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UK Touring Double Bill with Bill Kenwright Ltd’s New Musicals
With seven major shows from the Bill Kenwright Ltd stable hitting the UK touring circuit in as many weeks, the early part of 2015 disappeared in a blur for sound designer Dan Samson. One of the shows involved the first tour in over a decade for the legendary Jesus Christ Superstar. Also on the schedule was a large scale new production of The Sound of Music – with both shows involving sound equipment supplied by Orbital Sound.
The preparation for both shows took place at Orbital Sound’s Brixton facility, involving detailed system planning, build and testing prior to the tours going out on the road under the aegis of technical director Bill Addison. Dan’s sound design for both shows centred around a d&b audiotechnik system, comprising principally Q-Series loudspeakers, complemented by the compact line array T-Series, B2 SUBs as well as E6 and E8 cabinets.
Dan explains: “Both shows involve exciting new elements in terms of the overall technology, compared to the last time that they toured and this has given us some great scope to play with. We are using an E0-based surround sound system on both productions, which has added an extra dimension – for example, in creating the ambience of the large Abbey spaces in The Sound of Music, as well as for the crowd effects on Jesus Christ Superstar.
“The systems are quite similar – both using DiGiCo SD10Ts along with the Q-Series – although the shows’ styles are very different. Jesus Christ Superstar is such an iconic musical, with a very big dynamic sound – our job is to make sure that audiences are not disappointed! The set is a major challenge, in that it uses a big metal bridge on two levels. There is a lot of movement and one issue was to make sure that the cast had really good coverage at all times, so we had to make sure there was the right level of foldback wherever they are. The show has been redesigned from the ground up, and we have gone for a more arena-style sound set up, which is working really well. This is mainly because we are using the orchestrations and arrangements from the recent arena tour, giving the show a really big sound at some points, with the focus on a confident rhythm section in order to recreate the feel of the original 70s concept album.”
With his detailed knowledge of the UK touring circuit, Dan’s focus was on designing a flexible system that would deliver a high quality sound irrespective of the venue – bringing in some additional equipment as required to handle the bigger venues, while keeping the touring rig as compact as possible. The core system configuration in both cases involves stalls hangs of Q1 cabinets with Q7s used for outfills or infills. Q7s also provide a point source option on the fills. Further left and right hangs of Q1s are used to provide coverage for the upper levels, with a T-10 centre cluster deployed whenever possible, depending on venue. The QSUBs are positioned on a venue-by-venue basis – essentially wherever the team can fit them in! Dan has been impressed by the performance of the d&b D80 amplifiers, as well as the new version of R1 remote control software, which is proving to be very stable. Overall, his emphasis has been on deploying a system that he has high confidence in, having used it successfully on many previous occasions – an essential element for a gruelling tour with a weekly venue change.
The Sound of Music requires a more traditional and often very subtle approach, with audience expectations always very high with regard to the musical’s well-loved score. Technically, it is more about achieving a careful balance between the big moments as well as the more atmospheric sections. Added to this are the challenges of micing nuns wearing habits, three teams of children changing over on a regular basis, hats being taken on and off – for the sound team, attention to detail is crucial. For Dan, the SD10T’s dedicated theatre software is an enormous plus, giving specific control where it is needed with channel flexibility.
21st April 2015
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