Sound and Lighting
: What made The
stand out among all other nightclubs
This following discussion
will be in two parts: Sound and Lighting. The Audio portion of this section is
technical data received from Alan Fierstein from Acoustilog
Incorporated. Richard Long Assoc. along with Mr. Fierstein are the original designer
and installers of the sound system at the Garage so his input in this discussion
The Lighting portion of this discussion are ideas and technical
data from me as one of the lighting technicians at the Paradise Garage, with my
experience as a lighting designer for over the past 3 decades.
During its run,
the Paradise Garage boasted one of the best nightclub sound and lighting systems
in New York City. In fact some of the concepts that were developed for the Garage
back then, in some way still, cannot be matched in today’s more advanced sound
and lighting designs. As hard as that may seem, it seems that sometimes the old
adage is relevant "If it ain't broke don't fix it".
The Dance Floor
The Dancefloor at the Paradise Garage is
a topic that has been ever present in my mind for the last 18 years. In my opinion
that floor design was the best there could ever be for a nightclub space. As my
good friend Peter once put it, "It's like a time capsule, you're totally
And he was absolutely right, the space was totally sectioned off from the rest
of the club, totally self contained. Even though it stood in the center of all
the surrounding lounges, it still had an atmosphere of it's own. No other nightclub
I have ever seen has come close to capturing this isolation effect. Then again,
no other club except the Garage would be committed to giving up that much real
estate just for the sake of the dancefloor, but then the Paradise Garage was unique
Yes. . .the dancefloor was just like a capsule, and just
like every capsule you had to have a command center. . . And the dj booth at the
Garage was mission control. Positioned above the dancefloor like an observation
tower, the entire rooms atmosphere was controlled from here. With the twist of
a single dial, the room would go silent, as quiet as a country field on a summer
night. no sound would you hear but the faint hum of the amplifiers in the control
room above. With that same twisting motion, thunderous audio would burst through
your heart like a bolt of lighting. . . the warm base vibration would lift you
from the floor suspending you weightless, your heart would race and senses would
tingle. No where else could you be embraced in a blanket of sound, but right here.
You wanted to move, you had to move, the music beaconing you to respond to it,
it was impossible to ignore. You moved, you danced, you were alive and part of
the basic primal instinct connected to mother earth feeling her rhythms pulsing
Suddenly with the thump of the switch, you could be plunged
into a sea of darkness suspended in time, your senses clouded by the deep expanse
of black, you would be alone and the air around you would be still and motionless.
Your only companion is the music covering you. In the dark you feel your body
coated in the cool mist of the mushroom fog blown gently over your skin, you smell
the smokes sweet cent and begin to loose yourself in this isolation. Suddenly
the room explodes with flashes of light, swirling beacons of red and amber, the
calm is gone, now the drive to dance harder grips you. Pools of warm colored light,
swirls of magenta, streaks of white all trancing you to another state of mind.
. . colors and energy driving you to move faster. You respond with all your soul,
sweat pouring from you body as you surrender yourself to the sound.
Now that was the dancefloor at the Garage....
World - Class Discotheque Sound Systems are engineered to fit each unique space with it's own design criteria.
To achieve maximum impact, the system designer and the acoustician work in close harmony. The designer determines equipment
requirements, while the acoustician considers interior acoustics and noise isolation. Impulse testing, equalization,
T60 fine tuning TDS tests, etc. complete the installation, examples will be presented.
The sound system to be discussed is currently installed at the "Paradise Garage" in New York City.
The disco is located on the second floor of a 2-story garage and contains approximately 20,000 square feet of space.
An attempt to locate a disco here was made 2 years prior to the current installation. However at the time the entire
20,00 square feet of space was utilized with no subdivision into smaller areas, no acoustical treatment and an entirely
inadequate sound system. The result was disastrous and the club went out of business in a short time. The current owners did not
want to make the same mistakes and therefore subdivided the 20,000 square feet into a larger number of smaller areas, which included
a 5000 square foot dance floor and a 2000 square foot lounge.
Initially do to lack of funds, the decision was made to hold a number of "construction parties" in the lounge
while work was continued on the large dance area. The sound system from their previous location consisted of 4 horn-loaded home
speakers passively crossed over, 4 scaled-up pseudo-Klipsch corner horns using 18" for sub bass crossed over electronically and
2 tweeter arrays also crossed over electronically. However this system was inadequate to handle 800 to 1000 persons in the lounge
at the sound pressure levels desired by the disc jockey. At this point we were retained to design a new sound system which could be
expanded as finances permitted, and eventually completely replace the old system.
The first part of the new system consisted of 4 "Waldorf"
bass speakers. First used in a rental at the Waldorf Astoria, it is similar to
the JBL double 15" scoop enclosure but is based on the old Jensen Imperial design.
