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Bowl Full Of Sound: Creating An Expansive Soundscape For Bon Iver

Front of house engineer Xandy Whitesel and Clearwing Productions take L-Acoustics' L-ISA immersive system for a spin in Santa Barbara.

“Live mix engineers currently have several fights, or compromises, to deal with,” shares Xandy Whitesel, front of house engineer for the Grammy Award-winning band Bon Iver. “Our main requirements of a PA are quality and consistent audio coverage – of frequency and SPL – throughout the venue.

“Today’s line arrays are capable of achieving an excellent level of coverage while the venue changes every day. But there is a compromise so ingrained in live mixing that we rarely speak of it: the majority of the audience’s coverage is essentially mono. A smart live mix engineer must always keep this in mind, and this can be quite a challenge with dense music such as Bon Iver’s.”

Over the past decade, frontman Justin Vernon has emerged from the woods of Wisconsin as one of modern music’s most inventive songsmiths. Although his group’s musical path may have started out sounding something more akin to folk music, Vernon’s trajectory over the course of his last couple of records has explored everything from rustic chamber pop to haunting, textural collages of vocoders and electronica.

With such a broad range of sonic elements in the mix, the band’s show at the Santa Barbara Bowl on an L-Acoustics L-ISA Hyperreal system recently served as an opportunity for 4,500 in attendance to hear the group in an expansively panoramic soundscape.

Carlos Mosquera at the L-ISA controller positioned at front of house. (Credit: Matt Benton)

Scott Sugden of L-Acoustics reached out to Whitesel with an invitation to join him and Carlos Mosquera of L-ISA Labs at the manufacturer’s North American headquarters in Westlake Village to explore the system’s potential.

“I brought in a multi-track of a live show that I ‘d mixed in a Cubase session and I was immediately impressed with how easily my stereo mix transferred to L-ISA,” Whitesel says. “After some thoughtful spatial positioning in the L-ISA Processor for each channel, very little change in EQ and level were needed for a very presentable product.

“That began the critical process of converting my brain from a stereo presentation – mostly mono in the live world, really – to the L-ISA Scene/Extension setup and how to apply L-ISA to the current show.”

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