Constellation Turns 15
Meyer Sound Constellation Acoustic System Marks 15th Anniversary, a wealth of installation, and an acoustically-transparent future
Meyer Sound’s Constellation acoustic system, introduced in 2006, has earned acceptance across a broadening range of applications in classrooms, boardrooms, houses of worship, and restaurants alongside the technology’s initial focus on performing arts centres and music venues.
“Constellation earned its outstanding reputation simply because it works so brilliantly,” says Constellation Project Director John Pellowe. “In the musical world, it offers the ability to enhance critical listening for both performers and audience. This ability, combined with its reputation for transparent, natural sound, has attracted praise from some of the world’s leading artists, including orchestral conductors like Michael Tilson Thomas, Vladimir Spivakov, Kent Nagano and Rafael Payare as well as musicians like pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and violinist Joshua Bell. They have fallen in love with Constellation because it allows them to hear the music they are making in an optimum environment, and audiences appreciate it for the same reason — though audiences may not even be aware of the system and the critical role it plays in their appreciation of a performance.”
Constellation provides flexibility across a wide spectrum of hall sizes and applications, from the 2,500 capacity Jakarta International Expo (JIExpo) Theatre to the Seattle Symphony’s intimate, low-ceiling Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center, now transformed into an ideal space for a variety of chamber and experimental music concerts. Constellation also expands dimensionality for immersive spectaculars, including four resident Las Vegas productions of Cirque du Soleil and two by Dragone in China and Las Vegas.
Constellation has enhanced audience enjoyment or enriched creative potentials in high-profile installations like the San Francisco Symphony’s innovative SoundBox, the New World Symphony’s outdoor SoundScape Park WALLCAST, Nine Trees Shanghai Future Art Centre — the first Constellation system in China — and a live audience broadcast studio for a major US television network. Houses of worship are employing the power and flexibility of Constellation to improve congregational involvement and to host both contemporary and traditional worship in the same space.
The extraordinary acoustical flexibility afforded by Constellation has provided solutions in applications outside musical performance. In education, leading institutions like University of Copenhagen’s Maersk Tower research building and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute medical school are using Constellation to allow more direct and intimate communication between students and professors in larger classrooms and lecture halls. Constellation is also employed to create multiple acoustical environments for research in human hearing at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and Northwestern University in Illinois.
Constellation has been adopted to improve corporate communications in auditoriums (Telstra in Australia, for example) and boardrooms (Jyske Bank in Denmark), while also offering push-button options to convert the room into a performance venue for company or community music ensembles. And restaurants are now discovering the unique ability of Constellation to create a lively acoustical ambience while still allowing quiet, intimate conversations among patrons.
Constellation’s unique capability to transform any room’s acoustics allows architects to conceive spaces differently from the outset, according to John Pellowe. “The room acoustics are no longer dictated by the physical structure alone,” he observes. “Architects now can design performance spaces with a lower room volume without compromising the acoustics. This not only reduces construction costs but also long-term energy use. More and more, we are finding new performance spaces designed from the outset for Constellation, as was the case with new halls in Norway, Estonia, and Indonesia.”
According to Constellation Design Manager Pierre Germain, that same power and flexibility can be applied to transform practically any structure into a viable performance space. “National Sawdust in Brooklyn was just that, a sawdust factory,” he notes. “SoundBox in San Francisco was a rehearsal space, and before that it was a warehouse. Increasingly, acoustical consultants realise that, regardless of what a building was originally intended to do, with Constellation we can make it do things acoustically it could never do before.”
For Germain, the past is prologue as the pace of Constellation projects quickens in the post-pandemic season. “It’s been quite a journey over the years,” he says. “We’ve learned a lot, but we are continuing to find ways to make the systems better and finish them faster by applying the knowledge we’ve accumulated.”
Germain also credits Constellation’s preeminent reputation in the industry to the turnkey approach, with no reliance on third-party manufacturers outside of microphones conforming to Meyer Sound specifications made by DPA. “It all goes back to that core philosophy of John Meyer,” he reflects. “The more we can control in house, the more we can guarantee the end result.”
Constellation is an electronically adjustable room acoustic system that combines ambient sensing microphones, advanced digital signal processing, and a system of loudspeakers to modify the reverberant characteristics of a space. With the push of a touchscreen button, Constellation can tailor the room acoustic to achieve optimum results for any type of event. The same physical space can have the natural acoustics of an ideal classroom, chamber music hall, symphony hall or a vast cathedral. Constellation is supplied as a turnkey solution, with all hardware and software components supplied through Meyer Sound, and with Meyer Sound’s Constellation team responsible for design, supervision of installation, and final commissioning and tuning. At the heart of Constellation is the patented VRAS (Variable Room Acoustic System) created by New Zealand acoustician Dr. Mark Poletti. Since its introduction in 2006, Meyer Sound Constellation acoustic systems have been completed or are currently underway in 27 countries on six continents.