The Zhiyinhao showfloor

Created by the famous director and artist Fan Yue, Zhiyinhao is a multi-dimensional live theatrical performance staged on a steam ship that cruises China’s Yangtze River from its base in Wuhan City. A 1920s-styled steam ship and two piers have been built to recreate Wuhan at a time when it was China’s second largest city after Shanghai.

EZpro International was responsible for the highly creative design, installation and commissioning of the show’s audio and video systems, which deliver an immersive experience for the performers and the audience.

The two-year, RMB400m project was developed by the Wuhan Tourism Development Investment Group, together with Fan Yue. Determined to find the best audio system for the production, the director’s team initially approached several different companies. The EZpro International team was led by VP Tao Zhang, who took on the role of chief designer. EZpro designed the first version of the system and rented a warehouse in which they built a 1:1 steel structure to simulate a section of the ship for proving and demonstrating the system. The director, composer and sound engineers were so impressed that EZpro was appointed and the project commenced.

ZhiyinhaoAs the show runs daily, reliability is crucial and EZpro designed a system combiningCommunity, Powersoft, Symetrix, Allen & Heath, Apart Audio and Furman equipment, running on a Dante network with fibre optic transmission and full redundancy.

The show has three separate performance areas. Audience members enter the world as it was in Wuhan 100 years ago when they walk down a pier and onto a pontoon. From here they board the ship and become a part of the performance.

The pier and pontoon both have independent control rooms, housing Allen & Heath Qu Chrome consoles, Symetrix processors and Powersoft amplifiers. Thirty-nine Community IP55-rated R.15COAX loudspeakers are installed along the left and right sides of the 220m-long pier. The 140m-long by 20m-wide pontoon is equipped with twelve Community R.5COAX99 loudspeakers and four WX-218SDF subwoofers.

Based on the early 19th century boat, Jianghua, the ship is 120m long, 22m wide and 15m high. It has four decks with 98 cabins, a bar, entertainment area and a dance hall. The nightly shows involve different stories taking place on each deck. The design team used Ease to simulate sound leakage of the different zones and calculate the acoustic curtains required to achieve isolation between them.

More than 470 loudspeakers are installed around the ship, all powered by Powersoft amplifiers. To create an immersive effect without comb filtering, EZpro opted for stereo configuration throughout, even though this required more complex cabling and high amplification. Four Community D10 loudspeakers are installed on the first deck to cover the dancefloor, while two levels of audience seating on the main and first decks are covered by 16 Community D6 and 14 C6 loudspeakers respectively. The bar area uses 16 D6 ceiling loudspeakers, with 16 V2-28 loudspeakers around the main deck for surround effects.

The 98 cabins on the first and second decks each have a ‘window’ created by using a Samsung LED TV displaying period scenes. Each cabin is also installed with a 2.1 audio system comprising two Community C6 loudspeakers and an Apart Audio CMSUB8.

Zhiyinhao

The heart of the system is the main control room in the middle of the first deck. This houses an Allen & Heath dLive S5000 console, together with a dLive DM64 Mixrack of 65 mic/line inputs. Two Mac Pro computers play multichannel music and audio can be sent to any of the 114 channels using the Dante controller. Symetrix Edge modular processors are installed in equipment rooms on each deck.

With 108 actors performing the story of Wuhan, audience members can either watch or interact with the players in the dance hall, bar or between the aisles. The actors use Shure ULX-D wireless systems, with Countryman miniature capsules. Wireless antenna points have been set up to ensure the frequency isn’t lost as the actors move around the different performance areas of the steel ship.

The director required the sound of the pier and the pontoon to be consistent as the ship moves close to the pier. A wireless system is installed on the pontoon to receive the signal from the ship and connect to the Allen & Heath Qu Chrome console in the pier control room, synchronising the sound on the pontoon and ship. Two Community R2-77Z and two R2-94Z loudspeakers, together with four Community R2SUBDF subwoofers, are installed on the ship’s navigation deck to provide reinforcement for the pier as the ship gets close.

ZhiyinhaoThe director’s team and main investor continually sought perfection during the show’s creation. While the ship was under construction, the investor rented a warehouse in Wuhan and built a 1:1 steel model of the first two decks of the ship so that rehearsals could proceed.

Justifying its investment, its attention to detail and the hard work of all involved, Zhiyinhao is proving a world-class attraction that has played to a full house at every performance since its debut: ‘Participating in this project has been exciting, but we also faced a lot of difficulties,’ says system designer, Tao Zhang.

‘The complexity of the entire sound system, the limitations of the construction environment and the uncontrollability of the acoustic environment were all enormous challenges. At the same time, it was a very creative project; in the process of continuous creation, the director’s team constantly comes up with new ideas and we needed to temporarily adjust the configuration accordingly, which demanded high flexibility from the system.

‘Another challenge lay in the system stability, because Zhiyinhao performs every day. In order to ensure smooth performance, there could be no problems with the audio system. We achieved all signal channel distribution by multitrack playback and fixed microphone signal routing. Ultimately, with every effort by our entire team and the strong support of the director’s group, we have provided an excellent solution.’

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