In 2018, Dartington technical manager Jim Whittle contacted JHAV to instigate refit of the existing technical infrastructure. Their existing audio system composed of lower-end portable components struggled to cover the space, and didn’t match the classic aesthetic of the venue at all. A similar story could be found with the lighting system – dead fixtures, noisy working ones, and none pointed in the right direction!
Furthermore, various well-meaning but untrained volunteers had tried to improve the system for their shows, resulting in miswiring and some damage. Finally, the house lighting rig, composed of fixed angle luminaires only, was rarely suitable for an event. It also lacked options for preset recall by untrained staff.
Our brief from Jim was fivefold:
- Improve the intelligibility of spoken word throughout the space, across both ground floor and balcony
- Improve the in-house stage lighting system
- Allow untrained staff to operate basic functions of the sound and lighting systems
- Do not detract from the classic architectural beauty of the space
- Provide excellent value for money, working within a strict budget
Once Dartington’s requirements and budget had been established, we set to work designing an appropriate system for the space. We took physical measurements to allow virtual modelling of the space for audio and lighting coverage. Virtually planning loudspeaker and luminaire positions allows us to experiment with different manufacturers, models, and placements of fixture to find the most effective solution for a given budget.
In Dartington’s case, we chose a distributed audio system of HK Audio Elements columnar loudspeakers in RAL white. The Elements’ wide horizontal dispersion gave excellent uniformity over the entire space. Meanwhile, the narrower vertical throw meant that the system could be used for seated or standing audiences with no adjustment. As an extra benefit, the reverberant field of the hall was minimally excited as a matter of course, increasing clarity.
For the hall’s lighting system, we chose a mixture of fanless RGBAWL LED static fixtures from Prolight Concepts, and moving head washes by Chauvet. The addition of the ‘L’ (lime) output gives lighting designers an extra tool for making a look really ‘pop’.
After our installation, there would be no easy way of accessing these lights for servicing or cleaning. This meant any active fans would eventually become clogged with dust and grime, necessitating passively cooled equipment. As an extra benefit to our choice of passively cooled fixtures, their lack of cooling fans meant that ambient noise in the hall was greatly reduced. Our supply of moving head washes in addition to static fixtures allowed different areas of the hall to be lit, and far more easily than in previous setups.
Dartington’s Great Hall is an extremely busy venue, with events happening several times a week. Because of this, it was not possible to find a clear period to complete all works. Instead, we planned a phased method, breaking down the installation into stages which could fit into dark periods in the Hall’s scheduling. We took delivery of materials to our headquarters, rather than having them delivered straight to site. This allowed our install technicians ample time to test and configure various elements of the system, before even arriving at the hall.
Because of the Hall’s Grade II Listed status, we barely modified the hall’s existing structure. In most cases, we re-used authorised mounting holes from previous installations, and existing mounting hardware for lighting. This approach massively reduced the amount of paperwork required by Dartington’s head office.
We programmed audio EQ and time alignment data into Lab.gruppen digital amplifiers, meaning that any other ‘EQ to taste’ by guest users of the hall could easily be reverted. We mounted lighting fixtures using the hall’s existing hammer beam superstructure. As we were installing the lighting system, we took input from Dartington’s principal lighting designer Patrick Collins to create preset states which matched common uses of the hall.
With our installation complete, we checked back in with Jim and Patrick at the conclusion of a run of shows which took place immediately after our work. They had both received compliments from incoming engineers and projects to the hall, and Dartington has continued to run the Hall as an event space with regular bookings.
Despite this steady usage, we haven’t had to modify the Great Hall installation in any way, proving that good equipment selection installed by professionals can continue to provide excellent value for money for years to come.