Debuting A New Rig At A Mega Event
Yes, Virginia, it can be done, and this is not your father’s audio system


Mega events present conditions that seriously tax the abilities and energies of even the most experienced sound reinforcement company. Take an entertainment bill ranging from single lecturer to full orchestra, theatrical production to national headliner concert act, and toss in a little audience participation to really make things interesting.

Let’s accommodate all of these production needs with 136 input channels, as well as dozens of wireless microphone and in-ear monitoring systems, in an RF “friendly” downtown urban environment.

And why not host the event in a huge domed stadium to add another acoustical challenge?

Bigger is always better, so let’s be sure to have a stage that is 160 feet wide, complete with a 30-foot inflatable, rotating globe, two pools, three large-format video screens (that cannot be blocked, of course!) and assorted other trusses, props and the like. At least by load in, the concrete floor will be covered with green plastic turf under protective floor panels (new to the U.S.), and the air conditioning keeps things relatively cool and comfortable while its about 100 degrees outside.

Welcome to our world! The event described above was not some production designer’s nightmare ­ it was real. Called the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) Youth Gathering, it takes place every three years, with the most recent held a few months ago at Atlanta’s 80,000-seat Georgia Dome.

GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS

Briefly, ELCA provides an opportunity for high school youth from around the world to get together for meetings, exhibits and discussion of issues. Mix in some entertainment and loud rock ‘n’ roll to help get the message across.

“There are only a few cities in the U.S. that can handle this event,” explains Heidi Hagstrom of the ELCA organization. “Because 99 percent of the audience is from out of town, most cities don’t have the hotel rooms to handle 50,000 people at a time. We spilt the event into two week-long sessions to get the crowd size down to 25,000, but it’s still a tight fit.”


One of the primary GEO arrays, ready to fly.

My company, Gand Concert Sound, based in Glenview, Illinois, supplied sound reinforcement for the event, working closely with Production Manager K.P. Terry and Sound Designer Ben Blumberg. It marked the debut of our new Nexo GEO T Series “Tangent” array loudspeaker system, and in fact, was the first arena-scale GEO T rig to be used for a public event in the U.S.

Regular readers of Live Sound und-oubtedly recall my salient thoughts (if I do say so myself!) on line array systems and the hype surrounding them. (For those who missed it, see “Lyin’ Arrays?” July 2003) O.K. gang, get those typing fingers warmed up and set your modems on “stun” as I explain how the acquisition of this “new baby” came about.

We had a very busy summer touring schedule in swing ­ our racks and stacks were committed through November. Ben (Blumberg), who’s always liked Nexo’s sound quality and compact size, suggested I talk with Chris Beale of SSE Hire Group (in the U.K.) about sub-hiring a Nexo rig to handle the event. We initially talked about an Alpha rig, but that wasn’t available, and he brought me up to date on what was happening with GEO T.

DO THE MATH

I’d already been hearing good things about GEO, but didn’t feel that it would have enough horsepower for an arena. Chris ran some quick math on how few boxes are needed in general, even for arena applications. My mind said “no way” but my checkbook said “let your ears decide”. So I decided to go to a demo and hear the rig. I really liked the sound, imaging and output of the system, but was equally drawn to the packaging, which is compact and attractive, and with a high-tech aesthetic.

Presented with this system, at this moment in time, with a major show just around the corner, I decided to invest. I also see very good opportunities for sub-hiring the rig when we’re not using it. (For further discussion, see sidebar on page 22.)


It’s all smiles at Mr. Gand’s FOH position prior to showtime.

Then came the big question that is a regular occurrence in the lives of we members of “PA,” or “Procrastinators Anon-ymous”: would the new system arrive in time for the event? (And you thought you knew the definition of “PA”!) Fortunately, the loudspeakers arrived the week prior to load-in. Mike and Bob Krutch at R & R Case (located in the Chicago area) worked non-stop to design and build custom-fitted cases for them, and these accommodate stacked clusters of three boxes.

