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RE/P Files: Behind The Scenes On The Systems For The Who On Tour In 1989

Clair Bros. Audio used a high-tech approach to stadium shows by the legendary band more than 30 years ago.
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The Who performing on its 1989 North American tour.

Stage Monitor System

Band employee Bob Pridden, a longtime Who road veteran, piloted a precision stage monitor system that featured Clair’s new 12 AM floor wedges. These compact boxes, featuring a special 12-inch speaker and a compression driver mounted on a custom, asymmetrical high-frequency horn, were in place on the stage set nearly everywhere that a performer might need reference sound. Thirty monitors were available for the show.

The heart of the monitor system was a Harrison SM-5 (a 32-channel mainframe with 20-channel extender). Located close to the performers in the downstage left corner, the monitor mixing console was set up to provide a total of 14 mixes to the stage area. Compact Carver amplifiers with Clair’s custom time-correction crossover modules built in were located near the Harrison console, within easy reach of stage technicians. Front-panel access to input and output connectors is built into each monitor amp rack. The amplifiers are packaged either two or four to a rack.

The monitor system was provided with three Yamaha REV-5s and three Yamaha REV-7s, along with a pair of dbx 900 series racks for channel-insertion problem-solving. Each output mix was provided with a TC-1128 programmable 28-band graphic equalizer with integral spectrum analyzer.

“With these new EQ units, we are taking the first step toward really getting stage monitors under control for a complex show,” said Clair technician Frank Farrell. “In conjunction with the TC-1128’s, we have set up an IBM-compatible personal computer equipped with a video driver card. We have Beta-test software now, and are working on an automated method to identify and correct feedback online.

“The system has a search-and-destroy mode for feedback. It has an auto-search format, and the cursor automatically moves to the feedback frequency that is graphically depicted on the monitor screen. The biggest challenge now is getting the unit to differentiate between feedback and artistic intent.” (See Photo 4)

Photo 4: This personal computer is running beta-test software as Clair works on the development of an automated EQ system for live concert use.

In addition to the multiple floor wedges, the monitor system included traditional sidefills with horn-loaded bass bins, and a powerful drum monitor system that included a 24-channel Soundcraft 200SR console for use by drummer Simon Phillips on his own riser. Full-range monitor speakers were suspended overhead for the downstage performers, including singer Roger Daltrey.

Stage Inputs

Expanding a bit with maturity, the Who treated fans to a show that featured more than just bass, drums and guitar. The 15-piece ensemble included five horns, three backup vocalists. a support guitarist, keyboards and percussion. The keyboard setup featured a traditional Hammond B-3 with Leslie, which was housed in a soundproof box and covered with a trio of Sennheiser 421s.

The drum kit hosted a specialty microphone complement that included AKG condensers for the cymbals, a Beyer M88 for the large tom, Shure SM-57s for snare top and bottom, and compact E-V 308 and 408 microphones for the rack toms. The percussion kit was picked up with AKG 460s, 414s and an E-V 408.

As always. Roger Daltrey relied on a Shure SM-58. “We can go through as many as three or four a week,” Ravitch said. “It’s not so much that they quit working, as that there is a subtle change in the frequency response due to misalignment of the moving coil. Roger hits the mic very hard in the palm of his hand, which he’s done for years.”

Shure SM-57 mics with special shock-absorbing stands and direct-input boxes were set in place to pick up the sound of Steve Bolton’s and Pete Townshend’s electric and acoustic guitars. Multiple speakers were miked, which gave Clive Franks the opportunity for stereo panning, “fattening” and other special guitar effects.

For duplicating recognizable “signature” musical passages from popular tunes like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Pinball Wizard” a trio of Tascam ATR-60 4-track tape machines were set up near the monitor mix position. A custom switcher was developed so that a backup unit was always running. ready to go on-line at the punch of a button. Original master studio recordings were accessed to provide such elements as synthesizer lines and background vocal textures, which were then blended into the house mix. (See Photo 5)

Photo 5: Three Tascam ATR-60 4-track tape machines were operated backstage to insure that recognizable “signature” sound effects and musical passages were available at the house mix position, taken directly from original master tapes.

During the past few years, Clair has made a tremendous investment in new audio hardware and specialized engineering talent. Under the direction of Ron Borthwick, the company has made great strides in the direction of achieving its own stated design goals: to have more efficient sound systems that set up more easily and to offer better sound to more of the audience.

Perhaps the greatest improvements have been made in whole-system design integration. The company now boasts a specialized crossover that is intended for use with optimized speaker enclosures, all held together by a fail-safe amplifier/cable/AC system that is nearly unmatched in terms of electrical power transfer functions.

Not content to stop with these recent technological developments, the Clair Bros. design and engineering team is continuing with other long-term research and development programs that may have a significant impact on the concert sound industry. Perhaps the most ambitious is the development of a new-generation mixing console.

The Who’s recent tour was perhaps an ideal showcase for a system that shows the hard work and high-dollar investment that has been poured into it. The massive sound system enhanced the show, rather than detracted from it, a sure sign that the design work and capital investment was well worth it.

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