Therapy indeed

Oppressive heat, numbing cold, rats, fires, last-minute speaker swaps: After over a year of work on this dark Rhode Island dance club, sound installer Mark Waker just might need some professional help.

By Mark Waker

   Coming just weeks after the hideous attacks of September 11, Thanksgiving 2001 was a muted and subdued event. The day after, I met with entertainment impresario Alex Tomasso in a dank, unoccupied industrial building on the west side of the northeastern renaissance city of Providence, Rhode Island. The grey November sky and the cold, damp, unlit space seemed eerily suited to America’s mood.
The building needed total rehabilitation and now, at the end of the project, so do I. The impresario had already committed to going into therapy, but that’s another story entirely. Don’t worry, this is not Psychology Weekly, it is Club Systems International, and this article is about a club, a smidgeon of serendipty, and a vision.

The New Providence
Alex Tomasso has always been a risk taker – a real entrepreneur, pushing the envelope wherever possible, practical, and profitable. His Rhode Island-based company owns and operates Viola’s, a high end restaurant in Providence’s fashionable Federal Hill, Bar One (a bar!), Pulse, a high-energy dance club, and Sanctuary, a Mayan temple-like club catering to Rhode Island’s growing Hispanic population.
At that post-Thanksgiving meeting, Alex outlined his plans to me. Oh? Who am I? I am Mark Waker, principal and owner of Balanced Input, a Massachusetts-based sound consulting and contracting firm.
After examining the space, the dialogue began. Alex outlined his idea for a real performance space; art gallery by day, sound-sculpting studio by night. He wanted a club that would make a statement and redefine standards in Providence, a city that has largely redefined itself over the last decade. Home to Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and a large Italian population, the city is stylish and has some of the best places to eat in the Northeast. The building that would house the club was a dark satanic mill that had originally serviced the electric trucks that moved the Providence trolley car system. Although almost 55 feet tall, there are only two floors, but just making those two floors fit for use required major work.
The interior design, by Alex and Kyla Coburn, would be distinctive without cluttering the clean lines of the now power-washed brick building – something special was expected. The same mandate was delivered to general contractor Joe Ricci, and to Brian Jay of newly formed Euphoric Lighting. Work began in earnest in January of 2002, but the building, having been vacant for some years, had no electricity, heat, or running water, and it was really cold! A new power service was ordered and promised for early March.

“A Neutral Palette”
The lower floor of the building-that-would-be-Therapy is basically four parallel tunnels. The two center ones house the offices, bathrooms, coat check and storage, and the outer two are, by day, the art Gallery Insane, and a quiet area for the club by night. The upper floor measures 90’ x 45’ and is almost 40 feet high, with a massive crane from the trolley car days still high above the floor. Service areas now occupy the west wall; entrance and VIP zones are on the south, bleacher style seats/dance areas are on the north side. The DJ booth occupies the northeast corner, sitting above the amp room.
After developing a number of proposals for the sound, distribution changes ruled out one major speaker company which narrowed the field to three. My recommendation and the mention of one particular English nightclub, Fabric, clinched it for Martin Audio. I was fortunate enough to have met the late Dave Martin at an A.P.R.S. exhibition in London and have always been a fan of their well-developed horn-loaded systems.
Alex already owns two nightclubs with big audio systems and to sell him on my idea meant adjusting his mindset a little, so we had to return to the fundamentals. Q: What is the prime objective of the system?
A: To make people dance!
Q: When do you want to open?
A: Memorial Day or around there.
Q: What is the budget?
A: Less than you would like, more than I would like!
Q: What will it be called?
A: I have no idea…..yet!So I had a 90’ long x 45’ wide x 36’ high brick and steel box within which I had to create audio nirvana! Fortunately we live in an era where there are many manufacturers who offer high directivity speaker systems, some of which actually meet the claims made for them. Given the available budget, I decided to focus on just covering the dancefloor (because we can add perimeter coverage later), and steering the sound away from the walls and the ceiling. Any large reflections would then be coming from an empty dancefloor which, thank the Lord, is not part of my bailiwick.
The finished design called for Martin Audio Blackline H3 full-range speaker systems to be flown at each corner of the 35’ x 27’ dancefloor, with Martin Audio H2 mid-hi packs filling in on the long axis. These elements are suspended around 12 feet above the floor and raked steeply downward at 45° pouring all the energy down. Six Martin Audio S218 subwoofers would be configured in a single block, to be located under the bleachers on the north wall, (well, that was the idea back in February!). The amp room would be under the booth with the electrical load center installed barely two feet from the amplifier rack to minimize voltage sag.