The enclosure was made larger to accommodate a larger rear loaded horn, which
was designed with a hyperbolic rather than an exponential flare. The high end
consisted of the largest JBL horn lens for smooth wide dispersion and the system
is electronically crossed over at 80hrz These replaced the corner home-type speakers.
The next area to be improved was the sub-bass Klipsch-type speakers in the existing system. We found these
speakers to be incapable of clean bass reproduction, particularly the very deep bass, at the high sound levels required.
The problem was due to the exponential flare used in the design, the particular 18" driver installed in the cabinet and the small mouth area of the cabinet.
To solve this problem we designed a special sub-bass horn which is now a standard item in our line of speakers.
The horn called the "Levan Horn" after the DJ consisted of 2 parts: The main cabinet which is a large "W" type hyperbolic
folded horn using two 500 watt custom built 18" drivers and an extension which bolts on to the mouth of the "W" horn.
The mouth of the extension is a full 8 feet wide and 3 1/2 ft high or 28 square feet. The horn is capable of awesome
reproduction at very high sound pressure levels down to 30hz. One of these speakers was found to overwhelm four of the
scaled-up klipsch horns all playing together.
The tweeter arrays were the only part of the original speaker system that was retained.
For those of you not familiar with this item, the most common tweeter array consists of four JBL tweeters mounted on a plate at 90-degree
angles to each other and hung at a height of approximately 9 feet above the dancefloor. These arrays are controlled by a special electronic
crossover with gain that allows the DJ to play them at a level even higher than the main system for special effects.
The next consideration was give to designing a special full range speaker system to be used in addition to the Waldorfs
when the move was made onto the 5000 square foot dancefloor. The result of this was the Ultima, which is of a modular design in three stackable sections.
The base sections of the Ultima is similar to the Waldorf except it is designed with a W type horn configuration rather than single sided.
Prior to moving into the large room, the speakers location
was designed as follows: Each corner of the room would contain 1 Levan sub-bass
horn and one complete tri-amplified Ultima and the larger sides of the room would
have at their corner point 2 Waldorfs and 2 smaller sub-bass woofers. Six tweeter
arrays would be hung over the dancefloor in appropriate positions. The double
amp rack to power all of the speakers was installed in the balcony area DJ Booth
which overlooked the entire dancefloor.
As the main room was nearing completion and speaker locations
were being chosen, it became obvious that there were serious acoustical problems
with the room. The reverberation was so pervasive that workmen could not communicate
with each other across the room. The reverberation curve was measured and is shown.
This is an empty room T60 and would of course be lower with a crowded dancefloor.
The Garage was previously a parking garage and the mostly concrete construction
provided very little bass absorption.
A computer print out of this recommended treatment to the room yielded the requirements of almost 3000 sabins of broadband
absorption, as shown (here). It was determined that the high exposed sidewalls would need broadband absorption to tame horizontally -traveling
reflections above the dancers heads. The 1" thick 3 lb./cubic ft. destiny fiberglass used was predicted to have near perfect absorption down to
500 Hz. To reduce low-end reverberation, an arrangement of V shaped panels of the same fiberglass were hung from the ceiling.
This was done with some difficulty, as the concrete ceiling required the installation of over 1000 shot-in hooks with support wires.
To achieve the desired acoustics as accurately as possible, Acoustilog usually uses a three-step measurement and adjust
program with regards to the T60. This way the inevitable variation in the installation technique and materials are measured and compensated for.
This doesn't cause inconvenient interruptions to the workmen because the measurement of the reverberation curve takes only 15 minuets and can be
performed during lunch hour. Recommendations for absorptive treatment are deliberately made slightly shy,
to avoid having to either over order material, or rip down material already installed.
After secondary tests showed T60 to be high at 63 HZ. And 125 HZ, the thickness of the side wall absorption was increased
in certain areas. Additionally the skylights were used for bass absorption by significantly thickening their fiberglass treatment.
By the 3rd T60 measurement session, the desired T60 of 1 second was achieved with a deviation of not more than 5% from 250 Hz. To 2 kHz.
And not more than 25% from 125 Hz to 8 kHz.
The Paradise garage used a special electronic crossover designed to our specification by Alan Fierstein of Acoustilog Inc.
it is a 4 way crossover with a subsonic filter at 20 hz. All filters are 18 dB/octave Butterworth. The output impedance of the crossover is
necessarily low as the amplifier racks are remotely located from the DJ console, and the high cable capacitance could otherwise take it's toll
in high frequency roll off. Stability consideration is also important for the same reasons. All critical elements of the crossover circuit are
extremely derated for negligible heat build up and therefore high reliability. The standard ranges are 20 to 100 Hz. For sub-bass, 20 to 800 Hz
for main bass, 800 to 20,000 Hz for mid range and 7,00 to 20,000 Hz for tweeters. It's most unique feature is that the two extreme ranges of 20
to 100 Hz and 7k to 20k Hz are controllable in volume by the Disc Jockey with up to 16 dB of gain built into the circuit.
