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48 Hours In Las Vegas: Upgrading The PA For Blue Man Group

87 loudspeakers, 72 amp channels, and tuning -- all in a very tight timeframe...

By Marcus Ross July 11, 2014

Blue Man Group performing in their special way at the theater at the Monte Carlo in Vegas that bears their name.

At 9:30 pm on a Tuesday in December, I had five teams totaling more than 30 people poised to descend on the Blue Man Theater at the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas to implement a new house system.

With less than 48 hours, including meal breaks, turnarounds and hopefully a nap or two, everything had to be ready for a show by Thursday at 7 pm. The organized chaos worked even better than imagined and the sonic improvement is nothing less than stunning.

The choice to make the system upgrade at the 1,500-seat, three-level venue began only a few months earlier when the artistic and production team from Blue Man Group were at the Sydney Lyric Opera house in Australia, building a new production. As resident audio supervisor for Blue Man, I was tasked to design an entirely new system from the ground up for the production down under.

After a lengthy evaluation process I chose L-Acoustics KARA line source arrays for their sonic quality and compact size. From the beginning of tech process, the system’s elegance and efficiency was evident to everyone, with the musical director, the technical staff, Blue Men and local producers all remarking that the sound was the clearest, full-range system they had heard.

After the Australian production finished, the company started looking at other opportunities to recreate this experience. The Las Vegas production was a natural fit. 

Excitement & Impact
In September, 2011, when I joined Blue Man, my goal was to bring consistency to our productions around the world. In this quest I’ve experimented with everything from microphones and console choices to loudspeaker selections.

My ultimate goal is to convey the excitement and impact of Blue Men performances at more than 64 shows a week at eight sites around the world, as well as numerous special events. Shows are presented at venues ranging from the 300-seater Astor Playhouse in New York City to a special one-off production at the Hollywood Bowl for more than 17,000.

Left to right, Tony Pittsley (head of audio for the Orlando production), author Marcus Ross (resident audio supervisor), and Jesse Stevens (head of audio for the Las Vegas production) at the DiGiCo SD7 console at front of house.

With similar content across all productions, but different needs in each venue, I find that I need to keep an open mind and consider the unique needs of each space. With a PA system, my focus is on SPL, bandwidth, coverage, polar stability and any physical limitations that might exist.

The musical composition for Blue Man shows is very dynamic and contains a significant amount of bandwidth. Choosing a loudspeaker system that has the ability to translate the entire bandwidth clearly throughout a large dynamic range is necessary for the blue men to convey both their subtle humor and high energy to the audience.

The transient response of the mix is what makes these shows far different than other artists I’ve worked with. This is instantly noticeable with Blue Man instruments, ranging from the acoustical PVC instruments to the electronic MIDI-triggered backpacks. The amount of drums in the show also determines the need to be able to handle transients.

The main system also needs to be able to reproduce unique and typical string instruments: zither, stick, guitar and bass. With such complex musical content, it becomes very important that every aspect of the system supports the show and does not impede the performance.

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