AF’s Weblog

August 12, 2011

U2 360°: Redefining Stadium Sound

Filed under: Live Sound — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:30 am

Grand, colossal, gargantuan… Mammoth, immense, monumental… Promethean, towering, or just plain walloping huge – get out the thesaurus for more adjectives to adequately describe the size and scope of U2’s current 360° tour, an outsized extravaganza that continues to demolish records.

Part insect, part spacecraft, part cathedral…

As of June this year, the tour surpassed The Rolling Stones in terms of tickets sold, eclipsing the Voodoo Lounge tour’s 6.3 million landmark with over 7 million sold. By April just past, 360° had grossed more than $700 million, making it the highest-grossing concert tour ever. And so on. Pass the thesaurus…

Launched in 2009 in support of the album No Line on the Horizon, the tour has been years in the making. Incubating various ideas for epic in-the-round staging with the band and other crew members over the course of a career with U2 that began in earnest back in 1982, show designer Willie Williams finally gave life to a unified vision near the end of 2006’s Vertigo tour in a series of sketches.

Paying homage to the Theme Building at LAX, the central structure within these early blueprints is what has come to be known as “The Claw,” a mass of four-legged, 170-foot-tall alien steel appearing ideally suited for a starring role in the next Hollywood remake of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

“The Claw” is at the heart of the U2 360° tour
production, supporting huge line arrays as well as
lighting and video. (All photos by Steve Jennings)

Serving as a grid for all of the major production elements, The Claw is used to suspend both the PA and a video screen designed by Mark Fisher in collaboration with Chuck Hoberman and Frederic Opsomer.

 

Fabricated by Opsomer’s Belgium-based company Innovative Designs, the screen was purchased by XL Video and then rented to the tour. Comprising hexagonal segments that allow it to open and spread apart during the show, the expanding screen is 500,000 pixels large, and uses 320,000 fasteners, 150,000 machined pieces, and 30,000 cables to tie everything together.

 

Rated to safely hold 200 tons, The Claw is double the size of the stadium set used by The Stones on their A Bigger Bang tour. And if one of these leviathans isn’t enough for your backyard standing next to the children’s playset, consider that the design was built in triplicate to facilitate leapfrogging, a logistical strategy requiring 120 trucks.

Setting Sonic Goals

Bono (using Beta 58 element on Shure wireless) and his
mates performing, all outfitted with Future Sonics in-ear
monitors working with Sennheiser G2 wireless systems.

U2 360° will also go down in history as a milepost marking a 30-year collaboration between U2, sound reinforcement provider Clair, and Joe O’Herlihy, U2’s sound designer and front of house engineer.

 

“The 360 concept was indeed first considered very seriously by the band at the end of the Vertigo Tour at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium in 2006,” O’Herlihy relates, his navel-length, graying beard giving him the countenance of a Russian novelist, or maybe a Civil War veteran.

 

“There had, however, been various other in-the-round plans discussed since Joshua Tree days,” he continues. “Once the idea was presented as a goal for the next tour, I was charged with developing, planning, and implementing an audio design that would clearly set new industry standards, all while maintaining what U2 and their fans had come to expect: Sonic quality, high dynamic range, and crystal-clear stadium sound.”

 

Working with show designer Williams, plus Fisher and Jeremy Lloyd from the production architectural firm Stufish, O’Herlihy additionally relied upon the talents of an R&D team and engineers from Clair to establish the criteria and structural elements required of the build in 2008.

 

Veteran rock ‘n’ roll soundman Joe O’Herlihy (left) and system
tech Jo Ravitz at the DiGiCo SD7 heading up the monstrous rig.

Up until this time, U2 had historically relied upon Clair S4 PA to meet the needs of all its outdoor stadium shows.

“But with the goals of the 360° system in mind, the S4 system wouldn’t apply this time around,” O’Herlihy says with a hint of melancholy like that usually reserved for bidding farewell to an old friend.

 

“In-the-round, the application clearly called for a line source array system. The new Clair i-5 technology ultimately stepped-up as the timely and perfect solution that we needed to accommodate the off-center, 360-degree stadium configuration.”

The audio design team received their first real chance to test its plan in early 2009 in Toronto.

 

Setting up the i-5/i-5B-based rig at Rogers Centre (formerly SkyDome), the system was put through its paces over the course of rigorous testing that verified sonic calculations and phase references, established low-end time alignment, and confirmed strategies developed to maintain full 360-degree coverage, all while covering the audience with a blanket of even, uniform sound and high SPL, as well as the dynamic range and quality the band is known for in large outdoor spaces.

