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GET THE BALL ROLLING - Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City

"We Like to go after the real design challenges." - Steve Sockey, SIA Acoustics

New York, NY - Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City is a fixture in the medical world, but it also has its place on the social calendar of Manhattan's rich and famous, thanks to the annual Crystal Ball. The popular fundraiser hosts 1,200 people in the hospital's Cummings atrium within the Guggenheim Pavilion - designed by architect I.M. Pei - for an evening of dining and dancing. The event typically raises more than $4 million, so ensuring that attendees have a great time is paramount to its success. That, of course, includes being able to hear all the music and speeches - but not so loudly as to disrupt dinner conversations and networking. As a result, the audio preparation for the evening's festivities gets an unusual amount of attention for a fundraiser.

SIA Acoustics, based in New York, has provided sound design on the Crystal Ball for five years now, using equipment suplied by Scharff-Weisberg. For the 2006 event - its 21st year - SIA brought some time-tested solutions and new concepts to the table. Every year, the space, filled with glass and concrete, presents a challenge: taming the many reflective surfaces in the towering, boomy space. Adding hundreds of chatting, dining people, music and announcements to it all only makes the naturally noisy space even louder.

In answer to that, Steve Sockey, senior consultant at SIA, brought in acoustic panels - more than 620, in fact. "It's literally tens of thousands of squere feet of absorption," he remarked. The panels were hung from the ceiling, placed behind velour drapes, secreted on to balconies overlooking the atrium, and more.

Meanwhile, loudspeakers, too were in abudance with boxes from Meyer Sound and Renkus-Heinz on hand, all put to use through two seperate audio systems - one designed for announcements and music, and another specifically for music in the dance area. With space in short supply, a key factor was to keep the music system focused squarely on the dance floor, so that songs' volume would drop off noticeably as one passed from dancing to the dining area.

The various loudspeakers were run by 12 BSS Soundweb units placed on the speaker trusses, housed in frames created by Richard Nelson of SIA, and controlled with a custom program by SIA's Barry Vaniman.
"There are 48 zones in the system, and obviously all this has to be delayed, EQ'd and controlled in some practical way," said Sockey. "Barry made a Soundweb program to manage all the zones, so we decided if we're going to do that, we might as well just drop all the Soundwebs out where they need to be, connected by CAT-5 cable, rather than having them in one rack. A network and CAT-5 cable is more elegant solution than tons of multi-core." The control of the Soundwebs was handled at the mix position, which also sported a Yamaha DM1000 console for the occasion.

The bulk of the loudspeakers used, as in previous years, was from Meyer Sound, with Meyer UPJs, M1Ds, M2Ds and M2D subs put to use. Placed variously around the site, numerous custom mounts were on hand, including some above revolving doorways. Another kind of custom mount was used above the dance floor, where eight M2Ds and M2D subs were paired and hung facing downwards, each duo surrounded by a cube of absorption panels.

In a new addition for the event, Renkus-Heinz Iconyx loudspeakers were also put to use. Sockey observed, "We have two Iconyx IC16s and one Iconyx IC32, and actually, an interesting point to consider is that this job used to be over 100 loudspeakers and now just three arrays of Renkus-Heinz Iconyx has eliminated around 30 loudspeakers."

Aimed squarely at the installation market, Iconyx loudspeakers are not typically used in the rental and staging world, as Ralph Heinz, senior vice president, and Dave Rahn, national sales manager - both on hand to oversee Iconyx's application - admitted. Rahn, seeing the Crystal Ball implementation as "another proof of concept", noted that in its current construction, Iconyx have to be "treated a little bit more with kid gloves," but hinted that the company may look to expand the line, adding, "there are some minimal changes that we could do to the current construction and form factor that would make it much more attractive to the corporate AV market."

Since the Medical Center owns the space used for the event, setup took place at a slower rate than one might expect, with the initial load-in taking place on the Saturday prior to the Thursday evening Ball. Soundchecking didn't commerce until mere hours before the event - after all, one tries to be quiet around a hospital - and that was one of the more simple preparations that day. With the house mix position in the middle of a balcony that serves as the waiting and admittance area, hospital admissions had to to be moved to another location for the evening - a massive task involving IT professionals, movers and the like. Meanwhile, nearby courtyards where turned into tented kitchens to supplement the hospital's own food preparation facilities, which had to handle both the event and current patients. Add to the mix more than 200 waiters and support stuff, and even with the acoustic panels and careful planning, there was still quite the potential for a loud, clamorous evening.

But that didn't happen, with each department and system running like clockwork. For the sound reinforcement crew, too, everything went just as planned. "We like to go after the real design challenges, the ones that are really important presentations within really bad spaces," said Sockey, surveying the scene just hours before the Crystal Ball. "That's what's interesting and that's what keeps it fun. The minute it becomes routine or if it becomes the same old bill, forget it. We're not interested in doing it."

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