There’s a lot going on with newer digital console/mixer technology platforms, with this roundup providing a snapshot of what’s happening.
A New Direction For An Ever Evolving Group
Reunited in 2009 after a five-year hiatus, Phish is still hard at it, delivering truly unique live shows marked by improvisation, extended jams, and the blending of musical genres that include progressive and psychedelic rock, folk, funk, blues, country, bluegrass and more.
Band members Trey Anastasio (guitars, lead vocals), Mike Gordon (bass, vocals), Jon Fishman (drums, percussion, vacuum, vocals), and Page McConnell (keyboards, vocals) tour consistently each year, making long seasonal runs that pause for an occasional break before resuming again.
Front of house engineer Garry Brown has worked with the band since it reunited, following previous efforts with Anastasio since 2005. The veteran mixer sought a new console platform prior to this year’s dates, working closely with the band’s long-time sound company Clair Global in sorting through options and ultimately selecting a Yamaha RIVAGE PM10 joined by an RPio622 I/O rack.
Brown had been utilizing the same digital console for six years, and the platform itself was more than a decade old, so he was in search of a new direction, including entertaining thoughts of returning to the analog mixing realm. He went through a thorough, week-long evaluation process of six viable models at the Clair Global facilities in Lititz, PA, with the PM10 emerging as his choice.
“These days it’s much more about sound quality than some of the functionality aspects of consoles,” Brown states. “The key is, does the thing sound good? In comparing the PM10 to the other models, this is where it clearly distinguishes itself.
“On top of that,” he continues, “it’s easy to get a mix going. I found that in working with the PM10 in just one morning period that it was quite simple to get it together and working completely in a relatively short amount of time.”
He runs about 80 inputs for a standard show, but that count can range up to 120 inputs depending on the goals of a specific performance. “My old console maxed out at 96 channels, so if we went past that, it got complicated,” he notes. “But with 144 inputs, the PM10 makes it much easier from the get-go for me to be flexible with what the band needs to do.”
Clair Global provides full house and monitor systems for Phish, including a main PA headed by Cohesion 12 main arrays with CP-218 subs and 12AM monitors on stage receiving mixes from monitor engineer Mark Bradley via a Yamaha PM5D console.
Brown adds that the PM10 has also proven to be a good fit in meeting his specific mix needs with the band, which in addition to being highly improvisational has never done the same set list twice in its entire career. In fact, for a recent four-show engagement at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the band didn’t even play the same song on any of the nights. (That’s 12-plus hours of music without a repeat.)
“It’s a challenge for the band and it’s a challenge for me,” he says. “They’re a four-piece band, so it’s not that hard to keep it together, but there’s a whole lot of inputs, they have a lot going on, and they have a lot of flexibility in what they want to play. It’s also the most fun part about working with them – you have no idea what they’re going to play, so it’s not about getting your scenes done and then going on to the next scene, and then the next scene, and so on – you wait and see what comes out of the gate and then just start mixing the show.
“Yes, it keeps me on my toes. But it would be very tough to go back to a more standard tour – it might seem just a bit too mundane.”
A Recent Upgrade Comes Into Play
The recent Nostalgic for the Present 23-date North American tour by Sia employed a pair of DiGiCo consoles, including an SD5 loaded with the company’s new Stealth Core 2 at front of house and an SD10 for monitors.
“I picked up the SD5 right after we finished the European festival segment of the tour,” says front of house engineer Jon Lemon, whose lengthy portfolio includes work with Beck, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure and others, and who had one of the first SD5 consoles on the market in 2012. He notes that the lighter SD10 suited his needs for the tour’s hectic European flight schedule but finds the SD5’s three full-color touch-sensitive TFT LCD screens offer the best interface for Sia’s kinetic show.
Monitor engineer Adam Jackson then switched over to the SD10, exchanged for the SD11 he had been using. Both consoles were supplied by Sound Image (Escondido, CA), the tour’s SR provider, which also provided Adamson line arrays and system technician Vic Wagner.
“The SD5 is a fabulous desk; I can configure it any way that I want,” Lemon states, detailing that he splits various input banks to either the left or right TFT monitors and can mirror them on the third screen. “Literally, in terms of workflow, everything’s at my fingertips. With more than 60 inputs overall, that’s a huge help. I find that the visual feedback they provide really makes a big difference.”
He adds that the upgrade to new Stealth Core 2 is also of considerable help, with its complement of dynamic EQ, multi-band compressors, DiGiTuBe emulators and expanded MADI connectivity. On the tour, the SD5 is connected to an SD-Mini Rack on an Optocore loop that offers Lemon a combination of digital and analog I/O, and he has two Waves SoundGrid Extreme servers that can run over 500 instances of Waves stereo SSL E-Channel or C4 Multiband Compressor plugins.