Above-Ground in Sub-Zero
For the lighting Brian Jay designed an octagonal truss, suspended by three CM Lodestar motors with a custom controller. This truss would carry Elation Professional moving heads and Diversitronics strobes, and have a range of vertical motion exceeding 25 feet. Additional equipment including Martin Professional Atomic 3000 strobes, more Elation heads on the walls and pillars, and a really powerful four-head Jem fogger, all located around the perimeter of the dancefloor. The entire lighting system is controlled using Martin Professional’s LightJockey, the software residing on a PC custom-configured by Brian.
By the end of March, Joe Ricci and his crew had cleared and cleaned most of the building, internal electrical work was underway and Glenn “Rainman” LaFlamme, my lead installer, and I were enjoying installing conduit 36 feet above ground in sub-zero temperatures. Although the electrical sub-station was visible from the front door of the building, there was still no power. A Memorial Day opening was now out of the question, but we continued to work, albeit slowly so that we could have the system ready within days of getting electricity.

Fallen Angels
As the months passed the interior progressed. At the outset, Alex had indicated his desire for something a little different but wanted to pay homage to the milestones of dance culture, specifically the NYC scene of the ’80s. In late June, just as things were starting to get really warm in the unpowered building, a number of large, dusty pieces appeared, obviously part of a larger construct. Hidden by tarps they languished unattended, or so we thought.
An inspection one day revealed that the paiper-mache material used to make them was the entrée of choice for the local rodent population. The pieces were then relocated to the upper floor and placed on the truss, now suspended five feet above the floor. This more spacious dining room proved even more appealing to our uninvited guests as they simply ran along the temporary electrical cords to get to their dinner! We raised the truss and made sure there were no cords within yards.
Rattus Norvegicus and his relatives had inflicted considerable damage on the structures and would need major repair, but now the pieces were in the open, we could all see what interior designer Kyla had found. The large, Adonis-like angels that once kept watch over Palladium and Limelight’s congregations in New York City were destined to soar again, this time in Providence.

Power Up
Hooray! September is here, and finally, so is the power! Now it was a scramble to get the venue ready to open as soon as possible. Balanced Input’s normal modus operandi is to build and test amplifier racks in our warehouse and then roll them into the venue. As the amp room is on the second floor, the amplifiers are heavy, there is no elevator and I am too old for that kind of stuff, we decided to assemble the rack on site. Fabricated in our shop, the rack is a “double wide” on wheels, housing all the processing (BSS and dbx), power conditioning (ETA), and amplification (Crest Audio). It weighs about 800 pounds.
The DJ booth houses the usual complement of three Technics SL 1200s, Rane MP 2016 with six-pack EQ module, and a Denon DN 2600F CD player, all of which are powered by an ETA power conditioner. The monitors are Martin Audio F12 systems, which are flown close to each side of the booth, and powered by a Crest Audio 7001, with a BSS Minidrive 344 providing equalization and delay. We’re hoping to install a subwoofer system for the booth just to add a little kick for the DJs.
By the third week of September all systems were active and we were indulging in a little fine-tuning when I received a phone call asking if it would be possible to move the subwoofer array, and I feared the worst. The DJ booth had been judged to be too high and an extension had been built out over a corner of the dancefloor. The dreaded question was finally asked: Could we put the subs under the booth?

Fear and Mounting
I have to admit that I was not scared witless by the prospect of placing twelve 18-inch drivers directly under the turntables; I was scared by the idea of connecting them to a couple of 6KW amplifiers and turning it up! After the shakes had passed, I realized that it could be done and called Alex back and said, “Yes, I can make it work, but it won’t be easy.”
“Good!” says Alex, as if he had just asked me to change a door handle. “And we have a name! What do you think of Therapy?” I replied that I thought it would benefit us all.
Much to Glenn’s sorrow, his wonderfully neat pipe runs and 500-feet of 10-gauge cable went into the dumpster and reconstruction began. The big problem, make that the really, really big problem, of how to stop the turntables from skipping with every bass transient was attacked on three fronts. First, the turntables were mounted on a cinderblock wall in the new booth area, filled with concrete to add mass. Second, every effort was made to couple the subwoofers to the largest thing around, namely, Mother Earth. Joe Ricci’s assistant, Tommy, skillfully cut holes through the cosmetic floor and, using epoxy adhesives, secured small stone blocks to the concrete floor beneath. These were covered with a sheet of perforated foam, the type used to prevent area rugs from slipping on hardwood floors and the first two enclosures were set in place. Foam was also placed between each layer of cabinets to minimize movement, and finally, load straps were used to ratchet the whole assembly together as tightly as possible.
The third part of the solution is electronic. Once everything was in place, the process of wringing out the system began. Once the troublesome frequencies had been traced, appropriate filters and a slight delay were dialed in on the BSS processors and all was right with the world. Again.