The initial reaction of most audio engineers to the idea of a non-technical person such as a DJ controlling the frequency response
of a sophisticated sound system is complete shock and disbelief. In order to explain our concept of a disco system, let us give this analogy:
In a discotheque a sound system can be considered to be the orchestra while the DJ is the conductor. The conductor's job is to stimulate and
entertain the audience; the DJ must entertain the dancers. The DJ is not reproducing the works of Bach or Brahms as performed in a symphony hall,
but is instead playing music which was created in a multi-track studio under artificial conditions mixed by an engineer also attempting to create the most exciting sound possible.
There can be no doubt that many people, especially those trained in music and audio sciences, have been at one time or another
to a disco and been totally offended by the sound. Ones first reaction was probably that the music was too loud, but of course this is not the whole answer.
The quality of the components, particularly the speakers, is one potential source of offensive sound, but more important is the relative loudness of the
various frequency ranges. For example, sub-bass is ranged below 100 Hz when played at 110 dB SPL is not annoying at all whereas upper mid range from 2k
to 4k Hz at 110dB is extremely offensive. A prominent mid range around 500 Hz with a lack of mid bass around 100 to 200 Hz can be very annoying.
In other words, the frequency response must be tailored to be smooth with no prominent peaks or dips while at the same time de
accentuating certain frequency ranges which can be offensive at high sound pressure levels common in most discotheques. When properly done the
result will be a pleasing and exciting sound with no offensive or listener fatigue even at continuos high sound pressure levels. For the same
reason by giving the DJ control over the extreme low end and extreme high end but not allowing him any control over the main full frequency
range, he is allowed to create extremely exciting sound effects without affecting the overall balance.
Another advantage to achieving a smooth and accurate equalization characteristic is the immunity from feedback such as a curve
provides. The Garage frequently hosts live acts on a huge stage and complete professionalism is expected, from mandatory sound checks to a lack
of feedback during the shows. Maintaining a stable system, with adequate microphone volume to match the loud music, while the performer may walk
to within 10 feet of a full range speaker stack, is no easy trick and the equalization plays a major role in allowing this. Furthermore,
the shows are recorded live and subsequently aired over a major New York FM station which accentuates the need for a complete absence of annoying ringing and howls.
Because of the large bass horns we use in most of our installations along with the special crossover, the potential for feedback
through the turntables was of particular concern. This was solved by our development of a very simple means of suspending the turntables on a platform,
which is floating on an elastic suspension consisting of $1.00 worth of rubber bands. The natural frequency of this system is approximately 2 Hz,
which provides vibration isolation at the lowest frequency produced in the system, which is 30 Hz.
Since the DJ is responsible for creating an exciting sound we try to make sure he has enough tools at his disposal. Such special
effects devices are 1. Our special electronic crossover (discussed earlier); 2. The DBX boom box, which provides a blend of 25 - 50 Hz bass,
synthesized from 50 - 100 Hz information present on the recording; 3. Dynamic Range Expanders, used to undo compression found in most recordings; 4.
The Deltalab Acousticomputer and similar devices used to alter or add to the sound of the recording; 5. The Audionics Space & Image Composer, a
4 channel synthesizer; and 6. New devices currently under development, such as the Acoustilog Image enhancer which expands the stereo effect.
All of these devices except the last two are currently installed at the Garage.
The Deltalab Acousticomputer hookup deserves special mention. This special effect unit is installed in a loop within the full-
range circuit of the electronic crossover. However the complexity of the unit and the wide range of sounds it can produce requires that the parameters
be preset carefully before bringing the device into the actual sound system. There fore a special pre-cueing switch, along with a house blending control,
was incorporated into the main mixer. Once the DJ has achieved the sound he wants in his headset, he can either abruptly or gradually bring the effect into play.
In Disco installations, and particularly at the Garage, it is important to coordinate the design of the DJ console and control
electronics with the desires of the DJ whenever possible. The special console of the garage satisfies all the needs of the garage DJ, putting all
the control electronics, which he uses immediately at his fingertips. It may be interesting to note that the front angle portion housing the electronics
is controlled by a motor driven mechanism allowing the DJ to instantly change the tilt angle. Monitor speakers, when required, are installed to
satisfy the Disc Jockey's need to hear the system in the booth without the time delayed sound arriving from the main speakers affecting his sense of timing.
