Ryerson University's RE/Lab explores the senses with Renkus-Heinz
Tue, 12 Sep 2017 09:54
Ryerson University RE/Lab
A collaborative effort that combines the efforts of Ryerson University's Faculties of
Communication Arts and Design, Community Services and Engineering, the
Responsive Ecologies Lab (RE/Lab) explores a wide variety of issues involving sensory
technologies and tangible interactions. Run by Professors Jason Nolan (director) and
Canada Research Chair in Digital Media and Innovation Ali Mazalek, its many areas of
exploration include the development of novel tools and interfaces to ensure that
technologies become a more meaningful and usefully integrated part of our lives. For
example, it seeks solutions for people with sensory integration disorders, such as
autism, and enables research in data visualisation and biomedicine.
Multitalented audio engineer Kenneth Emig's ongoing challenge is to design and
implement RE/Lab's equipment infrastructure to support the audio aspects of this
research. Emig's background is almost as transdisciplinary as the lab, including
working with live sound, designing and measuring the implementation of loudspeakers
and microphones for hands-free telephones at Nortel, serving as Blackberry's
interface between design and manufacturing for audio issues, and a wide range of
consulting work. His extensive experience designing and working in research labs
prepared him well to meet the unique challenges at RE/Lab. He's also an
accomplished creative artist, and unsurprisingly, his art is transdisciplinary, integrating
public artworks, installations, sound sculpture, dance, and technology into his
For RE/Lab, Emig specified two different types of audio systems, one employing near
field monitors for close-up work and another based on six Renkus-Heinz CF61-2
powered, two-way, Complex Conic point-source loudspeakers. "This way we have
different listening conditions, depending on what's needed," Emig elaborates. "The
near fields provide clarity and imaging close up. For the equivalent of a multichannel
sound-reinforcement system, we have the Renkus-Heinz loudspeakers. This offers a
diversity of tools. The director keeps calling me 'Mr. Right Tool for the Job.' Whatever
the researchers want to do, I try to anticipate that and make sure they have the best
equipment to accomplish it."
Emig is quick to note that he doesn't necessarily create systems at RE/Lab; rather, he
creates an infrastructure of equipment to create opportunities for exploration. "We're
designing a laboratory that is as flexible as possible and can grow into the future.
Researchers know where they want to start, but they don't really know where they
will end up; most likely, they end up somewhere they don't expect. I want to give
them a diverse toolkit to explore sound best, refine their understanding, and then
we'll refine the required tools in the future when they understand more."
RE/Lab didn't have a really large budget, so Emig reserved a lot of the money for
loudspeakers "so they can hear clearly, because that's what's most important," he
asserts. The Renkus-Heinz CF61-2s offered several advantages. "I want to give them
tools they can grow into as they develop their work in the future," Emig adds. "CF61-
2s are pretty bombproof, and you can change their directionality by rotating the horn
90 degrees. They can deliver the kick that's needed for some experiments. And I like
them; they sound great." Renkus-Heinz' Complex Conic design delivers 150° by 60°
dispersion with constant beamwidth and directivity, so rotating the horn provides the
considerable variability Emig sought for his client.
The lab's ceiling offers a flown grid constructed of Unistrut, enabling the CF61s to be
located wherever needed. "You can build anything you want out of Unistrut, hang it
from the ceiling, and place anything anywhere," Emig observes. "We bought six
Renkus-Heinz CF61 loudspeakers to create a far-field sound reinforcement
environment that can get the lab in a lot of trouble if they turn it up. The CF61s has
enough power to do whatever they need to do more than enough."
A stage box mounted in the ceiling enables multichannel recording and playback. "If
you have six channels, you can configure all six CF61-2s in a circle, you can configure
them in an array, you can change the directivity-you can do whatever you want,"
details Emig. "Right now I have four CF61-2s mounted above a wall of 12 55-inch
MultiTaction touchscreen displays, which I designed the mounting for and installed last
year. The design is always being refined-it's a living, ever-evolving space. It can be
complicated, especially in a room with a reflective raised floor and an open ceiling, as
well as equipment and tables moving around the lab all the time. I've started to
mitigate some of the issues, but this is a work in progress, combining technical
knowledge with awareness and understanding."
Having spent much of his audio budget on top-quality speakers, Emig filled in the rest
of his core gear. "I specified some okay microphones for a diversity of tasks," he
states. "I spec'd a Behringer X32 digital console, and I've snaked around their
Ethernet stage boxes so the researchers can run it from wherever they want. They
can control it from a tablet or a laptop, so they can be in the middle of another space
in the lab and control what they want to hear. So as with the Renkus-Heinz
loudspeakers, it comes back to creating a diversity of opportunity.
With his decades of experience in lab design and operation, Emig is deeply aware that
his designs directly impact how research is done at RE/Lab. "When you design a
laboratory, you greatly influence what the researchers do," he explains. "The
equipment you provide allows the researchers to go in certain directions. They bring
you in because this is your area of expertise. I specified all the sound equipment for
the lab, with the researchers' approval, to allow them to best explore sound the way
they wanted to. Our movable Renkus-Heinz CF61-2 loudspeaker configuration gives
the team at RE/Lab the flexibility, power, and outstanding clarity they need to explore
sound as part of the plethora of sensory inputs that we humans have."