Clouseau finds a wireless solution17 February 2006
Belgium: Every year, for the past six years, the famous Belgian band Clouseau has surprised its fans with a combination of stunning stage layout, visual wizardry and guest artists to boot.
After their concert featuring a huge sound system flying over the circular stage in the middle of the 15,000-seater Sportpaleis venue, and the use of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Babylon Bridge’, this year, for their 13 sold-out concerts, the band opted for a ‘long version’, using the full 70m length of the arena’s stage.
Over 220,000 people came to see the shows in December. The concert was also captured on high definition DVD (released last month) by Belgian OB company Alfacam, with sound recorded by MotorMusic and mastering at Galaxy Studios by new appointee Darcy Proper.
For the first time in Belgium, sound and light company EML Productions decided to set up a huge wireless communication network between the FOH and monitor desks and the three stages aligned lengthwise in the Sportpaleis. The main middle catwalk-stage also hosted five mobile risers for singers Kris and Koen Wauters, their 6-piece band plus a 6-piece horn section.
The big challenge for EML’s operations manager Walter D’Haese was to combine the ‘normal’ wireless communication technology for in-ear and belt packs with the remaining sources (drums, percussion, horns, keyboard and so on) so that each and every sound source was free to move over the stage, with the UHF antenna’s covering the whole 2,100m2 [squared] centre stage area of the venue. "We used about 55 UHF frequencies serving the 14 musicians and monitor engineer Marcel Kortleven and the first problem we had to tackle was the limited availability of frequencies in Belgium," says D’Haese. "Therefore we used a combination of Sennheiser 3000 SK 50 and Shure UL4D receivers to have enough channels. We filed applications and negotiated with the Belgian communications department (BIPT) and found that only a few projects, mostly in the theatre business, use so many frequencies, on stages of less than 200sqm." For the transmission of the sound sources, EML opted for the CobraNet digital network, converting the processed signals into the AES/EBU protocol and the DiGiCo mixing desks. Singer Koen Wauters’ microphone was routed through a brand new Massenburg microphone pre-amp.
"We invested in Whirlwind E Snake 2 systems," continues D’Haese, "allowing two-direction operation of 64 audio channels, exactly what we needed for this job. We opted for Whirlwind because the system is very straightforward, modular and quite easy to combine with the other gear we have; we also found the manufacturer very flexible and helpful. The combination of Whirlwind and DiGiCo allows us to remain in the digital domain: the show is very complicated and each song represents a different stage situation – it would not have been easy with 60 analogue inputs. Now, CobraNet allows wireless signal transport in CD quality at a 24-bit, 48kHz sample rate."
Despite the limited set-up time available for the system, the configuration went smoothly, with D’Haese having only to adapt some of the in-ear frequencies. "We also paid much attention to the antennas we used – two omni-directional antennas for the microphones and one covering all in-ear monitoring."
The wireless system was engineered by Multicap, a wireless applications specialist, and although CobraNet is more frequently used in fixed installations, the new set-up worked perfectly during all of the 13 live concerts.
"It was product engineer Glenn de Haes who did some research with Multicap, presented demo configurations and remained on standby for assistance. We have been testing the system, consisting of three Aeras Networks links operating side-by-side for one year now and have become acquainted with the 5.8GHz band technology. Safety is a primal issue here, and HF communication is subject to numerous laws and rules… The fact that we work in the digital domain requires 100 % accuracy – but we ran a log file to monitor the system and it showed a zero default rate," comments D’Haese. "The stage set up is really unique in the world," agrees Glenn de Haes, "and for us it was a challenge to offer wireless audio emerging from 360° rotating risers – line of sight is a major issue for signal transmission and the place of the antennas was a critical element. The 13 shows have illustrated that the 5.8 GHz band is not limited to outdoor use, and the whole has been a major promotion for wireless music. We are now informing other CobraNet users of the configuration."
To enhance the ‘long version’ visual effect of the stage layout, EML’s sound engineer Patrick Demoustier designed a special rig flying over the stages comprising six clusters of 10 Adamson Y18, four clusters of eight Adamson Y10 and eight EML 3 x 18-inch subs. "This configuration never gives the musicians the idea of playing ‘in front of the sound system’ – there were no feedback problems either. The 64 Lab Gruppen amplifiers, all dimmer packs and servers for the 3-D projectors were stacked on a 80m2 [squared] platform, flying 22m above the stage centre," says D’Haese, adding that EML is now preparing the system for rental purposes as a universal wireless application offering 3 x 32 digital channels.