Showcase: A Look At Several Large-Format Digital Console Applications

August 02, 2012, by PSW Staff

digital consoles

There’s been an exceptional number of notable large-format digital console applications of late.

It demonstrates the impressive capabilities of the technology as well as the skill and talent of the engineers deploying them.

Here’s a look at some of the more notable uses.

The Queen Extravaganza Tour

To support the summer tour for a nine-piece band chosen by Queen guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor to celebrate the legendary band’s legacy and music, front of house engineer James McCullagh elected to use a DiGiCo SD10 to accomplish his work.

The band’s input count came to 48 inputs, which included 16 channels of drum, two channels of bass, four channels of guitar (“part of getting Brian May’s guitar sound is mic’ing the front and back of the Vox AC30 and we’ve got two guitarists on each end”), six channels of piano and keyboard, and nine channels of vocals as everyone in the band sings.

McCullagh made use of extensive grouping to organize all the vocals as well as snapshots on most of the songs for vocal routing and vocal balancing.

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“Obviously, each singer has their own channel, but sometimes the lead singer is the lead singer and sometimes he’s the backing singer,” he explains. “I created a stereo group and called it ‘backing vocals’ and sent all the backing vocals into that group and then I slammed that with a compressor.

“The Queen songs have very intricate harmonies and each vocalist sings at a different level. It was too much to have nine compressors going across nine channels over a loud rock band with drums and everything. It was easier for me to put one compressor over a group. That way, if someone sings slightly harder, or if I push a level a little bit too hard, that vocal won’t just jump out and sound awkward. It’s all squashed back into the mix and that helps to get that really tight, layered Queen harmony sound.”

Market Place Theatre & Arts Centre

This three-level, 400-seat live performance venue in Armagh, Northern Ireland offers an intimate setting and excellent sightlines, and it recently became one of the first venues in the world to implement Allen & Heath’s new GLD digital mixer, replacing the former analog desk.

Specifically, the package includes a GLD-80 mixer plus an AR84 I/O rack in the control room and an AR2412 rack down on the stage floor. The GLD is part of a wider overhaul of the venue’s analog audio infrastructure, which includes Cat-5 around the building to allow connection of an expander I/O rack to the GLD-80.

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“We have a team of four technicians, and we all put forward names of desks we thought may be suitable, as well as consulting industry colleagues. We demoed a few desks before making our choice but the GLD came out on top for price, ease of use and input capacity. Moreover, it sounded the best in our comparison listening tests,” states theatre technician Gary Bawden.

The venue hosts many different types of events, including theatre, music, dance, comedy and conferences, which the new GLD system is managing. “We’ve been really impressed with how easy it is to configure and move things around on the desk. Being able to color-code things is a neat feature. Also, the way this desk accesses auxiliaries is really good, almost a reverse logic of most other desks. The RTA is amazing and makes it so easy to squeak your monitors,” explains Bawden, shown above with the GLD-80 joined by technical team members Shane Stewart (left) and David Morrow (right).

BeatleShow! At Planet Hollywood, Las Vegas

Critics call this production, presented at Planet Hollywood’s Saxe Theatre, “the closest you can get to a real Beatles concert.”

Front of house mix producer/engineer Mick McCoy, with a long track record of working with Yamaha digital consoles, selected a Yamaha PM5D for his work.

He cites the two biggest pluses as recallability and reliability, adding, “The integration of Logic and a dedicated I-Mac show control is something I’ve worked on for about two years.

“I use a MOTU D/A to run multiple streams of audio, including a tempo map and cues to musicians, all getting stereo in-ear mixes from the PM5D, and stage monitors that are active terraced versions of the house mix—a very easy and cool 5D trick.”

In addition, a “tech track” or stage manager in a box connects to Clear-Com to direct technicians on scenic moves and cues. MIDI output also controls scene changes on the Yamaha PM5D.

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“Out of hundreds of cues for the show, there are only four scene changes on the Yamaha PM5D that need to be triggered manually, and this is done via a switchbox I built for just a few dollars to address the GPI port on the console,” McCoy says.

“It enables me and other engineers to be out of the booth and ‘in the field’ where our ears should be.

“A PC laptop with Yamaha Studio Manager running on it is wirelessly connected through an inexpensive router, so tweaking audio from the house is possible, including ancillary systems like front fills and monitors.”