Racks containing 100,000 watts of new Camco Vortex 6 power amplifiers to drive the system were assembled at Nexo’s U.S. facility in San Rafael, California and then shipped directly to the show site. Why these particular amps? GEO's cabling takes three 27-pound amps, pushing 18,000 watts, to six cabinets through one EP6 cable. An 18-box hang uses only three speaker cables, a significant factor, to say the least.

The amp racks arrived along with half the necessary Nexo CD18 subwoofers. The rest showed up a bit later, but even at half-power, we were getting enough low-end punch to do the trick for this gig. These dozen units were stacked in lines of three and set to each side of the stage, out of the way, going about their business.

Meanwhile, very few in the U.S., and no one on the ELCA production crew outside of me, had ever seen or heard a GEO T rig, let alone flown one. There was a great deal of finger-crossing that the rigging would interface and that the aiming software would be easy to use and above all, accurate in its parameters.

Fortunately, we had a really smart crew, the boxes are extraordinarily easy to configure, rig and fly, and almost everything we needed showed up on time. The software was spot on.

ANCHOR THE IMAGE

Well prior to our deadline, a system with main left and right arrays made up of 15 GEO T 4805 modules was in place and fully tested, ready to go. We added nine GEO T 2815 nearfield cabinets (three each for left, right and center) that came through customs two days later. The software predicted a hole in the coverage due to the 160-foot wide stage. We filled it with a center cluster made up of three 4905s and three 2815s. This pumped up the SPL to cover the national act's stage volume and pulled the vocal image into the middle when needed.


Delay system electronics at the back of the booth.

Each of the arrays were flown with just two 1-ton motors apiece, and due to their petite footprint and final trim height about 58 feet from the deck, were virtually invisible, even when the house lights were turned up.

When we fired it up, the sound was huge. Not just in relation to the array size, but regardless of the scale of system. Most impressive was the cardioid technology, which rendered rear spill almost non-existent.

You walk around the back and there is no sound, while performers stood directly in front of the rig with a handheld wireless vocal mic and surrendered not so much as a squeak of feedback. The bands sometimes asked if the PA was on.

At the front-of-house mix position headed by my trusty Midas Heritage console, 175 feet from the stage, I found the system to cover fully and tightly, so much so that I turned off the KRK studio monitors I usually have on hand. Peaks and valleys didn’t exist, and sound was so linear that a lot of our former battles went away.

I’ll say this about line arrays that are properly designed and implemented, and not just raving about this particular system: we can now truly concentrate on mixing instead of fixing.

We were counting on GEO to hit the main floor and FOH at high SPLs. Better to be prepared, so we supplied a ring of delay clusters from our proprietary inventory. We flew eight clusters in four zones, with BSS Omni drives and individual graphics applied, as an insurance policy to cover the the upper balconies and side lines. Now that we've got the experience with many shows using the new rig, I know we could do it with all GEO (checkbook permitting).

CHALLENGES ON STAGE

A monitor mix position that didn’t allow a clear view of the stage necessitated some creative thinking. Rolling risers allowed for quick set changes but limited space for quantities of wedges. I made a call, choosing to get personal monitor system manufacturers Aviom involved.

Carl Bader of Aviom helped us design a headphone system that would allow the 15 musicians in the house orchestra to mix themselves on headphones, freeing up several techs and putting the mix power in the hands of the individual musicians. Using an extensive system of Aviom A16 transmitters and a dozen A16 remote mixers daisy chained with CAT 5 cable, the stage was turned into a virtual recording studio. No monitor bleed or feedback was encounterd in the stage mics and the stress factor was completely eliminated.


Camco Vortex power to the side of the stage.

Stage monitor veteran Ed Frebowits came in for the set up and rehearsals to train the crew and musicians on the use of the system. His work included saving up to 16 personal presets on the individual remotes.

Wedges and side fills were used for large-scale dance troupes and gospel choirs, as well as national acts Peder Eide, Lost & Found and rap artist Kelly Glow. Meanwhile, other acts like Audio Adrenaline, Bleach and 7 Places carried their own in-ear monitoring systems.

An event of this complexity is gear heavy of course, but it’s really people powered. This is not a stroke job, just a fact. For example, K.P. Terry (production manager) has worked on the Academy Awards show, while the lighting director, Errol Reinart, has plied his talents with top tours. This was a great group, and we spent months in the planning leading up to a successful event.

