Seven years at Uppsala Cathedral
SWEDEN: The tallest church in Scandinavia, Uppsala Cathedral’s history dates back to the 13th century. It previously served as the burial site for Swedish royalty and currently houses a range of historical items in the cathedral Treasury Museum, located in the north tower. Artefacts include the golden dress that belonged to Margareta, queen of Denmark, Sweden and Norway until 1412, which is the only surviving, preserved evening gown from the Middle Ages anywhere in the world.
A place of much historical significance, the cathedral is listed as a protected structure. However, a congregation still attends regular services within the sanctuary and as such, effective sound reinforcement is required. This can be difficult to achieve, particularly because any installation need not affect the building’s stonework.
Viktor Wadelius from Swedish systems integrator Svensk Klimatstyrning AB was tasked with upgrading the audio solution in the cathedral as part of a larger technical infrastructure installation. The project took almost seven years to complete due to the great care that needed to be taken in not harming the listed building.
‘It's a very personal project,’ states Mr Wadelius. ‘I've worked with the cathedral on every electrical element. It means a lot to me that everything is right. It's the biggest cathedral in Sweden and I also grew up in Uppsala, so it's a big part of who I am.
‘The Cathedral is very big, and one of its unique characteristics is that during the services, the priests move around a lot,’ he continues. ‘They start in the middle of the cathedral, at the central pulpit, and then head up to the high altar, then back to the pulpit, and so on. One service will take place across many locations - we call them scenarios. It's unusual to have to create a speaker system for this kind of environment.’
The system chosen was a Renkus-Heinz Iconyx solution, providing the ability to handle the challenging acoustic environment, while providing steerable control and the sound quality required.
‘We headed out into Europe to visit the big cathedrals and find out what they were using to solve similar problems, to see what they had chosen,’ Mr Wadelius recalls. ‘We went to Cologne, Germany, and we went to Lund, here in Sweden, and we went to Trondheim in Norway, and they all had Renkus-Heinz. They were all happy with their sound systems. So then we made contact through Renkus-Heinz distributor Benum Sweden AB.’
‘We were invited to Uppsala to perform a demonstration,’ explains Renkus-Heinz regional sales manager Håkan Sjoo. ‘It was immediately clear that this was a very interesting project. It's a large cathedral and very important within Sweden, hosting a number of concerts with a large choir as well as regular services.’
The demonstration comprised only one Iconyx IC32 loudspeaker array, placed at the central altar. ‘From the altar to the rear of the seating, it's approximately 40m,’ notes Mr Sjoo. ‘But even with only one column, the difference was clear. They asked if the difference was because we were using pre-recorded tracks as a source, so we also had a number of priests test the system, and they were happy.’
‘The cathedral wanted the best possible audio system which would sound just as good no matter where you were seated,’ says Mr Wadelius.
Mr Sjoo furthers: ‘Originally, the concept was based around a priest delivering a sermon from the central altar. But there are at least four different points of focus, even for regular services, plus special areas such as the rear of the building, where baptisms take place. The system needed to be able to cover every area equally, and at a very high quality. It meant creating one of the largest Iconyx installations in Europe, with 40 individual loudspeaker arrays.’
The 40 units installed include 22 IC16-8 columns, eight IC8 arrays, five IC24 columns, four ICX7 arrays and a single IC32. The project also signifies the first use of the manufacturer’s Iconyx Gen5 presets, ensuring delicate control over the acoustic energy is maintained by each speaker.
‘Even with the extremely reverberant acoustic environment - measuring around 5s - we have successfully achieved very good intelligibility and audio quality,’ confirms Michal Poplawski, Renkus-Heinz technical sales manager, Europe.
‘We came up with a special clamp that we could use to mount lights and loudspeakers without having to do any drilling,’ says Mr Wadelius, explaining how he overcame some of the challenges with regards to the listed structure. ‘If the cathedral needs to be returned to its original state then they can just remove the clamps and there will have been no effect. Both the clamps and the loudspeakers are painted in the same colour as the columns, and so they blend in very nicely.
‘I am absolutely proud of what we've achieved,’ he concludes. ‘It actually sounds better than I believed possible in such an acoustically difficult environment.’