Planning, Realization of the sound system and the recording and Front of House Mix for a Musical show to celebrate 1300 years of the city of Echternach with more than 150 performers
Special challenges / difficulties:
The bandwidth of the musical spectrum, the structure of the venue, the number of participants.
In 1997 I came in contact with Jean-Marie Kieffer, who worked as a music teacher at the Lycée classique d'Echternach. He was looking for somebody who could do the implementation of sound engineering for a big project. The event was to be the culmination of all the celebrations the city of Echternach were running over one year for the city's 1300th "Birthday". He had composed music which was to be the basis for a multimedia journey through 1300 years of Echternach's history.
The event was to take place at the local basilica. It was the center of the former monastery, around which the town of Echternach gradually emerged. The home of Lycée classique d'Echternach is today within the walls of the former monastery. The structure of the musical performance and the acoustic and architectural circumstances of the venue were the two big challenges of the project.
The show called "ORALABORA" (lat. ora et labora = pray and work) by Jean Marie Kieffer (composer, conductor and the organizational and artistic director) was designed in a way that the individual historical periods were represented by musical compositions which were stylistically common in the times under consideration. But there were also exciting "dialogues" between the times periods: To name just one of many examples: Gregorian chants held "dialogues" with gospel-like elements. The musical ranges stretched from medieval over classical and jazz music to rap. In the local dialect a storyteller led across the individual stages of this journey. Some parts were accompanied by video projections (some of this historical footage was presented in public for the first time ever) shown on a screen above the choir.
The realization of a natural sound impression for the audience was very important to me. Even in the last row a relaxed listening should be possible. This was an extra challenge having the spectators' area in the very high and narrow nave of this house of worship. Since classic, jazz and pop elements occurred and room acoustics were far from optimal. For such a wide range of acoustic events, a relative big number of mic channels were necessary. This was the only way to have access to almost any instrument depending on stylistic necessity (e.g. for rap the same drum set had to sound completely different than in a mediaeval context). It was necessary to have a relatively extended monitoring because not only "classical" instruments and "classical" singer performed in this musical show. In this reverberant environment additional background "noise" by cross-emitting monitor speakers would have been self-defeating. I decided to have 10-channel wireless in-ear monitoring system for vocal soloists, backing vocals and the storyteller. Only the conductor and pianist got conventional monitor loudspeaker to hear the singers and the synthesizer. The entire monitoring was done on a separate monitor console, which was operated by Frank Schattle, located right next to the stage area. It was clear from the start that I wanted to disturb the look of the basilica through loudspeakers as little as possible. Therefore, the speaker should be really small, but highly efficient, to keep their numbers down. The sound of the systems should be also absolutely neutral. Another criterion for the selection of the loudspeakers was the space requirement and the expected noise of possible amplifier fan etc. I decided on "self-powered" UPA and USW systems from Meyer Sound; because they have amplifiers that are both fanless and integrated. So no noise producing power amp racks had to be placed within the room and no long speaker cable runs were needed.
The room itself turned out to be the biggest challenge. The audience area was only 10m wide but 35m deep and very high. My aim was to design the sound system in a way that it was possible for any listener at each position to have an optimal listening experience and speech intelligibility. Moreover, during the show the listeners should not perceive, as far as possible, that any loudspeakers were in use at all. So the impression should always be ensured that sound came from the stage and did not seem to come out of the loudspeakers. On the one hand this was realized with flown main PA-speakers placed at the front end of the altar, supplemented by two (right and left) lines of additionally flown loudspeaker systems in 3 rows attached to the pillars. Gallows shaped constructions created suspension points about 30 cm off the pillars. That allowed a more precise acoustic positioning for the loudspeakers. The special requirement in placing these delay loudspeakers was to have their radiation as straight as possible to the main sound wave front. Therefore, we took these L trussing that gave us the opportunity to bring the loudspeakers parallel to the pillars in an acoustically perfect position. These trusses had to be tied to the pillars. Each pillar had a slightly different profile so they had to be measured. Then we could prepare , to prevent the edges of the sandstone pillars from beeing damaged by the lashing. Acoustically, all speaker systems were aligned to an acoustic zero timeline. I chose the position of the conductor for this. The relatively direct pickup of the microphones for the choir, located about 10m further back, was delayed via subgroups at my front of house mixing desk, in order to keep the natural acoustic runtime of the choir. For mechanical reasons the first rows of the audience, were just outside the emission of the main speakers, this had to be specially considered in the sound concept. For this purpose I placed 3 extra UPM loudspeakers all around the lower altar, and naturally they got their own time setup. All these actions provided a very good "sound illumination" throughout the whole listening area, each runtime fitted exactly to the origin of the sound event. This gave all the listeners the impression for that the sound came always from the stage and did not seem to come out of the speakers. The entire sound equipment like loudspeakers, microphones, mixing boards, etc. were provided by the Cologne based PA-company PADCO.
In addition to PA and monitoring a multi-track recording had to be planed as well. An audio CD of this live event was to be produced with the best tracks out of the records of the three shows. Therefore all audio inputs had to be split into 3 ways to distribute the 3 MIDAS mixing consoles (FOH, Monitor and Recording). In order to capture the live atmosphere, we pointed additional atmo-microphones at the audience. The entire CD production was carried out by Gunni Mahling Studio Saarbrücken.
Luxembourg SOUNDSHAKERS team was responsible for the planning and implementation of the lights and projection.
Info / Specials:
6x trumpets, 3x trombones, 2x alto-saxophones, 2x tenor-saxophone,1x baritone saxophone,
1x grand piano,1x synthesizer,1x double bass,3x4 violins,3x cellos, 1x e-bass, 1x e-guitar,1x drum set, 4x percussion,1x recorder,1x flute,1x oboe,1x frenchhorn,1x rapper,
6x backing vocals, 5x vocal soloists,
Choir:35x soprano,35x alto,12x tenor,18x bass.