Enjoy The Silence
On October 4, 2002, Therapy opened and the system was run hard for the first time, with no problems. Some minor tuning was performed the following day and on October 5, NYC’s Shawn Ink ripped the roof off with a blistering set. Comments about the sound system often include the word “pristine” and “insane,” frequently in the same sentence. It also completely silent and often scares people who are used to the steady hiss and hum that populates so many systems. As only minimal compression and equalization are in use, the dynamic range of the system is unencumbered and the quality of the music shines through. It also scares young children and destroys Radio Shack SPL meters.

The Fire and What Followed
In February 2003, the club world suffered two tragedies, the worst of them happening just a few miles away from Therapy in West Warwick (The Station fire, which killed 98). This resulted in a deluge of inspections, venue closures, capacity reductions and lawsuits. Therapy, which did not have a sprinkler system, was approved for 290 occupants on the upper level in September 2002. The capacity was reduced to 100 in March 2003, seemingly arbitrarily, although other venues suffered in a similar way.
So, even though the building has high ceilings, minimal furnishings and no acoustical treatment, the owner has had to install a sprinkler system, remove the ticket booth and carve a new exit through the two-foot-thick walls in order to become profitable. The capacity will then (we are assured) be raised to around 500. The life of the nightclub entrepreneur is so rewarding, not to mention glamourous!
The sound system has been 100% reliable and has needed only minor tweaking since day one. I recently relocated the booth monitors to bring them closer to the artists’ ears. The headroom of the system has rarely been tapped, but when a DJ who really understands dynamics is on form, the results are staggering! Spleens move, retinas jiggle, a truly visceral experience! And that is a good thing.

7 Dike Street
Providence, Rhode Island

DJ Booth
3 - Technics SL 1200 (on custom mounting system)
2 - Martin Audio Blackline F12 speaker systems
1 - Denon DN2600F dual CD player
1 - Rane MP 2016 rotary mixer
1 - Rane XP 2016 external EQ

6 - Martin Audio Blackline S216 subwoofer systems
4 - Martin Audio Blackline H3 full range speaker systems
2 - Martin Audio Blackline H2 mid-high speaker systemsVIP Zone
2 - Martin Audio Blackline
F10 full range speaker systems

Amp Room
3 - BSS FDS 334 Minidrive processors
2 - Crest FA7001 power amplifiers (H3 lows)
2 - Crest FA4801 power amplifiers (H3 mid/highs)
2 - Crest FA9001 power amplifiers (subwoofers)
1 - Balanced Input “Bubba” double wide rack
1 - Crest CA4 power amplifier (VIP Zone)
1 - Crest FA7001 power amplifier (booth monitors)
1 - Crest FA4801 power amplifier (H2 mid/highs)
1 - dbx 166XL Line driver/compressor/limiter
1 - ETA power conditioner

Gallery Insane
10 - Martin Audio C115 compact speaker systems
2 - DOD 215 Equalizers
1 - ETA Power Conditioner
1 - Onkyo CD carousel
1 - Rolls mixer pre-amp

8 - Elation Color Spot 575 moving heads
5 - 16-inch mirror balls
5 - Martin Atomic 3000 strobes
4 - Diversitronics Dome strobes
4 - Elation Vision 575 scanners
3 - CM Lodestar motors (controlled by custom switch panel)
3 - Elation Color Spot 150/R moving heads
1 - 36-inch mirror ball
1 - Jem Club Smoke system (with four output zones)
1 - Martin Professional 2518 Direct Access controller
1 - Martin Professional LightJockey Pro Controller
(on customized PC with dual 17-inch monitors)
1 - octagonal truss (13-foot outside dimension)
Copyright 2003 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2003 TESTA Communications