Taking your favorite ogre out for a run with d&b
Ogres and microphones make for awkward bedfellows; large prosthetic rubber heads have a unique acoustic all their own. But these are lessons well learned during a fourteen month run on Broadway; what's challenging now is to compress a complex show, 'Shrek the Musical', into a format that fits the theatres it will visit, without compromising the ethos of the show. "How do we get the best possible product city to city?" said Sound Designer Peter Hylenski putting it in a nutshell.
"A lot of what we do is figuring out how to make it manageable for the touring crew, and to make it easy to tune to the houses it visits. So a lot of what happened is simplification; in New York we had a split band and vocal system through a combination of d&b audiotechnik Q and C-Series loudspeakers. For the tour we combine band and vocals and use a Q system, which can comfortably go up in a day.
"What we have is a tower-mounted system left and right, with a centre cluster, all Qs. There are some E12 fills applied here and there and for subwoofers we have Q, J and B2s. The B2s were originally for effects but we added them to the main feed to give a more full range and that’s worked very well. The J and B2 subwoofers have nicely and effectively extended the frequency range of the Q loudspeakers.
"In New York the sound department worked closely with scenic to conceal the system in a large false proscenium. We don't have that luxury now, but the Qs do travel in towers, each tower comprises two pieces and they roll right in, join together and go up. The centre cluster also travels on a dolly so there's no time wasted hanging individual cabinets, the whole thing is in four carts," all supplied by PRG and packaged by Phil Lojo, production engineer, and Keith Caggiano, associate designer.
"The orchestra is smaller, down from 24 to 15 so we can fit them all in the pit; well most places we can. The 'vault' as we called it on Broadway, where we put the five piece rhythm section off stage linked by video and monitoring, is unmanageable to tour with any consistency so we found a different solution. The musicians are all in the pit, but the guitar cabinets and the Leslie are remoted off stage; we needed to keep that separation between electric rhythm and the string section. The R&B nature of the songs, and there's pop, rock and gospel as well, means that separation between rhythm section and the other musicians is vital. Drums sit behind a portable ISO booth that doesn't kill the sound completely, but it does attenuate it to our needs. In fact it's quite nice for the band and strings to have the drummer in sight and hear enough of what he does to work from, it adds to the live performance."
"The Q gives us exactly the pattern control we want; ideal in this situation, we get the sound where we need it. From proscenium, through the stalls and to back of the balcony and the extremes of either side, we can hear everything we want, which is to our advantage. We do stick in an under balcony system of E8s which we treat as a separate zone. Even here where we opened at the Cadillac Palace in Chicago, where we can in fact get the main system to reach in under the balcony all the way back to the mix position, it’s nice to just give that little lift from the E8s.
"As I said at the beginning, the important thing is to deliver the story to our audience; it's been the same process with scenery and lights, 'What do we need to deliver the story?' From that perspective the d&b system has performed fantastically. We've had a great time working with it; from the moment we put it in, we didn't have to wrestle with the loudspeakers to make them sound great, they performed right out of the box. We had a fine time."