Darius Rucker Concert Tour

When front of house engineer Billy Huelin first began working with Darius Rucker, it was 1992 and Hootie & the Blowfish was a popular bar band on the Carolina college circuit.

Fast-forward 20 years and Huelin is still at the helm for Hootie frontman Darius Rucker, working with monitor engineer Joel Stickrod, both providing mixes mixing on Midas PRO6 digital consoles.

“I was one of the last to go digital,” says Huelin. “I was always happy with my Midas XL4, and never heard a compelling argument to change, because none of the digital consoles sounded as good.”

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With sound quality as his primary focus, the PRO6 passed Huelin’s ear test.

“The Midas digital platform is the only one I’ve heard that places the proper importance on signal flow and gain structure,” he asserts. “Midas did a great job of emulating their analog preamps, using two gain stages. The preamps and EQ are the heart and soul of the console, and they are accurate and true. It’s like I never left the XL4. I just moved to something newer.”

Stickrod is the new kid on the block, having been with Rucker for four years. “When I started with Darius, I inherited a different digital console with about 350 scenes saved, which is what it took to run a Hootie show. That certainly made it easier for me to hit the ground running,” he says. “But after my first year, with Darius making the transition to country, I did the research and proposed switching to a PRO6 for monitors, which has worked out great.”

Paul Simon & Wynton Marsalis At Lincoln Center

Paul Simon recently got together with iconic jazzman and composer Wynton Marsalis (and special guest Aaron Neville) for three nights of live performances at the Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, with Studer Vista 5 and Soundcraft Vi6 digital consoles brought in to handle the mixing requirements.

“There were more than 100 inputs for this show,” notes Michael Conner, Simon’s front of house engineer. “We had to mic not only Paul, Wynton and Neville, but the entire Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Simon’s touring band.”

Conner and his team came up with the solution of using the Studer Vista 5 in conjunction with the Soundcraft Vi6 as a sidecar.

“I’d had about four years’ experience with the Vista 5, having used it on tours with David Byrne and then with Paul,” he explains. “

Wynton is normally mixed on a Vi6, so using the two together just made sense, along with the fact that they’re both Harman products and are easy to interface with each other.”

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“One of the best things about the Vista 5 is when you’re looking to access a particular function,” Conner continues. “I came from an analog background. This is not a confusing digital desk. The channel strip is in front of you at all times.

“You can reach the gain pot; you can reach the EQ; anything you need is always right in front of you. Touch a button and there it is – everything is easy to get to, making it easy to operate and smooth to mix on.”

Third/Sister Lovers Recreation, Paramount Theatre, Austin

An ensemble of musical legends (Mike Mills and Peter Buck of R.E.M., Pat Sansone of Wilco, and many others) joined by a 14-piece orchestra took the stage at the Paramount Theatre in Austin a few months ago to re-create Big Star’s third album release, Third/Sister Lovers.

Front of house engineer Nick Pellicciotto was tasked with ensuring that the audience heard a performance as authentic to the original as possible, as well as recording the show for later release.

To satisfy both demands, he chose an Avid VENUE SC48 remote system for the house and a VENUE SC48 console for monitors.

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“I had the input list days before the show,” Pellicciotto explains, “so using the VENUE Standalone software, I was able to create a show file with all of the channel names for the Pro Tools session and the front-of-house console. The techs at the Paramount emailed me and explained how the PA is patched, so I was able to get all that set up, and I was able to pre-program some of my effects, since I have the same plug-ins on my Pro Tools system at home.

“I listened to the original album to hear the different effects, especially the reverb times that were used on the album, and matched it pretty closely.”

In fact, he says, all of that pre-production time and the plug-ins made it a better live mix.

“With all of the plug-ins available to me, I was able to re-create the vintage effects much easier than if I had to use outboard processors,” he says. “For instance, there is a lot of bus compression on the drum tracks on that album. I was able to bus the drum tracks to a sub-group and strap Smack! (an Avid compressor plug-in) across the drum sub-mix.

“I also bused all the individual drum channels to the left and right, then slowly brought up the drum sub-group with that crushing compression, and it gave me that cool, breathing, compressed drum sound that’s all over the record.

“Plus, you can set up lots of different effects sends, so you can have five different reverbs and delays, and you can preset those and have snapshots and recalls for each song. So, you can really tailor each song to the sound that you are trying to re-create from the record.”

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Showcase: A Look At Several Large-Format Digital Console Applications