Regardless of the sculptured form of an architectural intervention, it is important in these times that people are routinely challenged to participate in the physical world in some form of social interaction. The manifestation of the programme plays an essential role in this ambition. This is new ground for the architect, who firstly has to succeed in tempting people to participate and then to reward them with a pure architectural experience. The watchtower with the shape of a gigantic robot has the same dimensions as the original Colossus of Rhodes, which was one of the seven ancient classic wonders of the world. It provides views over the spectacle of the brown coal excavations that are transforming the landscape around the towers into one of Germany’s biggest lakes. The tower is constructed entirely from steel and refers to the industrial appearance of the enormous machines in the open cast mine. Transparent grid floors and metal fabric façades create a game of views and vistas. 40,000 LED lights have been incorporated in the metal fabric, which create a media façade on all sides at night.
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Hamilton must be as big, loud and bold as American history, but then turn on a dime and zoom in emotionally and audibly on much smaller character moments. As it turns out, his key challenge was managing the energy and emotion of the show as expressed in the sound’s wide dynamic range.
The team was constantly asking themselves, “How do we make sure the audience is also taken to those same extremes, that we don’t limit the transformation that’s available to us through musical theater—because we also exaggerate it at times. This piece is ripe for that,” Steinberg says.
The big, loud scenes are intense. The Battle of Yorktown has “guns, percussive physical movement of the cast, a record-scratch solo and what I call angry bass guitar and drums,” Steinberg says. It also has some huge, booming explosions. This is a hip-hop musical, after all, and Steinberg asked himself, “How far can we go, without damaging anyone or anything, but still actually try to move air in the theater in a way that lives up to what a modern operatic version of that battle might be? Then, we also zoom in on the characters of Aaron Burr and Hamilton’s wife Eliza, so we asked, ‘How small, focused, dry, thin with volume, texture, reverb, can we go?’”
The DiGiCo SD7T control surface, along with its proprietary theater software, gives the team tremendous control over 28 matrixed outputs, which makes managing the wide dynamic range much easier, Crystal says.
These major dynamic shifts happen fast. In a pivotal Act Two moment, Hamilton is being blackmailed by political foes who have caught him in an illicit love affair. Hamilton chooses to publish a pamphlet admitting his guilt in great detail, sacrificing his personal reputation to try to save his political life. He seems oblivious to the impact this will have on his wife, Eliza.
This scene, Reynolds Pamphlet, “is incredibly raucous, exuberant, downright noisy,” Steinberg says. “That matches the chaos of the emotion of that moment, the havoc that’s been wreaked on Hamilton and his family. It is a lot like the Battle of Yorktown scene in that way.”
Immediately following that scene, Eliza sings the quiet, wrenching ballad “Burn,” and literally burns letters from Hamilton, onstage.
“We exaggerate the quiet moment of ‘Burn,’ immediately following Reynolds Pamphlet, and zoom in on the loneliness and isolation of Eliza, singing of how she’s going to deal with the emotional consequences, and of her resolve to respond. The orchestration is stripped down to solo piano. The focus of the entire production is on one person sitting on a bench with a lantern.”
It is an intensely quiet moment, absolutely the only time the audience can hear ventilation, lighting fans or anything making a whisper of a sound in the house, “And it tickles me that we can do both,” Steinberg says.
Part of managing the wide dynamic range is choosing gear that can handle the extremes. For example, “We have some extended low frequency in this show you don’t generally hear on Broadway,” Steinberg says. “We added low-frequency extension with these two Meyer Sound 1100-LFC subs, which are big for Broadway, and we heard new music (from keyboards and electronic track) that was inaudible downtown. We just didn’t have room for these monsters Off Broadway.”
The 250-pound powered subs, with two 18-inch drivers each and a 28Hz-100Hz range, sit vertically on the floor flanking the stage, out of sight. Four Meyer Sound 600-HP subs sit in plain sight, however, mere inches from audience members, in both orchestra and balcony seating boxes.
Another challenge of bringing hip-hop to Broadway is that the singers are not using handheld mics—“the instrument of hip-hop,” Steinberg says. And there wasn’t any useful way to make RF lav mics sound more like handhelds, so they ultimately did not try. “We simply took a more traditional Broadway approach, to make the RF mics sound good,” Crystal explains.
The leads wear a mix of head mics hidden in wigs (Hamilton) and customized booms for characters without hair (Burr, Washington). Burr’s boom also allows classic hip-hop vocal echo effects to go live rather than through playback, thanks to the proximity of the mic.
However in cabinet debate scenes in the Washington administration, staged like hip-hop throwdowns, a wooden dueling-pistol case is brought out and in the show’s only truly meta moment, Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson take out iconic Shure SM58 mics (actually Shure UR2s with Beta 58 heads). They go at each other gleefully, forcefully expressing their contrasting political and economic views in street-rhyming style. The mics were chosen for their classic hip-hop looks, as well as sound quality.
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