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Feature: Complex simplicity

Feature: Complex simplicity

Feature: Complex simplicity

The opening of a new campus in Kylami saw Rivers Church expand on its tried and tested AV-over-IP system design to bring maximum flexibility with minimal user expertise. Simon Luckhurst takes the tour

Being one of the biggest Christian worship organisations in South Africa, Rivers Church is constantly growing and always on the lookout for new locations to expand into. As a result of this, Rivers recently opened a new campus in Kyalami, Johannesburg capable of accommodating up to 1,000 of its newest members. Built to mirror the experience that worshippers have at its flagship Sandton campus nearby, the new complex is sizable and is able to accommodate all of the church’s growing needs, with enough space to dedicate specific areas to each of the individual age groups the congregation makes up.

Rivers' audio HOD Andy Illgner and SAW's technical director Nathan Ihlenfeldt
Rivers' audio HOD Andy Illgner and SAW's technical director Nathan Ihlenfeldt

Formerly known as Theatre on The Track, the new Rivers location is an old theatre/conferencing venue – perfectly suited for the church’s upcoming needs but requiring a complete overhaul to turn into a functioning worship space. This meant outfitting each of the areas with sound reinforcement and presentation solutions, as well as complete AVL systems for both the main and overflow ‘theatres’. Having worked closely with the church at its other campuses in the past, local distributors Stage Audio Works and DWR were bought on board to assist with the AV renovation.

‘We purchased the space in the middle of last year, but we officially took ownership in December. It was quite an old theatre built in the early 90s and we had just two months to turn it into a church,’ recalls Andy Illgner, the Audio HOD at Rivers Church. ‘Being a theatre already at least helped with the acoustics of the space and was a good starting point, but we had to have a look at what we could reuse and what we could keep. It turns out there wasn’t much we could reuse. We ended up practically gutting everything.’

With three auditoriums at the main campus in Sandton, the decision was made to pull the sound system out of one of those to bring to Kyalami, and then upgrade the Sandton site. As a result, the main Kyalami worship space now houses a Meyer Sound distributed speaker system. ‘We wanted to give the old system a try first because there was a lot of other stuff we had to allocate budget for too,’ notes Illgner. ‘The system works here just fine, but we will look to bring in the same solution as in Sandton here in the future for consistency.’

The backstage audio equipment rack
The backstage audio equipment rack

In addition to the main auditorium, Kyalami’s smaller auditorium now serves as a kid’s church, while the rest of the complex boasts six classrooms tailored to various children’s age groups. ‘Everything is tied together via a Dante network and everything runs through QSC’s Q-Sys integrated audio platform,’ Illgner elaborates. ‘It’s a fully networked campus. When we started using Q-Sys we realised the potential it has. Instead of placing mixing consoles in every room, we decided to go fully digital so everything can be controlled by a tablet.’

While DWR was responsible for the theatre lighting system in the main auditorium, Stage Audio Works was responsible for the rest of AV integration throughout the complex. ‘We were quite specific in what we wanted,’ remembers Illgner, ‘and Stage Audio Works had all of the products that we required and were great at supporting us. We’d also worked closely before at some of our other sites.’

Having worked together in the past and already being very familiar with integrating the type of systems Rivers was looking for, the biggest challenge for SAW was not so much the technical aspect, but the site management issues of concurrently renovating the complex while the project was being carried out. Having begun at the beginning of January, the entire AV integration – all 110 Dante endpoints spread far and wide throughout the building – was completed by the end of that same month. ‘Thankfully we already knew that the technical “recipe” worked, it was just liaising with everyone efficiently to get the work completed in such a small space of time,’ explains Stage Audio Works technical director, Nathan Ihlenfeldt.

The video monitoring setup in the rear control room
The video monitoring setup in the rear control room

The setup in the offshoot kid’s church rooms typically includes various configurations, depending on the size of the room, of Audac loudspeakers for audio playback, Sennheiser wireless mics with Dante AVIO audio network adapters for inputs and a wall-mounted tablet for control. A variety of Audac ceiling and wall mounted cabinets also served BGM requirements throughout the common, public spaces, such as the entrance foyer.

