Giving North its Dues
Mackay Entertainment & Exhibition Centre provides a vision of a regional performing arts future with an impressive d&b Soundscape system.
Mackay, Queensland, is located about 380km south of Townsville and just shy of 1000km north of Brisbane. For the record, no one’s quite sure if Mackay is in Central Queensland or North Queensland, since there’s no real line on the ground to define these regions, but it’s certainly in the tropics. Mackay has been growing fast over the last 50 years thanks mainly to being the sugar capital of Australia and having a nearby port facility catering to a host of mining ventures inland of the city.
In 1988, with the community expanding rapidly, a new entertainment centre was opened. The Mackay Entertainment Centre (MEC) is an 1100-seat single level, raked auditorium and it immediately became an important cog in NARPACA (Northern Australian Regional Performing Arts Centres Association, today known as Stage Qld) group, a string of performing arts centres stretching from northern NSW right up to Cairns which is definitely in Far North Queensland. It was a ready-made circuit that hosted almost every regional touring act in Australia.
Next, a demand was recognised for a more convention-style building to complement the theatre, and construction began in 2008 to create what was imaginatively rechristened the Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre (MECC). The end result is the original theatre remains the same as a standalone venue, while the Convention Centre is a single large, flat-floor venue that can be divided into two, those spaces being named Hall A and Hall B.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the rigours of constant use, and the humid climate, had taken their toll on all the PA systems, and MECC’s Head of Audio, Mark Blake, began to sow the seeds for replacing the sound reinforcement simultaneously throughout the entire complex. A compromise was reached with the theatre auditorium getting its makeover in 2018, and the convention centre was done in 2021, finally getting the entire refit over the finish line. The four-year time period and incremental upgrades somewhat disguise what’s really been a substantial and impressive project encompassing the whole MECC complex.
FACING THE FUTURE
As far as Mark is concerned, the real challenge is the future. He’s a strong advocate for identifying what will be expected in technical terms in ten years’ time, rather than opting for what may be the best of current thinking now but risks rapid obsolescence. With that in mind, Mark tells us, “Immersive audio is the future, and we understand that our d&b Soundscape system is a long-term investment.” Mark believes that immersive audio systems like Soundscape will become the norm rather than the exception, and that programming any kind of performance be it music, theatre and even corporate extravaganzas will be a priority for producers in the future with the expectation that immersive audio will be often available. As such, d&b audiotechnik is at the cutting edge of this evolution of live music production.
Right from the beginning, MECC worked closely with NAS Solutions to design a networked system that cleverly catered for both the Convention Centre and the Theatre where it can—avoiding doubling-up on components that could be shared by the two venues. Eventually the system design was finalised and Part One of the project, the Theatre install, was completed in 2018 by HME. Next came Part Two, and Diversified won the contract for the Convention Centre and the vital task of linking everything together via the network. It became a matter of working around the MECC’s crowded schedule and accommodating tight windows of opportunity to get the projects done. Mark admits, “I think a few people got a bit nervous on occasions, wondering if we were going to get away with the short time-frames.” Diversified gets a big thumbs-up. “Diversified were so easy to deal with, they solved problems fast, and if I wanted something done differently, they never questioned that and just got on with the job.”
Brad Hodge from Diversified is quick to point out how NAS was an important part of getting things done. “The NAS commissioning team led by Doug Pringle was very impressive. There were many challenges with the rooms acoustics, but NAS was able to overcome these to deliver a beautiful-sounding system.”
As for what caused those tight time-frames, Diversified wins the prize for the best explanation. Brad tells us, “The biggest challenge was the impact of the 2021 Suez Canal obstruction. This caused the d&b shipment to be delayed meaning the PA wasn’t available to install as originally planned but arrived during a busy events season. We had to work around MECC’s packed calendar to deliver the project on time.”
Yep, that’s way better than someone’s dog eating the project plans.
Immersive audio is the future, and we understand that our d&b Soundscape system is a long-term investment
FLAT OUT, FOOT TO THE FLOOR
With the Theatre being much more of a traditional performance space, the d&b rig there is a true, modern configuration to take advantage of the added Soundscape capability when it’s employed. The left, right, and centre speaker placement of d&b Y-Series line source loudspeakers is augmented by flown d&b cardioid Vi-Subwoofers either side of the centre array, a pair of d&b B22 floor subwoofers left and right, and a spread of six E6 loudspeakers as imaging front fill across the lip of the stage. This is, of course, an excellent standard configuration as well for any acts that require a straightforward PA setup, and it’s easily achieved through the d&b R1 software. The E6 speakers can be derigged if the stage apron, which doubles as an orchestra pit, is raised flush with the main stage, and on rare occasions are placed around the front lip of the raised apron as front-row fill for low-level events such as lectures or business presentations.
The Convention Centre is that huge flat floor space that can be divided into Halls A and B, although you can say that both ‘halls’ and ‘convention centre’ are something of a misnomer when you consider the full, state-of-the-art d&b PA installed. A complete system of flown left and right arrays, a pair of flown subs plus floor subs, left and right front imaging fills and two centre fill loudspeakers all combine into an impressive concert rig that has absolutely everything covered — you can leave the touring rig back at the motel. A pair of flown delay speakers halfway down the room can be used as a main PA in Hall B if that space is created by deploying a moveable, dividing wall that allows for two separate venues at once, and a portable d&b system is on site as a more practical solution for smaller events.
As mentioned before, everything is networked together and Mark with his team, through the R1 software, can configure the entire system throughout the Theatre, Halls A and B in the Convention Centre, and a main foyer system into any variable required. It’s clever stuff.
THINGS TO MECC & DO
Given the different MECC spaces and their uses, it’s a triumph in system innovation and design, and a large feather in the cap of NAS and Diversified to complete a complex and significant project with a professional minimum of fuss.
Mark Blake is still looking to that future by running workshops with local music and theatrical groups about the possibilities of Soundscape and how immersive audio can be incorporated into upcoming productions. He’s not going to wait for touring productions to arrive with immersive Soundscape audio designs; the system is there for everyone to get excited about and use to its full potential. Along with everyone at the MECC, Mark’s aim is to establish the Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre as an industry leader, and one of the most sought-after venues for conventions and touring performances alike.