Jands played an important role in the upgrade of the lighting system at Blackwood Hall, the performing arts centre at Melbourne’s Monash University.

Russell Proud is Manager, Technical Services for the University’s Academy of Performing Arts. Responsible for the efficient running of Blackwood Hall, he knew there was a problem when he started in the job six years ago. He initiated an upgrade program immediately, culminating in a major overhaul early this year that replaced the lighting system and delivered impressive results.

According to Russell, the centre’s air conditioning system used to previously struggle to keep the temperature constant once the lighting came on, which was really not great for orchestral instruments as it affected their tuning.

Following the upgrade, the first orchestra performance took place in the middle of February and they were asked to turn the air conditioning up because it was a bit cold. There was further confirmation about the upgrade’s success when the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra moved in for several days before Easter to do a recording.

Russell said they didn’t have to make any changes to the air conditioning during this period. Normally the fan speed would be reduced for the recording, and then raised for the breaks. However, this time they were able to leave it at the lower speed and it held the temperature steady right through.

Russell started the process by upgrading the infrastructure to cope with intelligent lighting. It wasn’t just about good quality white light for musicians trying to read their music and keep their instruments in tune. Since the hall also hosted theatrical performances, he needed a modern-day solution to address the unique needs of each performance category.

Russell discussed his requirements with Andrew Maher, a lighting and staging technician at Jands who had earlier helped them with their ETC Gio lighting console upgrades. Andrew gave them some ETC LED fixtures to trial out and get a feel for what it would be like in a real application.

Andrew says lending the fixtures for real world testing was the first step. Jands then provided some energy calculations to help Russell work out the cost savings he could achieve by changing to a mix of high efficiency tungsten and LED fittings.

Andrew explained that the energy calculation was important because venues often risked compromising the quality of light simply for the sake of saving on power.

The ETC X7 system meant Russell had the nuanced colour he wanted in addition to proper theatre grade dimming and excellent colour reproduction on performers, sets and wardrobe while lowering his power costs significantly.

Jands’ solution for the Robert Blackwood Hall was based on a hybrid tungsten/LED system using a mix of ETC Desire D60 LED fixtures and conventional ETC Source Four tungsten luminaires. All the work was carried out by Jands’ major Melbourne-based supplier, ASL Systems.

The new rig allows the space to quickly change from a lecture presentation to an orchestral performance, all the way to an opera performance with very short turnaround times.

Russell said they make a white light with the LED and fill the holes in colour temperature with tungsten to give it a nice warm light. The LED also means the venue can do all sorts of theatrical lighting for other musical and performance events. The upgrade has increased the versatility of the venue, allowing it to host different types of performances.

The big test of the new system was a recent performance of the opera, Bluebeard’s Castle by the Monash Academy Orchestra. The lighting team used sconce lights for the musicians as well as the LED colour to give dramatic effect to the opera, impressing everyone at the venue.

Russell also appreciated the good service delivered by Jands for the lighting upgrade project.