Now let’s take a deeper look…

Many Parts


CJ Eiriksson manages monitoring for bassist Adam
Clayton, drummer Larry Mullen Jr., and an offstage
keyboard player with an Avid D-Show.

As within the industry itself, mainstream media have remained upbeat in their coverage of the tour. Rolling Stone magazine maintained that the production was a cross between the Zoo TV and Elevation tours, and added that the design elements, despite their looming presence, remained transparent from the band’s perspective onstage.

 

In describing the staging, The New York Times dubbed it “part insect, part spacecraft, part cathedral,” and noted that the band was more visible than on earlier tours. The Washington Post called the show an “orgy of light and sound.” The latter should be taken as a compliment, especially by O’Herlihy.

 

“A project of this scale would probably not have been attempted 10, or even five years ago,” he concludes. “But thanks to lighter weight, low-profile loudspeaker cabinets and digital mixing consoles, even shows of this magnitude can be set up, run, and loaded-out in a timely manner. Technology has caught up to the concept. Now it’s just all in a day’s work, 48 hours a day, eight days a week…”

To read the full detailed article see:  U2 Redefining Stadium Sound

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February 3, 2010

Zoned, Summed & Line: Array Structures & Performance

Line Array-Type Systems’ Industry Dominance in Live Sound

arrays

This feature article is provided by ProSoundWeb

I’m asked a lot of questions about sound.

Many of them focus on unraveling and understanding some particular function, feature or concept, while others are directed toward distilling my opinion on methods or industry trends.  A while ago. I was asked some questions that led me to some in-depth pondering.  The questions: Why are line arrays so popular? Are they a fad or here to stay? And what will be the “next big thing”?

The fact is that line array-type systems have taken the professional sound reinforcement industry by storm. Nearly every manufacturer offers several choices.  But just what is it about line arrays that have positioned them to completely dominate the industry? Is it just a gimmick or is there truly some aspect of the vertical configuration that offers an inherent advantage over other system types?

Stepping back and taking good long look, I found that there are several properties these thinner line systems possess that are readily apparent, plus one substantial advantage in particular that is not so obvious at first but perhaps most important of all.  Just to keep things interesting, and hopefully clear, I’m going to examine the basics of sound system design from a slightly different angle than perhaps is common.

In The Zone

arrayacdc
Electro-Voice X-Array on the big AC/DC world tour last year.

A conventional and intuitively logical approach is to deal with a large acoustic space as a set of smaller zones. To cover the area, one constructs clusters of loudspeakers, each aimed at a particular region or zone. Each loudspeaker box in the cluster can then be optimized in terms of EQ and volume.  With this approach – which I will call “zonal coverage” – it’s advantageous to minimize the overlap between the box-to-box coverage patterns. The goal and challenge for the system designers and technicians setting up the system is to try to achieve smooth sonic transitions from zone to zone.

This system is constructed such that listeners are not exposed to sound emanating from boxes that are in close physical proximity to each other and at different distances. More simply put, sound from multiple sources arriving at the ear at differing times equals “not so good.”  When projecting sound over varying distances, some issues arise. The coverage area of each box increases in size with distance, meaning the angles between boxes pointed far away should be increased.  Yet volume naturally drops with distance, so to maintain volume at distance, the inclination is to decrease the angles between boxes in order to have more of them pointing at the far-away zone.

As a result, zonal coverage systems often employ longer throw, narrow dispersion loudspeakers to help solve the dilemma.  Electro-Voice X-Array, Nexo Alpha, and Turbosound Flashlight and Aspect loudspeaker systems are all excellent examples of zonal systems.  Much effort was put into these loudspeaker designs, in order to achieve distinct and consistent vertical and horizontal coverage projected from each individual box.  Usually, they employ relatively few drivers in each box, with horn-loading assisting with pattern control.

Now let’s take a closer look at some other systems…

Making Arrangements

So here’s the deal, at least as I see it.  With current technology, it’s necessary to utilize multiple loudspeakers to cover large spaces, as no one makes a single loudspeaker that is loud enough, sounds great, and versatile enough to handle a wide range of venues/coverage areas.  These multiple loudspeakers need to be arranged in some sort of configuration that is horizontal, vertical, both, or even one behind the other.

Currently, we can get loudspeakers to sum together quite well – but not perfectly. We can also get them to zone together quite well – but not perfectly.  Our ears are very sensitive to those imperfections in the horizontal domain and considerably less sensitive to those same imperfections in the vertical domain.

Therefore, the true design advantage that line arrays posses is that they take advantage of the human deficiencies in vertical hearing by keeping their imperfections in the plane where we less likely to perceive them, presenting a low degree of component-to-component imperfections.

