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Ready For Service

New Zealand’s ornate St Patrick’s Basilica is painstakingly updated with d&b loudspeakers and Epson projection.

By

18 January 2022

Text:/ Graeme Hague

St Patrick’s Basilica, otherwise known as Oamaru Basilica, is located in Oamaru, New Zealand, and was designed by renowned architect Francis Petre. Many argue that it’s the best example of his work. First opened way back in 1918, the term ‘basilica’ — for those readers not entirely full bottle on ancient Roman history — refers to a style of architecture known as Roman Renaissance and is heavy on ornate columns, arches, a classic portico entrance and three large domes that have become a landmark of the town. Of course, being built in Oamaru, it’s mainly constructed of the legendary Oamaru stone that’s quarried just outside of town. 

So, it’s an historically famous building by a famous architect, incorporating a famous landmark, and built with the famed construction equivalent of crumbly fetta cheese. A project needing patience, finesse, and some really, really, long masonry drill bits.

Good news travels fast amongst the religious fraternity in New Zealand, and it was Monsignor John Harris of the Catholic Diocese in Dunedin who brought together the Oamaru Basilica and Mark Patterson of Lifestyle AV, because Mark had successfully done a similar project in St Paul’s Cathedral.

During the early discussions and site inspections Mark just happened to have a d&b speaker system in the back of his car — as you do — and set up a quick demonstration. The quality and clarity of the audio were instantly impressive, and Mark was pretty much commissioned on the spot, with a field trip to see and hear the d&b system in St Paul’s sealing the deal.

A STONY CHALLENGE

The expanded purpose of the new equipment catered for the obvious pulpit sermons, a variety of wireless microphones for reinforcing musicians and a choir, plus capturing it all for a livestream system that Mark was also installing. On top of these were a state-of-the-art projection system designed more as a visual aid for the audience, rather than a broadcasting platform for external sources.

All up, there was a lot of cabling and equipment that might clash with the historical aesthetics of the Basilica. As Mark explains, “I wanted all the technology to be borderline invisible so that people could still enjoy the building.” In this regard, the Roman Renaissance design provided some answers instead of obstacles. The myriad carved ledges and decorative stonework often created a nook or cranny where cabling could be tucked away. Where these weren’t available, Mark carefully colour-matched everything to blend in with the Oamaru stone. By ‘everything’, that meant the wiring, the speakers, and even the projectors. In some situations, holes were bored through walls using drill bits 1.5m long. Fortunately, Mark could get advice from a local Oamaru stonemason who works with the church and incidentally helped patch the damage left from removing the older equipment.

“”

A project needing patience, finesse, and some really, really, long masonry drill bits.

TIGHT FIT

Covid-19 restrictions inevitably impacted the project. On the downside, Mark became an installation team of one, doing the majority of the work alone. On the upside, access to the church was easier because the Basilica was closed to the public. Mark gives NAS Solutions a gong for going “above and beyond” — apparently providing AV gear even for an historical church refit doesn’t rate as an ‘essential service’ and just shipping the equipment to Mark was problematic, but NAS persevered.

Last, but not least, a well-known chap who’s familiar with the church once said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…” Fast-forward a couple of thousand years and he might have been talking about getting a hydraulic platform through the back door of the church. Countless reverse-turns cribbed a millimetre every time. It seems the Romans never used scissor lifts.

The four d&b 24Cs covering the main area easily provided the clarity and SPL needed, while a d&b 8S was placed at the very front as a kind of ‘stage fill’ for people taking part in any proceedings. There’s also a d&b 12S subwoofer, but that’s mainly with any musical performances in mind. Powering the 24Cs, 8S and 12S is a d&b 10D amplifier.

It’s worth mentioning that the ceiling is made of embossed zinc panels — lightweight plates — which contribute to the building’s excellent acoustics.

An Ashly Protea ne24.24M runs processing across the whole system.

EYES & EARS

As part of the audiovisual refit, the Oamaru Basilica asked Lifestyle Audio Visual to suggest a projection system to provide improved visuals for the audience, and which by default could contribute to a livestream network. Live streaming services to parishioners who wish to stay safely at home is becoming a common practise, plus there’s the obvious benefit of reaching people via the web who can’t attend important events such as weddings and funerals.

Mark Patterson found himself in the minority, but he backed his own experience.

“I had to fight really hard to convince them (the church hierarchy) that in this instance TVs and monitors were not a good idea.”

Mark’s concern was once again with the aesthetics of the building, and he felt that having large, permanently-in-place video monitors went against everything else he planned to do for making the new installation ‘disappear’. The arguments he faced were based in a perception that projection was ‘outdated’. Projectors were enormously, ugly contraptions that would hang from the roof, the screens were akin to tacking some bedsheets to the wall, and the images weren’t suited to daylight services (it’s unclear which sports club the Basilica clergy maybe frequent, but it seems someone, somewhere, needs a serious AV refit).

Mark provided the solution with a pair of Epson EB-805F projectors with accompanying Grandview 112-inch automated screens — one each side of the central aisle and placed close to the front of the church. The Epson EB-805F is an Ultra Short Throw model and its compact design allows it to sit almost unnoticed amongst the decorated walls (colour-matched, of course). The screens retract into a slimline casing, and when they’re fully extended offer a much larger, clearer image than any cost-effective monitor. The laser light source of the Epson projectors promise a 20,000-hour lifespan, which is also on a par with any LCD.

The vision comes from two AVer CAM520PRO through a Blackmagic ATEM mixer — perfect for novices and aspiring film producers alike. The Aver cameras have a proven track record that speaks for itself, and yet again those church aesthetics come into play. The cameras run on PoE (Power over Ethernet) and didn’t require any ugly unsightly power outlets.

Mark admits, “I couldn’t colour-match them … they’re the one thing I couldn’t blend with the walls. They had to stay black.”

It’s hard to see the problem — we see criminal types spray-painting CCTV cameras on the telly all the time. But we’ll take Mark’s word for it.

IN THE END

The final result exceeded even Mark’s expectations — and he’s the kind of dedicated professional who expects a lot.

Mark kept all the controllers and choice of equipment simple so that anyone can operate the system. The painstaking colour-matching and careful cabling has paid off, allowing everything to blend perfectly with the 100-year-old stonework.

The history of St Patrick’s Basilica was in safe hands and kept intact, while the future thanks to d&b is definitely focused on the digital age.

NAS (d&b): www.nas.solutions
Epson: www.epson.com.au
Amber Technology (AVer, Grandview): www.ambertech.com.au
New Magic (Blackmagic): www.newmagic.com.au

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