Cities of Asylum began with European cities providing temporary support for
endangered writers in exile. Inspired by author Salman Rushdie, famously persecuted
for writing The Satanic Verses, Pittsburgh artist Diane Samuels and husband Henry
Reese founded a City of Asylum chapter on Pittsburgh’s North Side that is fast
becoming a local centre for global literature and culture.

Samuels and Reese began hosting programs showcasing exiled writers and other
creative artists in their home, on streets, and later under tents on vacant lots in their
neighbourhood. Eventually, through a combination of public and private funding, they
took over part of the 21,000-square-foot former Masonic Temple on North Avenue and
created Alphabet City. Pittsburgh creative services firm Clear Story designed and
installed an extensive audio, visual, and lighting network to support the multi-
disciplinary programming at the new facility, basing the audio network on three
Symetrix Radius-series DSPs.

The first floor of Alphabet City is divided into three sections, each with one or more
audio zones. The sections are separated by curtains and can be combined into a larger
space. One side houses a bookstore with bookshelves on tracks that hold an extensive
selection of multilingual translations. Behind the bookstore is a small multipurpose
room. The other side is the home of Casellula, an offshoot of Brian Keyser’s New York
City cheese and wine bar of the same name. In the centre is the main 75-seat
performance space, which can also incorporate the other spaces enabling seating of
up to 200. In the basement are the lower lounge and the conference room. The
second and third floors offer eight upscale apartments.

“We needed to be able to route audio and video to any space on the main and
basement floors,” relates Clear Story’s managing director Doug McDermott. “The
client also wanted the ability to record in any room and to automate as much as
possible while staying flexible. That’s quite a challenge.”

Two Radius 12×8 EX DSPs handle the I/O for all hard-wired audio. Output cards
accommodate expansion needs, and additional outputs as the venue’s programming
requirements continue to grow. All amp channels come out of the two Radius 12×8
EXs. The Radius EXs route all audio inputs and outputs to Dante flows and send the
streams to a Radius AEC DSP.

The Radius AEC DSP utilising a VoIP card option is the primary processor for the
matrix; it handles the matrix mixers for the automated control, as well as loudspeaker
processing and limiters. “We have a loudspeaker manager on the output of every amp
or speaker channel, as well as limiting, to prevent the less technical users from
overdriving the loudspeakers,” notes McDermott.

It’s a complex system that serves a variety of spaces. “On the main floor, we have
mono audio zones in each space,” McDermott details. “The restaurant, main
performance room, bookstore, and the room in the rear of the bookstore have 70-volt
ceiling speakers. We have audio zones in the main restrooms, and a zone pumps
audio to the hallway and bathrooms in the back. In the basement are five more audio
zones. Another zone pumps audio downstairs to the restaurant kitchen.”
Control of the system is via a custom built a web-based interface that the client can
access via any web browser. Different users can be assigned various levels of access
and control based on their needs and level of expertise.

The performance space is equipped with a PreSonus StudioLive RM-series digital
mixer with a Dante card, providing house technicians with a more console-oriented
interface to handle the venue’s wide range of productions-everything from live jazz to
spoken word to immigration ceremonies for new citizens. Four channels of Shure QLX-
D wireless mics, a Shure VP88 room mic, and four Blackmagic Design HyperDeck
Studio Pro video recorders also connect to the Radius 12×8 EX. Three video screens
are fed by Barco ClickShare wireless presentation systems, with their audio feeds
outputting to the Radius network. Everything is converted to Dante as early as
possible via the Radius DSPs. Connect a laptop in one space, and the video and audio
can be routed to any other space.

A high-end rack-mounted computer serves as a hardwired media server for the
performance space, and a Blackmagic Designs video switcher serves the main screen,
with two channels of audio in and out. All audio is hardwired into the Symetrix Radius
12×8 EX system.

“The Symetrix Radius DSPs are the keys,” insists McDermott. “Symetrix has really
shown its stars for us. I like the Symetrix people, the products ship quickly, and I get
great customer support. Especially important, my guys love to control Symetrix DSPs.
The Radius’ ability to control everything within a third-party system is incredible. We
can work in a very simple way to control dozens of functions, and Symetrix fully
implements the Dante specification, which is critical.”

Clear Story also supplied mobile audio I/O for the Dante system. “The client wanted to
be able to record in any room. The simplest way to do this was to supply two small
stage boxes that could tie into the Dante network. At the time of specification, nobody
made a small I/O unit, so we came up with a creative solution using Attero Tech
unD3IO units,” confirms McDermott. “We customised outdoor-rated plastic boxes to
house unD3IO interfaces, which provide audio in and out for the network. A piece of
ruggedised Ethernet cable comes out through a compression fitting and plugs into a
network jack, and because of the way Dante works, it doesn’t matter which jack they
connect to. The client can have as many interfaces as they want and move them
where needed.”

McDermott points to future needs the system will fill as well. “As their program
expands, they will need multilingual translations during live events,” he observes.
“Translators can be positioned in another room, and their feeds recorded and sent out
to the audience. Using the Attero Tech unDNEMO-BT, each translator can have a
discrete audio I/O with volume control, and wear a Bluetooth headset.”

The Symetrix Radius-based system is working very well, and it continues to be
developed. “Using Symetrix and Attero Tech, we felt very confident in the process,”
McDermott concludes. “Symetrix delivered everything we needed. Without Radius
DSPs, we would have struggled.”