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Musical Magic from Memphis

Musical Magic from Memphis
Musical Magic from Memphis

UK - Featuring original songs by David Bryan, co-founder of Bon Jovi, and a storyline from Joe DiPietro, Memphis recently opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End, complete with sound design by Gareth Owen. The show stars the Queen of British soul, Beverley Knight, opposite West End star Killian Donnelly, in a compelling show that is set in the 1950s underground nightclubs of Memphis, Tennessee, with a storyline about the racial challenges of the era and a great musical mix of rock & roll, blues and gospel.

At the heart of the sound system is a pair of Avid Venue control surfaces, Gareth's regular mixer of choice, while the sizeable sound system is an all-d&b audiotechnik affair. V-Series forms the core proscenium system (V8 and V12 cabinets), complemented by V and J-Infra Subs, and a T-Series centre cluster. Overall, the complete system totals some 120 speakers, including a combination of E8/E6/E0s as outfills, E6 and E0s on front fill duties, and a hefty 57 E6s deployed as delays – all filling the theatre with the big sound that the show requires. Amplification is from a mix of d&b audiotechnik D12 and D6 amplifiers. For Gareth, the choice of d&b audiotechnik was a natural decision: "We really don't have time to work out the bugs in something dramatically new, particularly on a major new production such as this. I'm all for trying out new products but I prefer to experiment in a controlled manner. Our approach is to make considered incremental changes so that we can make careful comparisons and identify pretty much straight away if something is working for the better, or not."

A significant innovation for this production is the communications system, where the team is really pushing the boundaries with the first ever use of the Clear-Com Helixnet four-channel remote, as well as integrating the Clear-Com FreeSpeak wireless intercom system, which Gareth used for the first time on I Can't Sing. Gareth expands: "Helixnet is just so impressive, giving us 12-channel comms down a single cable so you can pull up any channel on any pack. Clear-Com has been working closely with the team to fine tune certain elements, such as the latency on the side tone, especially on the four-channel status, as you do tend to get an echo on your own voice back into the headset, which is mildly off-putting. It's great that Orbital has that relationship with the manufacturer. We went through something of a learning curve with FreeSpeak on I Can't Sing, and as with Helixnet this time, the Clear-Com guys are great about supporting us and tweaking it to iron out any issues that we encounter. The result is a fabulous radio communications system, and we are extremely impressed with it.”

Another departure for the Gareth Owen Sound team on this show is the introduction of Shure Axient AXT400 receivers in conjunction with the UR1M transmitters. The Axient bodypack transmitters were slightly too large to hide on an average cast member, but the combination of the standard micro UR1-M packs combined with the AXT400s is proving a real success. Gareth first tried these out on Sister Act in Holland, noting a real difference in audio quality and on the basis of knowing The Shaftesbury Theatre inside out, was happy to introduce this as a new element on Memphis across the board. There is a very tightly knit technical team involved on the show, with Gareth and his team working closely with rental company Orbital Sound – a regular combination on this level of production. At one point in the show, the musical director has to go under the stage into a separate conductor position for one number. As a result, backstage space became very restricted and Orbital had to build special customised equipment racks to fit into a tight space in the old orchestra pit – but it all went in!

Many of the senior members of the Gareth Owen Sound team are working on this production including associate designer Russell Godwin, award-winning production engineer Chris Mace, assistant designer Zoe Blackford, head of sound Dave Palmer, sound number two Andy Yiannaki and associate production engineer Andy Green.

10th November 2014

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