Feel the Chill of Zombie reorientation
It is true to say that opening night at this year's Big Chill Festival held in the quintessentially quiet UK countryside saw more people walking around like Zombies than ever before. Not the result of peaking too early, not even a response to the appalling downpour that dampened spirits on Thursday. No, this was 'I Spit on Your Rave' the brainchild of Noel Fielding and Channel Four; but more on that later.
"It is quite something that they got the show they got, all venues open," began Big Chill’s Sound Manager Mark Isbister on Friday lunchtime as the scheduled events began. "The rain started 9 am Wednesday, just as we started load-in and it didn't stop till Thursday noon." But despite this all ten major and peripheral venues were completed in time for opening. "Dobson has given fantastic service," said Isbister. "I can't think of another company I'd want to do this show with, and the quality of their service is excellent." Then he let slip the secret of why Dobson have held this contract secure for so many years. "There is of course the added bonus that they bring exceedingly good cakes; I think they maybe one of Mr Kipling’s biggest clients!"
Cakes and Zombies are just two of the ingredients for this year's success; the other is reorientation, as Isbister explained. "Orientation is something we look at with all the stages every year because some aspects change each year. That's what is great about using the d&b audiotechnik loudspeaker systems throughout the site. I look at the plan, plot the system specific to the coverage area, then Mark Smith and his team from Dobson set it up, and they always set it up exactly to plan, and the sound goes exactly where predicted. Without the d&b systems we’d have quite a lot of issues on this site." He is referring to noise pollution between stages, and to the communities surrounding Eastnor Castle.
So what about those Zombies? "Ah, now there's a tale. We had the best of times on Thursday night on the Open Air Stage; Channel Four wanted to do this thing, "I spit on your Rave’; an eight camera shoot with Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh. It was an attempt at a Guinness record for the most Zombies in one place. Channel Four emailed all ticket holders and told them to bring their Zombie clothes. The TV Company did all the make-up and it was brilliant and funny. After the show the Zombies all progressed to the Castle Stage to hear British Sea Power perform a movie sound track 'Man of Arran', and then went to the Cinema for an evening of horror films."
The Open Air Stage saw Isbister experiment with new ideas. "In the past we have used a d&b J-Series system with twelve J-SUBs. This year, because we have Orbital topping the show on Saturday night, the festival organisers thought it would be nice if we did something extra special. So with help from John Taylor from d&b, we have been experimenting with some array modelling. As a result we have two J-SUB stacks alternating with a J-SUB above a J-INFRA stack, and this combination is repeated ten times across the stage. It has given me a very controlled low end across an area almost one hundred and twenty metres wide, once you walk out of that area the level drops off abruptly; minus 6 dB within a couple of metres. It really is the case that what you see on the simulation on the computer is what you get; they all work as one source, great. The knowledge and assistance that John Taylor and Steve Jones (also from d&b) provide in optimizing the loudspeaker systems on site is unique and it’s great to have that kind of support from a manufacturer like d&b."
The Cinema Tent is perhaps one of the most interesting. "In the Cinema, we have rigged a 5:1 surround system using a mix of d&b T and E-Series. The T has proved a great little box; really pokey in its line array format. We tested it early Thursday with Star Wars 'The Phantom Menace', the pod racing sequence, and it was fantastic." The T-Series loudspeakers were rigged L/C/R, four cabinets each side, and at the centre we have three above the screen, with one below. With time delay on the flown system that one cabinet pulls the image down; works great. Then we've put eight E3s for the left and right surround."
That's just two of the venues described; Dobson installed a total three hundred and twenty loudspeakers and one hundred and fifty amplifiers, all d&b; a big project by any measure. "It's a busy festival, but aren't they all?" Smith sounded remarkably bullish. "In spite of the logistical problems of the load in, the mood amongst the crew is pretty good." It's the cakes apparently, but then Isbister and Dobson do make exceedingly good sound.