In the words of monitor engineer Elijah Topazio, the rig he rode herd over on the recent concert tour by the Mickey Hart Band is “a constantly evolving monster.”
Still, it was business as usual for Topazio, a pro audio veteran noted for his ability to effectively serve high-profile artists with innovative approaches to performance that can make for uniquely challenging gigs.
Mickey Hart certainly qualifies. As a member of the Grateful Dead and a solo artist, he’s known as a highly skilled drummer and percussionist as well as a tireless musical innovator and musicologist. On the 2013 album Superorganism, the band broke down barriers between the human body and music creation using technology developed by Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of California-San Francisco.
An essential part of the resulting show was an EEG cap that read Hart’s brain wave activity, which was transmitted to Ableton operator/sound designer Jonah Sharp, who then translated that input into sound for the band so they could literally jam with Hart’s brain.
Topazio has worked with Hart’s band for five years, moving to monitors at the halfway point of that tenure. As a former member of the Dead’s crew, as well as the owner Aylett, VA-based Rosebud Productions, he’s someone who doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
The Mickey Hart Band performing on the recent tour on a stage devoid of wedges. (click to enlarge)
At the core of the “evolving monster” rig are Aviom A360 personal mixers replacing the Aviom A-16IIs the band used previously. For a typical show, there are up to 13 mixes on stage and 40-plus open microphones. In order to deal with the potential feedback issues and in an effort to tour more efficiently, the Aviom format was ideal.
“Coming into venues night after night and using different stuff wouldn’t have worked for this band,” Topazio notes. Ultimately the Aviom system lets the band mix their own monitors, thereby allowing Topazio to focus his attention on Hart. “I spend most of my time making mix changes for Mickey because he has drum sticks in his hands, so I spend 45 seconds of every minute watching him and the other 15 scanning the stage.”
In all, there are eight Aviom A360s on stage, one for each principal musician. Topazio still uses an A-16II for his mix. He also carries three Meyer Sound UM-1C wedges from the Grateful Dead days for either guest musicians, as a means to provide additional reinforcement for Mickey when necessary, or for use occasionally as front fills.
Lead vocalist Crystal Monee Hall dialing in her mix on an Aviom A360 personal mixer. Next to her, keyboardist Joe Bagale is similarly equipped. (click to enlarge)
The A360s offer a variety of benefits over the A-16IIs, Topazio explains. The 36-channel mix engine can be used to mix up to 16 mono or stereo standard channels and provides mono or stereo ambience via the unit’s dual profile channel, an addition that offers players the ability to get an audio feed that represents their specific area on stage.
“We’re all on IEMs so you need some sort of audience mic to get some reference of the room,” he notes, “but we were so maxed out I didn’t have enough inputs for ambient mics.”