Immense, intense; incense
Finally the British press has acknowledged that actually it may be no bad thing for a spiritual dimension to enter the lives of the nation’s populace. For this we must thank the recent visit by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI. Of his three great public addresses, the final one at Cofton Park near Birmingham was the most significant, as this was the day that saw the Beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. Attended by almost eighty thousand, the event was managed by WRG Creative Communications, Wigwam Acoustics providing a PA system of a scale that reflects the importance of the day.
“It wasn’t that it needed to be loud,” said Wigwam Director Chris Hill, “but it was imperative that everyone present heard every word.” Hill, with Wigwam’s systems expert Rob Priddle, devised a temporary installation of monumental scale as befit the occasion. “We put in a main stage system of d&b audiotechnik J-Series, with a mix of d&b J and Q-Series across twenty three delay towers. The park was licensed for eighty thousand so we had more than enough PA for an audience that size, but it’s not a flat open space. Across gently rolling wooded hills delivery needed to be targeted and intimate; precise audio propagation was essential, that’s why we chose d&b from our inventory of systems. There was also a ‘B’ stage we needed to cover which the BBC used for a Radio 4 broadcast before the main Mass. A widespread audience, a windy environment, and the quiet softly spoken voice of an eighty year old Pontiff, contrasted against the backdrop of three thousand five hundred people on stage, most of them choristers, made speech intelligibility our number one priority.”
The stage was 125 metres wide; backstage was home to a further three thousand five hundred people, while the audience was spread over a depth of 600 metres. Factor in the twenty three PA towers and it is immediately apparent how delicate was the setting of the delay parameters. “Thirteen systems of Optocore’s “Optorack“ ran the digital signal distribution via two Yamaha DME 64 DSP units providing a master matrix system with delay and eq settings. The d&b D12 amplifiers handled additional delay locally. Steve Levitt from Production North was responsible for the main mix on a Midas H3000 while Jonathan Digby mixed down the choirs and cantors on a Digidesign Profile console. Stage and orchestra monitoring was provided by a Digico SD7 and a Yamaha PM 5D , Andy Robinson and Ant Carr engineering these consoles.
The purpose built Lecterns and Ambo for the event housed a number of Schoeps lectern microphone systems and over one hundred and twenty other Schoeps microphones were used; ninety six channels on the Digidesign and fifty six plus sixteen on the Midas, including twenty one inputs for the organ and thirty six channels for the orchestra; it was all full.” To avoid any embarrassing vulnerabilities Hill decided to eschew use of radio mics completely, “There were just too many other parties present with radio systems to take that chance. We hand painted the Pope’s mics to match the stage colour and powder coated all the mic stands to blend in as much as possible”.
“Mark Wallace, WRG Chairman, and show producer Alli Tilley were in overall charge of production; everyone at WRG was good to work with, totally focussed on getting it right. It was the same for us, in all my years this was the most intense event in terms of crew, equipment and time demands, but in terms of level, quality and intelligibility, and these were the three imperatives, we nailed it. On the day we had tons of headroom; an ideal system, and ideal people to run it. Some of the best crew in the industry, and all of them demonstrated total sympathy for the event. As for the Catholic clergy; they were fantastic, a good sense of humour and very accommodating for us. A major festival by comparison is a piece of cake; I take my hat off to them all.” For Wigwam a signature event in more ways than one; in typical fashion they planned exhaustively, assembled their assets and set things in motion. Momentum is a powerful force; the Pope’s visit equally well planned and executed has certainly made many positive moves in the right direction, not least turning the heads of the British Press.
Photos by kind permission of WRG Creative Communications