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And All That Jazz… Backstage At The Monte-Carlo Jazz Festival

Sophisticated infrastructure put together by a savvy sound team for the systems at an iconic performing arts event...

By Paul Watson July 30, 2014

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Picture this—it’s mid afternoon, the sun is shining; I’m relaxing in the lobby of the prestigious Hotel de Paris, sipping on a chocolate-coated cappuccino, admiring the décor and soaking in the chilled-out atmosphere…That’s not quite true—I’m milking their free WiFi, praying the stunning waitress won’t charm me into another 11 Euro coffee before I set off for sound check. I’m actually staying in the Novotel… in Nice.

Nevertheless, with a spring in my step, I make the short walk across the square to the festival venue – and it’s no ordinary venue. The Opéra de Monte-Carlo is more like a palace; its 150-year-old walls house a plentitude of very regal looking rooms and corridors, as well as the 900-capacity Salle Garnier.

As I walk in, I notice Alain Courieux walking out for a smoke. This man is a true gent, and a magician at front of house. Last time I saw him, he was juggling about 20 keyboards for Jean-Michel Jarre at Wembley Arena on his DiGiCo SD7, and this time around, he’s mixing on an SD10, which I can’t seem to locate…

Where’s The Desk?
“That’s because front-of-house isn’t actually at front-of-house here, you see,” he explains, with a smile. “We’re in the dressing room—we call it the studio, actually, as we have a pair of Genelec 1031s to monitor the audio—and we’re located two floors below the arena; it sounds crazy, I know, but it works beautifully for this gig.”

The reasoning for this setup is threefold: to respect the building’s character and aesthetic; to save battling the venue’s acoustics, and to keep all of the seats available.

“As a punter, you don’t need to be punished by the acoustics of the room; and what we get out of the speakers here is the exact sound that’s coming from the stage mics,” Courieux explains. “Then we send that via MADI to the [DiGiCo] SD9 in the main room, where Olivier Moreau [of Arpège, the audio provider for the event] controls a stereo feed, the subs level, and the announcer mic.”

The FOH console is packed out at 96 inputs running at 48 kHz; audio is being distributed via three DiGiCo racks on site: two SD Racks and a DiGiRack, the latter is for the SD9, the former are shared between FOH and monitors.

“The monitor board is in charge of the level of the preamp—the master—and we adjust the level of the SD10 in the dressing room with the digital trim,” Courieux continues. “The SD10 is very versatile, like all DiGiCo boards, and plenty powerful for a show like this. Also, we’ve connected DiGiGrid, which is great; we only got the unit two days ago, but it’s easy to use and it’s running like clockwork.”

Introducing DiGiGrid
Using DiGiGrid, Courieux will record 92 tracks of audio tonight for Marcus Miller (bass player extraordinaire-cum-Grammy Award-winning producer): a two-hour set with a 52-piece orchestra and full band; everything’s going down dry so Miller can work on the material himself, post-show.

Courieux has copied the outputs from the two SD Racks to the MADI output of the main SD10, fed audio to the DiGiGrid, then sent the signal via RG45 cable to his MacBook Pro, which is running Logic 9.

“I’m using the internal effects from the SD10, which are all excellent—the only outboard I carry these days is a Lexicon 960,” he says, booting up a second MacBook Pro. I ask him what he’s doing. “I am taking care of the orchestra on this Mac. Using both laptops, I have control of the DiGiGrid and the remote DiGiCo control; this one is giving me extra channels.”

Woman On A Mission
Backstage, Rebekah Foster, Miller’s tour manager, production manager, co-monitor engineer, and pretty much anything else she sets her mind to, seems to have multi-tasking down to a fine art. “Walk with me,” she insists, so I scuttle along after her like a stage hand, concluding that she is not to be messed with.

“This is jazz—we’re a family here, and we look out for each other. If I’m needed somewhere else, my stage manager will hop onto the monitor board, as he’s also an engineer; and Alain has one of Marcus’s audio crew mixing with him—Marcus has his own audio team as well as the core crew.

“We all pull together for each other here. Having DiGiCo consoles makes life a whole lot easier, especially with an orchestra. I love the snapshots, the control groups, the I/O racks; and DiGiGrid allows us to record the shows very easily.”

Foster uses no outboard whatsoever – she gets “all the processing she needs, and more” out of her SD10, and her channel count stands at 98. “Our relationship with DiGiCo is great,” she insists. “Basically, we say the word and Webby makes it happen. In fact, if you’re listening Webby, we need a pair of consoles to take on the road next year, OK?”

And with that, she’s gone—no doubt to conquer another set of challenges. Next port of call is the man at the top of the festival tree, Jean-René Palacio, artistic director of the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM), promoter, and booker.

“We have several roles here, really,” Palacio explains. “First and foremost, it’s about bringing new and exciting artists and new technology into this historic venue with the most respect we can. Secondly, it’s an economic thing – when you put a big mixer in the middle, you lose seats—and you don’t expect a positive reaction from your sound guy when you tell him that’s not going to happen! However, Alain’s come up with a great solution that everybody is now comfortable with.

“Alain was the one who introduced me to Webby and James [Gordon, DiGiCo’s managing director]. We get on great and they are now our partner here. DiGiCo is on all the riders, and we use them all year round. They’re a standard for us; we always know that every artist and crew will be happy.”

Razzle Dazzle
As soon as the show begins, one thing is clear: the musician- ship is entirely world class. Miller may be renowned for his bass playing, but he is one mean saxophonist too; and let’s not forget his outrageously talented guests including Columbian-born harpist, Edmar Castaneda, and harmonica player, Gregoire Maret.

The sound in the room is superb, and it’s interesting (and bloody knackering) flitting between the auditorium and FOH to compare the two; as unusual the setup is, it’s a winning one!

As I exit backstage, I ask Courieux what kind of relationship he has with Miller in terms of artist/engineer. He turns to me, stubs out his cigarette and offers a wry smile:

“Marcus knows exactly what he wants; he sends us his three bass feeds—DI, mic, and amp – and we take it from there. We don’t discuss sound so much; to be honest, we much prefer to talk about wine…”

Headliner is a recently launched UK-based publication that supports the creative community, focusing on live performances, recording sessions, theatre productions, and major broadcast events. The spotlight is on the technology, but with a lifestyle approach. Find out more here, and subscribe here.

Headliner editor Paul Watson has 10 years live touring experience with bands in the UK and the US, and ran an independent recording studio for five years close to London. He also serves as the editor for Europe for Live Sound International and ProSoundWeb.


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