farnham – the most bankable Australian artist in existence – christened the room.
Clusters Left & Right
20 x d&b J8
4 x d&b J12
12 x d&b D12 amplifiers with DSP
Cardioid Flown Subwoofer Cluster
8 x d&b J-Sub
8 x d&b D12 amplifiers with DSP
7 x d&b Qi7
1 x d&b Qi10
3 x d&b D12 amplifiers with DSP
Cardioid Infra Floor Subwoofer
6 x d&b J-Infra
6 x d&b D12 amplifiers with DSP
FOH & Monitor Consoles
2 x Digico SD10
INTERNATIONAL TROPHY CONSULTANT?
Much has been made of the appointment of French Canadian consultant Sceno-Plus “creators of The Colosseum at Caesars Palace and The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas”. Clearly, Echo Entertainment wanted to guarantee itself a world-class entertainment venue and did what any responsible casino would do — go to Vegas and hire a lead consultant that speaks that language.
“There’s a lot of talent in Australia that could have delivered the Event Centre. Not taking anything away from Sceno-Plus, but my only disappointment was that there wasn’t more support for local talent. Saying that, we’re proud to be associated with the project, we’re all proud of what’s been achieved.”
That was Simon Lappas, Director of Audio Systems Logic (ASL). His business was engaged by then head contractor, Brookfield Multiplex, to check on the Sceno-Plus design brief: was it detailed enough? Were there any omissions? Were there any obvious savings to be made? Part of ASL’s response included recommendations about the technology — incorporating Media Matrix for the digital routing, Crestron control, Digico consoles, the broadcast infrastructure and the consideration of an alternative PA that would have realised a saving (d&b won the day based on a superior solution for this venue). That was the gear… but the ‘devil’ was more in the detail:
Simon Lappas: “‘Tightly controlled electroacoustic performance requirements’ – that should have been the brief. But even though the venue operates in multiple modes of operation, Sceno-Plus hadn’t defined what performance the venue needed to achieve, insofar as direct and reverberant levels, speech intelligibility, coverage… we found that odd. For reverberation time, a requirement at 500Hz was only specified. We defined those additional parameters. We ended up doing all the EASE modelling, taking into account internal noise levels, room acoustic finishes, and we looked at all the modes of operation, which hadn’t been covered by that consultant.
“I should add that Sceno-Plus is very good. As a company it knows what’s required to have a high-quality entertainment venue. But they hadn’t worked in Australia – the contracting environment is different and specifications need to be prepared as a contract document defining exactly what the builder needs to do and what must be achieved. So if you don’t tightly define what needs to be achieved, then the design objectives may not need to be achieved. That’s why we were brought in, to verify that things would work. Sceno-Plus remained the client’s consultant, and in our final role we were the delivery consultant – ensuring the design intent was codified and achieved.”
This longitudinal view shows something of the capabilities of the space. Using operable acoustic partitions, the room can be divided into two separate soundproofed sections for simultaneous events. The mobile ceilings decorated with custom fixtures can be lowered to maintain a warm atmosphere in banquet configuration. The balcony section seats 1047. Four VIP lounges nestle under the balcony. Hidden under the floor of the VIP area is the telescopic seating section for 720. It deploys in a couple of minutes. Once retracted you have a 1077sqm pillar-free floor space. Over the stage you’ll find 40 rigging points with a commensurate number of ASM Otto one-tonne chain hoists from Jands.
BUILDING THE ROOM FOR SOUND
It’s hard to bring to mind many (or any?) other Australian venues purpose-built to accommodate high-SPL amplified sound. Rock venues and arenas are mostly fairly acoustically hostile. Theatres and performing arts centres are generally optimised for speech or natural reinforcement of performances. Even a top-class refit such as Hamer Hall in Melbourne’s Arts Centre has at its root the best possible compromise between an MSO orchestral performance and an amplified gig.
Not so the Event Centre. Not only was the room designed to accommodate high-octane sound, the electroacoustic modelling has had the luxury of knowing what PA would be exciting the space, so the EASE plots were an order of magnitude more precise. Again, Simon Lappas of ASL was leading the charge: “We imposed significantly tighter control over how sound reinforcement could be optimised and the acoustic environment enhanced. Through our EASE modelling we defined more clearly the STI (Speech Transmission Index), the direct and reverberant sound pressure levels (we have achieved a very smooth reverb curve), and then applied the very predictable performance of the d&b J system upon it: data provided by d&b audiotechnik is extremely detailed and accurate, for example supplying beam-width plots. With the system installed, flat, un-tuned, straight out the box, it sounded great; with a less than 2% deviation from the prediction. In a building this size that’s very, very close.”
Making it sound amazing inside the room was the primary consideration but it took acoustic specialists, Acoustic Logic Consultancy, to crunch the numbers on how the space would be effectively sound proof. The d&b infrasubs, as the name suggests, create tsunami-proportioned wavelengths, so the brief was tough. Models were even run on how the energy was to enter the mechanical ducts and travel throughout the building — we don’t want the bus tour biddies getting a free Farnham concert in the pokie parlour… just kidding. Structurally, the Event Centre is ingeniously built – a little outside the scope of this article – but there’s an entire floating slab throughout to control some of the rampant energy exciting the space and potentially scaring the neighbours.