‘One of the biggest challenges here in terms of the Q-Sys programming was actually building the intercom over Q-Sys,’ shares Ihlenfeldt. ‘We hadn’t done that before at the other campuses. We have these Studio Technologies Model 370 Dante-enabled beltpacks and we had to design and deploy an intercom matrix from scratch. In Sandton, we have a Riedel matrix intercom, so we tried to replicate as much of that same functionality here. There are a lot of great things about a system of that nature, but it’s incredibly expensive and we didn’t really need all of that functionality. What we’ve designed, I think, is working really well. Plus the beltpacks are powered over Ethernet which really simplifies the cabling infrastructure.’

Central to this networked design thesis is the deployment of large number of regular Windows-based tablets throughout the facility. From these positions, users can select public space BGM and announcements, house lighting and control – all integrated through Q-Sys. The technical level of volunteers at Rivers is typically quite high, and the team were happy to deploy a system favouring greater flexibility instead of focussing purely on simplicity.

‘Training our volunteers is something we’re very keen to promote in-house,’ explains Illgner. ‘But at the same time, a system like this has massively reduced our volunteer overhead. Traditionally, there would have had to be a lot more involved to keep everything running.  Our technical team now consists of about 40 people and between us we are able to manage everything at all of the Rivers campuses.’

A Yamaha QL5 at FOH in the main auditorium
A Yamaha QL5 at FOH in the main auditorium

‘It’s also about logistics, and not needing to have someone available onsite at all times just to operate basic things,’ adds Ihlenfeldt. ‘With Q-Sys, even the cleaning staff can come in during the week when the tech team are not here and turn on what they need to do their job.’

‘Q-Sys is like having an extra staff member,’ jokes Illgner.

Back in the main auditorium, mixing is handled by a Dante-enabled Yamaha QL5 console and is connected to a computer running Reaper for multi-track recording. A Meyer Sound Galileo handles audio processing while Sennheiser EW500 wireless mic and EW300 IEM units support the pastor and presenters onstage. A gigabit Ethernet fibre ring has also been installed that feeds into seven racks and runs around the campus and auditorium.

‘We deployed a Layer 1 fibre network,’ explains Ihlenfeldt. ‘In our industry in South Africa there aren’t many companies able to do this, it makes sense when you deliver a project with modern infrastructure of this nature that you can do all of the optical work yourself.’

Combinations of Audac Ateo series cabinets provide audio coverage in all of the kids' rooms
Combinations of Audac Ateo series cabinets provide audio coverage in all of the kids' rooms

Onstage, SAW has deployed a 3.9mm pixel pitch LED wall developed in-house. ‘This is our Pixel Plus XCite series and it’s specifically designed for house of worship applications,’ comments Ihlenfeldt. ‘It has a number of features from an image quality perspective and great usability. Electronically, it features the newest generation Novastar control system that allow for a really deep grey scale at low brightness.’

Video is also a major part of the experience at Rivers. While this makes the quality of SAW’s LED videowall all the more important, it’s also led to a sizable setup of video equipment to pull off cheaply, reliably and effectively. ‘We are quite a visual church,’ highlights Illgner. ‘Even if the pastor is here in person, there’s a lot of different slides and presentations that aid the preaching.’

At the back of the auditorium is a control room housing the video equipment. The team uses a StreamDeck, a device typically used by video gamers for recording and livestreaming, with a Blackmagic solution capable of recalling different presets and providing the necessary switching capabilities. Everything is filmed and streamed in Full HD.

Audac HS208 two-way horn speakers cover the entrance lobby
Audac HS208 two-way horn speakers cover the entrance lobby

‘The main infrastructure is all Blackmagic, which has become an organisation-wide standard now,’ notes Ihlenfeldt. ‘But we’re also using a Living as One live link system which is pretty cool. It’s specifically designed for the house of worship market, and their key technology enables reliable live links over unreliable connections. In the past, to do this kind of thing, especially with the quality requirements for a big screen, would require really expensive connectivity. It’s based on a Google Cloud backend and works really well. It adds some latency to achieve this, but no more than two minutes, with is perfectly fine for our use.’

The fast-moving integration project at Kyalami has been both typical and unique in equal spades. A vast array of complicated and flexible technology has been integrated in a way that allows the system to function simply but effectivity for every-day and non-technical use. For the Rivers tech teams, it’s the best of both worlds and ticks all of the boxes.

‘You never quite know what the future holds, but from a technical perspective I think we are well setup,’ concludes Illgner. ‘We will look at bringing the sound system here into line with that at our Sandton campus in the near future. Although the Q-Sys design is expansive, it’s also really quite simple from an audio processing perspective. There’s a no real limitations to what we can do here.’



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