The Most Incredible Thing: the Pet Shop Boys with d&b

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“Creative, destructive, but ultimately happy” is a typical adult take on the tales of Hans Christian Andersen, what intrigues and amuses the child, evokes deeper feelings in the parent. But there’s nothing typical about the ballet ‘The Most Incredible Thing’ based on an Andersen tale, recently staged at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. This world première event has a pop music score written and recorded by The Pet Shop Boys (Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe) with the Wroclaw Score Orchestra conducted by Dominic Wheeler.

With a strong narrative thread under-pinning the ballet, sound designer Paul Arditti was determined to ensure the full theatricality of the score was embedded into the performance." This was the first time that Neil and Chris had worked in a theatre environment," he said. "In the first weeks of rehearsals we had to explore and create our own modus operandi."

Aware that the Sadler's Wells in-house PA system could not be expected to manage the wide dynamic range of the Pet Shop Boy's score, Orbital Sound of Brixton were engaged to supply a system that could. Based around the d&b audiotechnik T-Series, the system comprised four hangs of T10 each with a T-SUB, plus a centre cluster of T10s. Arditti, added d&b Q and B2 subwoofers having been initially concerned by the T-Series small size and fearing a lack of low end presence. "They are amazingly small, rather frighteningly so at just 30 cm wide and I was really worried about whether I had made the right choice. The set designers, however, loved their pencil slim profile from the outset, and as soon as I started to work them, I was impressed. They produce an amazing amount and quality of sound, and deliver a very flat response."

The tale that drives the ballet is simple enough, the King of a mythical country arranges a competition; whoever invents the most incredible thing will win the hand of the Princess and half the Kingdom. To maintain this narrative musically Ardetti added to the aural weave, "We knew we had to make a ballet to fit around a fully completed and recorded score, and this influenced how I approached the sound design. Additional audio material, linking passages and sound effects had to work, broadly speaking, with the structure Neil and Chris had already delivered." A surround sound system of forty d&b E0s was installed with a Yamaha DME64 handling the matrix routing, delay and EQ, while for the main system Ardetti used d&b R1 Remote control software for all internal balancing of the T10s and T-SUBs, "a very useful tool," he said.

For Ardetti the show has been fulfilling, "It has been great to work with Orbital again. A top quality system within tight budget restraints: the Pet Shop Boys were very impressed with the result" he said. "When we started out on this journey Neil asked me to make it sound like the CD; at the end, he said it sounded even better, with the live orchestra and the surround sound giving it a very three dimensional quality. I can't ask for a better result than that."

With acknowledgement to Hugo Glendinning for some of the photographs.

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