It was one of those times where the challenges are big, but when you overcome them, you’re really glad to work in this business. Although next time I think I might try it without the added pressure of figuring out a new rig. Maybe it’s time to let that “PA” membership expire!

 

Never at a loss for words, the author interviewed, well, himself regarding this new rig and what it means from a business perspective.

Gary Gand: How does this fit into Gand Concert Sound’s current inventory?

Gary Gand: That’s a great question! Have I ever told you that you’re my favorite interviewer? Anyway, since we started in 1976, the company has focused on three aspects of the sound industry to build our reputation. I call these “My Rules,” and have applied for a copyright on the term:

1) Size matters. Getting more sound out of smaller gear is good for everybody. The loaders, the sightlines, the time it takes to set up and tear down, the cost of transport - you name it. Smaller is better.

2) Quality over hype. There have been a lot of great looking spec sheets put out by some very creative ad agencies. We judge sound with our ears, not our eyes.

3) Technology is good when it is real. There are always new ideas, and occasionally, some good ones. We were among the first to use fiberglass horns when most everyone else was still into metal. That was a “good” one and now that the market accepts it as standard, it’s more “real.”

GG: Do you think your new line array system will open new markets for your company?

GG: We’ve been working with all but the most SPL-demanding bands, and this rig now allows us to do these as well. Several manufacturers said to me “Our system is really great. It will work for the loudest bands. except maybe Metallica.” I have a photo from a recent outdoor event in Berlin using a modest GEO T system for 18,000-plus. The band is Metallica.

GG: Can a company appeal to metal bands and corporate clients?

GG: I think the days of a sound company being “typecast” are long gone. This is a business. Successful companies provide quality and service to artists and performers of all styles. There may be differences in the content of the lyrics (to put it mildly) but the objectives are still the same. Getting the message (whatever it is) across to the audience, large or small, is the point. What people find to be entertaining may change, but production continues to improve at a rapid pace. We don’t want to keep up; we want to push it.

GG: Final question: what’s your favorite color?

GG: Red.

GG: Funny, mine’s blue.

GG: Hmmm... I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 10. Can you... Never mind.

 

Just The Facts On ELCA

Loudspeakers

33 NEXO Geo T 4805 cabinets
9 NEXO Geo T 2815 cabinets
12 NEXO Geo T CD18 cabinets

Drive Racks

20 Camco Vortex 6 amplifiers
5 NEXO NX241 processors

Consoles

House: Yamaha PM4000, Midas
Heritage 3000, Crest X832
Monitor: Soundcraft MH4, RAMSA 840

On Stage

Aviom A16 w/ Audio Technica P600,
Shure PSM 400
20 Gand Concert Sound 15/2 wedges
4 Gand Concert Sound three-way side fills
Crest 8001 monitor amplfiiers

DSP/FX Highlights:

3 BSS Omnidrive
2 Behringer DEQ2496 delay
12 dbx 160 XT compressor
2 Drawmer DL441 quad compressor
4 Drawmer DS201 dual gate
2 Drawmer quad gate
Drawmer DL241 dual compressor
Eventide H3000
2 Lexicon PCM81
10 Klark Teknik DN360 EQ
2 Klark Teknik DN300 EQ
Summit DBL200 tube comp
Summit TPA20B tube mic pre
TC M One reverb
TC 2290 DDL
TC M2000
TC D Two DDL
2 Yamaha SPX990
Yamaha Rev 500

Crew

(he) Gary Gand
(be) Ryan Rettler ­ “Audio Adrenaline”
(be) Todd Behrens ­ “Peder Eide”
(be) Matt Grunden ­ “Bleach”
(bme) Ed Frebowits
(me) Garrett Lane
(se) Joe Perona, Joe Rimstidt
(ae) Adam Rosenthal
(wireless tech) Rob Laseau
(band tech) David Wilner
(Gand Sound Guru) Tim Swan

 

Thanks to Live Sound regular contributor Gary Gand for this excellent report. He can be reached at ggand@gand.com

November 2004 Live Sound International

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