Wuhan’s Floating Theater Sails Back in Time with Symetrix

Visitors to the historic city of Wuhan can now steam down the Yangtze river and backwards in time courtesy of one of the world’s most ambitious examples of immersive theatre. Created by renowned theatrical director and artist Fan Yue, the Zhiyinhao is an enormous steamboat upon which passengers are spirited back to the 1920s, where the show unfolds around them. Perhaps even more remarkable than the premise is the sprawling audio installation that covers the entire ship. At the heart of it all are Symetrix Edge DSPs.

By day a floating museum, and by night a truly unique experience, the Zhiyinhao recreates an era in which the famous city of Wuhan (sometimes called “the Chicago of China”) was only just beginning to take its modern shape. Visitors are immersed in the performance as soon as they arrive at the wharf, with its 720-foot (220m) pier filled with clanking rickshaws. The ship itself is a faithful recreation of an early 19th century Chinese steamer named the Jianghua, accommodating as many as 1,008 people (including 108 performers) over three themed decks, restaurants and more. Keeping the show afloat is a ship-wide infrastructure of network cabling transporting 64 channels of Dante in both directions to 470 loudspeakers located across almost 100 individual rooms and numerous audio zones.

Two Symetrix Edge DSPs sit at the heart of the system, specified by the company behind all of the Zhiyinhao’s technical audio systems: leading regional systems integrator EZPro International.

“Working on a project as creative and challenging as the Zhiyinhao has proven that EZPro International has the ability to provide a complete solution, no matter how complex the requirements,” explains EZPro’s Senior Vice President, Tao Zhang, who designed the audio installation together with System Application Manager Yan Chi and Product Manager Nan Hu. “The Symetrix Edge DSPs are the ideal choice for redundant network audio transmission in such a large-scale, multi-channel system.”

Each of the ship’s zones features redundancy with primary and secondary switches plus the ability for the director to make quick manual changes to all technical systems if required. “The card-based analog inputs and outputs of the Symetrix Edge DSPs can be configured based on the clients’ requirements,” says Yan Chi. “They represent a flexible and affordable solution that’s easy to expand. Moreover, its open architecture DSP offered us a powerful programming platform for the Zhiyinhao’s unique requirements, as well as the ability to create custom control interfaces. In addition, the Edge DSPs can monitor and manage system status, making it easy for system commissioning and maintenance.”

“It was extremely exciting to participate in this project but we also faced lots of challenges including the complexity of the sound system,” concludes Tao Zhang. “It was a very creative project. The director and his team often came up with new ideas and we had to quickly adjust the system configuration accordingly. The flexibility of the system’s Symetrix foundation was exceptionally beneficial in this respect. Another challenge was ensuring the system’s stability – performances on the Zhiyinhao take place daily and we needed to know there would be no problems with the audio system. Ultimately, with the efforts of our team and the support of the director’s group, we have provided an excellent solution, and Symetrix is a big part of that.