About two years after the full garage system had been installed, a device designed by Acoustilog called the Impulser allowed
us to easily impulse-test the entire system for phase alignment and polarity. We found the entire system to be in correct polarity except for
the sub-bass horns. One of the speaker cables had been accidentally ripped out of the connector and rewired in reverse by the Garage maintenance crew.
With this horns output essentially canceling that of another bass horns, the Garage's sub-bass output of four speakers had been effectively reduced to
that of two. Now, we always impulse test new sound systems for polarity agreement prior to final equalization.
All of the above considerations have resulted in the garage winning every award for the best Disco Sound System ever given by Billboard's International Disco Forums.
The Lighting system at the Paradise Garage was tremendous to say the least.
No other club in the city had a system like this. The Dancefloor alone had over 730 lighting fixtures
rigged from the ceiling. The stage and other lounges had a base set up of about 40 fixtures minimum.
During special parties and events the number of lighting fixtures in the lounges would increase
in size depending on the complexity of the design.
Dancefloor: The 730 fixtures were broken
down into 10 effect elements which had a power consumption of 1087 amps. Now this
is a basic figure of amperage use as an actual reading was impossible, but the
combined wattage of the majority of fixtures on the dancefloor came close to this
number. If we broke this down into a 3 phase power distribution, that would distribute
the load to 362 amps per leg. Now remember that this is power consumption based
on the assumption that all the lighting would be turned on full, which as we know
was not the case, my point here is just to give you an idea of the potential power
that was being generated on dancefloor lighting alone.
As awesome as the lighting system turned out to be, it was
not so in the beginning. From what I understand the design started off very small
with a dozen or so pin spots and a basic wash. This earlier system was before
my time at the club, so I really couldn't’t tell you who installed it or what
was put in first. However I can tell you that the lighting system and its design
evolved constantly right up until the time the club closed. The final look of
the dancefloor lighting towards the end in 1987 was deigned by Peter Munoz and
put in place by him and I.
From 1983 until
it closed in 1987, if we talk about who was the "Lightman" at the Garage I can
say to you officially that there wasn't one. In reality what you had was the tech
crew who were in charge of the maintenance and lighting design, and then you had
the man who ran the parties Larry Levan.
Larry Levan pretty much did the lighting for himself as he
was a lighting guy before he started to dj. However, he did have a few people
in his entourage who would from time to time stand on the lighting pedestal and
do the lighting for him during the evening. However, in the end Larry almost always did the lighting
when he would play.
What happened mostly on the weekends was I did the lighting
during the opening hours for David Depino and Joey Llanos as they warmed up for Larry. . ..On the
nights that Larry didn't come in I or Peter Munoz usually stayed and played for the night.
With that being said let me segway into the next section.
. . . The Lighting Boards and Controls.
Standing at the lighting controls in the
DJ booth of the Garage was like standing on the bridge of the Enterprise. For
someone who didn't’t understand it, it could have been a bit over-whelming. Just
imagine staring at 15 lighting control boards laid out on a console that was 6
foot long and 4 foot wide . . Truly awesome
The reason for this visual complexity were the 10 effect elements
on the dancefloor. So the first thing we understand is there were 10 different
lighting control boards, plus 4 sub controllers That did the color switching and
things like strobes and Cannons and the smoke machines. And lastly there was the
Master controller called the ND5, which was the conduit for all of the lighting
controls to the Dance floor.
Lighting boards in those days were more user friendly than
they are today. The boards back then were built to take a pounding, the constant
toggle switching, and the brute force a light man uses when he is in the midst
of doing a light show. You can’t put the newer boards of today under this sort
of punishment due to the fact everything now is computer oriented and touch sensitive.
I have laid many a light board to rest since leaving the Garage, so I have first
hand experience. Now-a-days every lighting board has gone theater . . Bah!
Anyway, The concept behind the lighting console at the Garage
was this. Each controller was linked to the ND5 (main controller) which gave you
a preview option on that particular lighting effect. This preview option enabled
you to make speed and intensity corrections before sending the effect live to
the dancefloor. To assist you in this preview, each effect controller had a system
of LED’s on it’s face which made the previews easy to read. If the DJ was in the
middle of his mix, you could easily match the incoming song temp perfectly and
when the DJ laid the mix in, you could fade the lighting in with the music. That
to me is the best and only way to do lighting in a nightclub, seamless. . .
The Paradise Garage was definitely ahead of it's time in
regards to the sound and lighting systems, I hope I succeeded in bringing some
of this to light. I tried not to make this section too technical and boring. .
. but if it was entertaining and informative then I did my job.
~ Ralph ~