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Creating natural sound: the live experience

4th June 2018

“It’s always a challenge when you walk into a venue and find the reverberations measurable in hours, rather than milliseconds.”

If you’re frustrated by your room’s acoustics you might like to think of Adam Hornblow, Technical Director of PSL Media Group, next time you rail at a wrongly placed window.

Sound desk and stage at 26 Leake Street

View of the sound desk and stage at the launch event, 26 Leake Street, Waterloo.

The challenge was presented by 26 Leake Street, a brand-new venue in former railway arches under Waterloo Station which launched last week with a gig headlined by Irish harpist Lisa Canny.

Oozing atmosphere, lit with spots of colour, the space is punctuated by massively thick walls stretching up to barrel-vaulted ceilings. Thank goodness for the bar, food orders and sound desk. Without them, and the milling crowds, it would be downright spooky.

Twenty-six Leake Street, the new venue off the Graffiti Tunnel beneath Waterloo Station.

The challenge for a sound engineer is immediately clear. It’s tunnels. All tunnels. “They create resonance where you don’t want it—create bounce back off the roof where don’t want it,” explained Adam.

The stage filled the end of one of the tunnels, channelling sound to the end where it was joined by another tunnel. “Rather than do something with the whole venue, we went for creating the right acoustic space in the main area that people were occupying,” explained Adam. “We dressed around the stage and above it, to ensure the mics picked up sound that was nice and clean and dry. And there was more treatment above the band’s head where you couldn’t stop the resonance.” Away from the main performance area, it was surprisingly agreeable reproduction. “We infilled other spaces, so you heard intelligible sound if you weren’t in the main space.”

Belle Roscoe, support band at 26, Leake Street's launch event.

Adam takes a different view from many others in the industry, using horn-loaded point-source speakers. “We point them in such a fashion that they only cover the audience, not overhead or clattering off the roof space. It’s very important to get it right; if you step out of the coverage area you’ll notice a difference, especially in the higher frequencies.”

Although they’re generally perceived as a club speaker, rather than for live music, Adam favours Funktion One. “They were created by Tony Andrews and John Newsham, though—the godfathers of live music,” said Adam. “I believe in points of sound, rather than a line array. All natural sounds come from single source—I recreate that with speakers.”

Of course, no one’s ever totally happy when it’s possible to do more.

Tunnels at 26, Leake Street.

“Twenty-six Leake Street is a very interesting space with the potential to be fantastic,” said Adam. “But it’s a challenging environment and fundamental that someone gets involved who understands acoustics.

“Where there are great big walls and large sections of ceiling, you can just coat them and make sure that reverb… Well, it should be non-existent, and it’s better to deliberately add it back in. If the room is doing that for you, you’ve not got control and can’t turn individual instruments up or down.

“I’d love to acoustically treat it. On the night, though, we achieved what we aimed to do and it was an enjoyable performance.”

For the bands featured at the inaugural event, come back for next week’s blogpost.

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