Everything about the Event Centre is focussed on efficiency. For a start it was a very difficult space to build – an engineering feat you might say. Due to planning and space restrictions the Event Centre couldn’t build any further upwards or outwards. Being completely pillar-free, there were some extraordinary measures taken to ensure the venue could handle the weight impositions. Structural supports extend right down to the light rail level, for example.
The venue is flexible and gets the absolute most out of every square metre.
Having PA bragging rights might sound like reason enough to install a million-dollar sound system, but the technical infrastructure has been selected to make life easier – easier for events and acts to bump in and out efficiently, and easier for technical and hospitality staff to maximise the venue’s occupancy.
Entertainment manager, Stephen Wickham, picks up on the notion of the Event Centre’s enviable position of being able to ‘buy’ A grade international acts: “The venue needs to be set up to work well for the times we buy one-off shows but we’re also geared to hire the venue for those on tour.
“Either way, having the venue high up in the complex (where there’s a distance from loading dock to stage), the idea is to limit the bump-in time. Which is one big reason for investing so heavily in the concert PA – no need to bump that in. If artists can use as much of what we have in our own inventory then it saves everyone time. [Saying that, the gargantuan stage lift connecting the loading dock with the stage, supplied and installed by Jands, is something to behold.]
“For most big concerts, with the four lighting trusses over the stage, the positions are largely there – it’s easy and quick to throw up a big lighting rig. We went with Vari-Lite moving lights because we knew visiting LDs would use the gear and be happy – especially US acts. If there’s a need for additional lighting, we can get that in.
“The stage grid itself has some 40 one-tonne ASM Otto chain motors. Out over the room is a similar setup: in banquet mode the grids can be lowered to create a false ceiling with additional lighting.
“Another fantastic asset we have are the 100-odd Martin MAC101s. For a banquet of 1000, all 100 tables have their own spot, programmed in any RGB colour we like. We don’t have to get up to focus them. We can easily switch to preset looks for the different banqueting setups with the GrandMA console. If we use the floor for a dance party, then the MAC101s can, of course, be used as additional moving lights.
“All up it’s another reason why we can promise such quick turnarounds. You might have 4000 people in for a big concert and be set up for a lunchtime banquet the following day.”
OB? OH YES
There’s no question that The Star is trying to poach some of the red carpet action from Crown and its Palladium room. What with the Logies, the Allan Border Medal and other larger charity balls etc, Crown has had the glamour end of the market wrapped up. No longer.
Attracting the high-profile awards to The Star is just as much about selling the venue’s broadcast credentials as it is about wooing Lara Bingle and Rebecca Judd with penthouse suites and a day in the spa. Echo has invested heavily in the broadcast infrastructure. There are fibre links throughout, and the outside broadcast (OB) bay even has its own electrical substation.
Ben Whatmore, Event Centre technical manager: “Ausgrid built us our own substation for this room. It’s directly over the road, comes in and supplies the venue, the kitchen, the breakout areas and the OB bay with isolated three-phase power.”
Stephen Wickham: “From our control room there are audio multicore and DVN (Telstra’s digital video network) fibre links for the outside broadcast guys. We have one up and one down linking directly to the Telstra hub in the city. This allows for full HD video live broadcast to anywhere without uplink trucks. All up, that’s a big part of the investment. OB trucks can pull up at the loading dock and plug in 12 or more cameras and everything is ready to go – the power, the patching, the comms for telephone and fibre links… no additional cabling required. It means you can stage a large, televised awards ceremony without spending a day running cable. That’s a big achievement.”
Little wonder, then, that OB companies are more than happy to back their trucks up.
Smaller events haven’t been forgotten. They will find themselves getting plenty of production bang for the buck without a legion of cameramen and crew.
Ben Whatmore: “For the John Farnham concert, for example, we used the in-house Sony HD PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) cameras combined with one manned mobile camera. Effectively we were achieving a five-camera shoot with one-man labour.”
I put it to Entertainment Manager, Stephen Wickham, that Echo was underselling the venue’s concert production credentials, painting itself as a conferencing and events venue. “I understand what you’re saying, but we simply can’t fill the first few months of the venue’s life with A List musical acts. It takes time to build momentum and to get the word out. On the other hand, events buyers book months and years in advance, so the wheels need to start turning straight away there.”
Fair dues. But if you’re anything like me (and weren’t on the Farnham and Garbage guestlist earlier in the year) you can’t wait to see and hear a first-class music act at the peak of their powers making the most of a room designed specifically for just such an occasion. Mouth watering stuff.
The Star Event Centre: www.star.com.au
Sceno-plus (Consultant): www.sceno-plus.com/en
National Audio Systems (d&b): 1800 441 440 or www.nationalaudio.com.au
Audio Systems Logic (Audiovisual & Electroacoustic Consultant): www.audiosystemslogic.com.au
Jands (Staging, Vari-Lite, et al): (02) 9582 0909 or www.jands.com.au
Saltec: (02) 9707 2070 or www.saltec.com.au
VRS (Christie Australia): (07) 3844 9514 or www.vrs.com.au
Group Technologies (Digico): (03) 9354 9133 or www.grouptechnologies.com.au
Show Technology (MA Lighting, Martin): (02) 9748 1122 or www.showtech.com.au
Hills SVL (Crestron, Media Matrix): (02) 9647 1411 or www.hillssvl.com.au