Hillsong momentum reaches the O2 with d&b

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To outgrow the Excel Centre in just four short years takes some expansion, but then of all the contemporary Christian movements Hillsong knows all about harnessing momentum. So it was that the O2 Arena was for three days host to a major gathering; there’s many a pop star would like to fill this venue three days running so readily. What is billed as Hillsong Conference Europe is very much a family oriented event and features a mixed programme of conference, keynote speakers, rock and roll style celebrations, and an amount of dramatic presentation in the form of dance and theatre. For the Hillsong sound team and lead audio engineer Chris Johnson this is a substantial undertaking.

“The church manages a high level of production itself”, Johnson began. “Hillsong has a lot of its own d&b equipment, and we have a long standing relationship with Wigwam to support us.” Johnson organised a d&b audiotechnik J-Series loudspeaker system from Wigwam for the O2 event, but as he indicated it is Hillsong technicians who largely run the show. “Hillsong holds regular Sunday services at the Dominion in Tottenham Court Road and have around one hundred volunteers who all help with the various disciplines of sound, lights and video. Being voluntary they rotate through Sundays, so at any given service there will be approximately thirty of them working. Despite being volunteers their experience is large, we also present occasional events at the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), Wembley Arena, and Wembley Conference Centre, even Hammersmith Apollo quite regularly each year. Our own systems comprise Q, C and E-Series from d&b.”

Mick Spratt from Wigwam is quite relaxed about allowing Johnson and the Hillsong team to run the equipment. “In some ways these people have as much experience as any of our own technicians. From the point of view of using a system for speech and live music on the same day maybe more so; they are well accustomed to switching formats and Chris is a very experienced sound engineer.” Wigwam provided a crew of five, “primarily to ensure the system was in and up on time and properly rigged, with one specialist to assist with what is even by Wigwam’s standards a large radio mic set-up.” Johnson agreed, “My team have all the required knowledge, it’s just a matter of scale. At the Dominion they might handle twelve channels of radio mics, for the O2 we needed fifty channels, so Wigwam sent us a specialist: That’s a good learning experience for us and Wigwam’s people are very instructive.”

Johnson’s choice of PA is similarly well reasoned. “I pick the PA system, Wigwam has a choice of three but I find the d&b J-Series best for my purpose. I have used a lot of other large format line arrays and find J-Series fits the bill perfectly for the varying demands we put upon it. For one thing I can have a physically shorter array to cover my audience, reducing interference with the video and people’s view of the stage. Secondly because there are large numbers of people wearing lapel mics I do need exact pattern control from the array and hands on control of the front fills (d&b Q7 and Q10) so I do have a fair bit of group processing going on at the desk. For example I have a specific band EQ that suits the rock and roll style, and another untouched system EQ for when the band play for the dramatic presentations. I also add EQ to taste with the various speech elements that occur during each day; we have great speakers and guest presenters, but that still means I need to make fine adjustments to sustain vocal clarity.”

Johnson summarized his satisfaction with the whole event. “For my money the J-Series is best for handling this program material; it’s good for rock and roll, equally capable for speech segments, and handles the more hi-fi content very nicely. The precise pattern control allows the system to handle head worn and lapel mics with ease, which allows me to incorporate them into the event simply. This is Hillsong’s largest annual gathering in the UK, production has to be both excellent and transparent so focus can be fixed on content. Making the correct system choice and having the experience and support of the Wigwam team allowed us to stage a complex event in the UK’s premier arena without compromise.”

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