Combine this with the fact that they hang nicely, like a string of beads, and I venture to say that line arrays may just be a bit more than the latest fad.  As far as the question – “what’s the next big thing?” – well now, that is the million-dollar question, isn’t it?  My bet is that it will be a technology that better adapts the way music is presented with the way we hear it. Or, of course, it might just be something cheaper, smaller and more convenient with a sonic downside, like the MP3 format.

To read the full detailed article please see: Array Structures

December 21, 2009

The Thermodynamics of a Rock Show

Optimizing Live Sound

No matter what you test or measure, a considerable part of the sound of the show is controlled by environmental factors that are constantly changing. Knowing what they are is the first step toward being able to deal with them effectively.

Those of us who indulge in live sound spend countless hours paying attention to every detail in the audio signal chain – comparing, pondering opinionating and deciding every issue that crosses our path.  Does this mixing console sound better? Do I need to spend an extra $2,000 on a vocal compressor? Can you please move the guitar mic two millimeters to the left? Does phantom power really ruin ribbon mics?

One question persists, however: to what end is all this toiling done?


Blasting Perfection Into Chaos

Does it seem that a flown PA system sounds better than the exact same system ground stacked? How come it always sounds brighter when you stand on the mix riser?

Have you ever noticed that the same venue sounds different one night to the next, even when you do not change a thing? All of these things can be partially or completely explained by understanding the thermodynamics of a rock show.  Further, armed with this knowledge, you can make setup and mixing decisions that result in improvements that the people attending the show will actually notice – as opposed to things like fiddling with an expensive tube comp that the audience could not care less about.

This is not a scientific article peppered with equations; there are plenty of those out there already. My goal here is to present these complex factors as understandable concepts that will assist you as an engineer/system tech to optimize the sound in a venue.

In my mind, to keep things clear, I divide the relevant venue thermodynamics into three categories:

● Sonic absorption related issues

● Sonic direction related issues

● Sonic velocity related issues

So now let’s take a closer look…

The Bigger Picture

All in all, warmer and neutrally humid environments tend to be the way to go for a memorable adventure. Cold is drafty, sterile and often crisp and edgy sounding.  In my opinion, the hotter liquid atmosphere of a muggy rock show not only speeds up and tames the sound; it also seems to enhance that connection between the performers and those immersed in the performance.

Looking back at the three thermodynamic issues of absorption, direction and velocity, and combining those factors with practical experience, there are several useful concepts that can be distilled:

1) Humidity variations are sonically more tolerable in higher humidity environments.

2) Consistent temperature throughout the venue is sonically beneficial. Since the temperature of humans is fairly warm, and assuming humans will be attending the concert, having a reasonably warm venue temperature will assist in achieving that consistency.

3) A warmer indoor venue will tend raise in humidity levels more drastically than cooler venues due to human factors.

4) Sonic advantages are achieved by flying the loudspeakers.

5) Mixing a show while standing on a mix riser above the thermal/humidity provides the sound engineer an inaccurate representation of the sound the audience is hearing.

6) Venues with drastic variations in temperature and humidity tend to have complex and unpredictable responses.

7) No matter what you test or measure, a considerable part of the sound of the show is controlled by environmental factors that are constantly changing. Knowing what they are is the first step toward being able to deal with them effectively.

8) A thermometer and hygrometer can be useful tools for tracking and understanding more about how thermodynamics are affecting the sound of the show.

One of my favorite moments of mixing a show is the prediction and anticipation of that first note, the tones, the volume and the intensity of the unknown. The moment when the band first walks on stage is one of the biggest challenges any sound engineer faces.

Balancing all that knowledge with the tools at hand and formulating a mix to come up with a clear and accurate result is no easy task.  Each show presents a unique sonic landscape, and it is that uniqueness, that interaction between so many variables that we can and cannot control, that makes every live rock show a one-of-a-kind, potentially magical memorable experience.

To read the full detailed article see:  The Thermodynamics of a Rock Show

August 24, 2009

ElectroVoice – EVH PA Speaker Cabinets

ElectroVoice introduces the new EVH Series Horn-load coaxial design product family featuring new rotatable HF waveguide.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

July 1, 2009

FTB Mitus 206LA Speakers

Filed under: Musikmesse 2009, Speakers — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:59 am

Mauro Zazzini of FTB introduces their new Mitus 206LA speakers.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

June 19, 2009

JBL – PRX PA Series

Filed under: Monitors, Musikmesse 2009, Speakers — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:33 am

JBL presents two models in their PRX portable PA series, the 512Mi & the 718s.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

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