Founded in 2012, Ruhrtriennale is a three-yearly cycle of music and arts events, which take place from August to October in Germany’s industrial Ruhr region. The prestige of staging this year’s opening production fell to Ensemble Modern, a renowned global collective of soloists, whose sound designer Norbert Ommer chose a Yamaha RIVAGE PM10 digital mixing system for the surrealist, unconventional opera Bählamms Fest.
Ruhrtriennale is a unique festival which embraces a wide range of performances, all taking place in venues created within the region’s industrial architecture. A new artistic director is appointed for each cycle. For 2021-2023 it is renowned German theatre producer and director Barbara Frey. To open the 2021 programme, Barbara chose the premiere of Bählamms Fest, a production which blurs the lines between reality and virtuality, based on the Leonora Carrington play The Feast of the Lambs.
Norbert Ommer has worked with Ensemble Modern for many years and had to design an audio system for the performances in Jahrhunderthalle Bochum, a former power station at the city’s Krupp steelworks. With staging that created a rural scene, complete with a pond and falling snow, Norbert’s sound design brought the sound production right into the audience.
“The challenge of Jahrhunderthalle is to transform an industrial hall into a concert hall. As only minor acoustic measures are possible - the visual character of the hall has to be preserved - I was completely dependent on using electroacoustic means,” says Norbert. “But this limitation also offers a great opportunity, if you know how to use it.”
Previously, Norbert was one of the first sound engineers to use the Yamaha PM1D digital mixing console for classical productions with high input/output counts. Before that he was, as he says “an enthusiastic user of the Yamaha PM3500 console in the analogue world!”
“This production of Bählamms Fest was not a traditional opera. An essential part of the composition was multiple sound feeds and communicating feelings of alienation,” he continues. “We used software from the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics/Music (IRCAM) to morph the sounds of the singers. Running on four Macintosh laptops, the voices were analysed to find the fundamental frequency, or pitch. The computer then played a pre-recorded sound based on the pitch it detected.
“In addition, the orchestra did not sit in an orchestra pit, but on a part of the staging area facing away from the audience.”
Norbert’s sound design was crucial for not only turning Jahrhunderthalle into the acoustic equivalent of an opera house, but for making sure the sound of the orchestra filled the entire auditorium and, as he says, “enveloped the singing voices”.
He designed a system with 124 microphone inputs, mixed on the Yamaha RIVAGE PM10 with RMio64-D Dante/MADI conversion I/O rack, routed to 44 outputs, including 12 channels of Ambisonics surround sound.