St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar

Spectacular Lighting and Sound

Nearly 40 years ago one of the first projects that the newly founded Electrosonic completed was a Son et Lumière for St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar. Over the years the system was upgraded piecemeal, but in 2002 the Government of Gibraltar decided on a complete refurbishment of the lighting and sound systems within the cave. The profile below is descriptive of the system up to the time of opening in 2002.

St Michaels Cave is situated at 300 meters above sea level, in the Rock of Gibraltar, and has interested visitors to the area since Roman times. The Cave was often reputed to be bottomless or part of a link to Africa, 15 miles away, and it has been the subject of many myths and stories through the centuries. With nearly a million visitors a year to the Cave, it has been one of the most popular visitor attractions in Gibraltar since World War II.

The Gibraltar Tourist Board, who manages the cave, wanted a turnkey solution and once again entrusted the project to Electrosonic, who put together a team of specialists that included Paul Bason of Pure Media as show creative director, David Atkinson as lighting designer, Richard Northwood of Coms as sound designer, and the company Lauren Lloyd as electrical installation contractor.

The initial brief from the client was for the lighting to enhance the beauty of the space by subtle yet dramatic lighting. The real challenge was working to an open brief and being able to visualise the final result for government approval and using technology in a space with dampness, high humidity and salt corrosion. The system also had to be easily maintained.

Two complementary systems have been installed. The “daytime” system is intended to deal with the heavy traffic arising from cruise line and similar visitors, where a waiting time is not practical. Visitors see the cave beautifully illuminated and a brief narration, alternately in Spanish and English, provides orientation information.

St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar

On entering the cave the public are taken through a tunnel which is lit by a series of recessed, buried uplights. The effect of the buried lighting creates bold shadows adding to the sense of drama and anticipation. The splendor of the cave interior is accentuated through the use of 35W discharge fittings with spreader lenses and low voltage dichroic units. The majority of the fixtures are positioned at low level hidden behind rocks and buried as the new lighting scheme had to be 'hidden' in the caves, without the fittings being obvious to visitors. The color temperature of the lamps varies between cool and warm to add a sense of depth to the various cave chambers.

One problem arising from the increased visitor traffic in recent years is that of visitor safety. There are over 200 steps down into the cave, and these have now been fitted with an aluminium nosing with built in LEDs to improve visibility.

The “night time” or “special occasion” system includes a 12-minute Son et Lumière production in the main auditorium, which is presented with all the general lighting off and programmed dynamic lighting. The lighting plays a key role in helping tell a story of myth and legend. The fixtures include Martin intelligent MAC units and generic lighting with Par 16, Par 64, AR111 and halogen floods fitted with toughened glass filters. The latter are controlled by Helvar Ambience permanent installation dimmers with DMX input. All luminaires have to be suitable for the high humidity environment of the cave. Special Effects include six high powered fans, haze machine and strobes.

St. Michael’s Cave in Gibraltar

The lighting sequence was originally programmed on a Whole Hog 2 console, but actually runs from an Artistic License ‘No Worries’ DMX replay unit.
The sound system in the main cave area includes the use of Community WET 2V8 compact full range loudspeakers with Crown amplification and CD player for the commentaries. The main show system uses Community R2-52 Long throw cabinets, R2-694 Short throw cabinets, Community R6 Bass units, NEAR A8 full range units and Community WET 228 full range units. A Peavey DSP is used for control with Crown amplification and multi-track replay from an Alcorn McBride digital binloop.

The project is an example of Electrosonic’s expertise in project management and in developing packages that match individual client requirements. It is also a nice example of how the company can serve an individual customer over a period of many years!