40-45: Beyond the traditional musical

On October 7, multimedia company Studio 100 premiered the musical 40-45 - a ground-breaking production in terms of technical innovation and wireless communication. 40-45 also marks the first time the new Digico SD7 with Quantum Engines and Theatre software was used on a theatrical production of this scale, complemented by a massive inventory of digital wireless Sennheiser gear and some 1,700 headphones offering binaural Auro 3D sound. Marc Maes spoke to those behind the scenes to find out more about this unique production...
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40-45

With 40-45, Studio 100 continues the path chosen with Daens, The Musical in 2009, attracting over 220,000 people during the run, and the massive blockbuster 14/18, an epic on the Great War, in 2014, with ticket sales exceeding 340.000 units.

“14-18 took musical to a new level, premiering a mobile 1,880 seater grandstand taking the audience right in the middle of the musical,” says Jan Pieter Boodts, spokesman for Studio 100. “For this new production, 40-45 we went a step further, and we are convinced we will break the 2014 attendance record.”

40-45, written and directed by Frank van Laecke, focuses on a family during the second world war, during the occupation of Antwerp. While one son joins the pro- German brigades, his brother falls in love with a Jewish girl in hiding and teams up with the local resistance.

“A first challenge was to find a hall to perform the musical,” adds Boodts. Eventually, Studio 100 decided to build a venue themselves. Today, the Studio 100 Pop Up Theatre, the world’s biggest temporary show venue (90 x 75 meters), accommodates the 40-45 show – the hall was built next to a former distribution warehouse, which was transformed into a 3,000 capacity lobby, with offices, dressing rooms and backstage facilities, and a covered parking lot. A second car park has a capacity of 1,000 cars. The whole site is located close to the Antwerp/ Brussel motorway.

Boodts adds that, although the infrastructure is temporary, Studio 100 has already scheduled other productions in the venue.

“Next spring, the K3 jubilee show will be staged in the same theatre,” he confirms.

In the pop-up theatre, Studio 100 has built eight mobile stands, with a total capacity of 1,670 visitors.

The stands move around the theatre floor, guaranteeing optimal visibility and experience for the audience.

“Another novelty is that the production is using individual headphones for the public,” continues Boodts. “The music, performed by the Flanders Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dirk De Caluwé, was recorded at Galaxy Studios in Mol. The principals’ and choir’s live vocals are mixed with the instrumental tracks into the audience’s headphones.”

Sound design and the musical experience

Whereas the 14/18 production used one unidirectional moving stands, with speaker clusters being crossfaded and a TiMax2 Soundhub-S controlling both volume and delay, the 40-45 musical makes use of eight moving stands. “The fact that the stands move in all directions would require hundreds of speakers and make it almost impossible to programme the crossfading parameters,” says Marc Luyckx, sound designer and audio engineer, who also took on the 14/18 assignment four years ago.

“We’ve gone through various options to deal with this new concept. One solution was ‘showering’ vertical ceiling speakers, which would then solve the delay problem. But the size of the hall would result in requiring a massive number of speakers. And there is a difference in height of some nine metres between the first and last row of the stands.”

Another possibility was to have L and R speaker arrays on either side of each stand, but as the production required optimal visibility, this was not ideal.

“We’ve also considered installing small speaker enclosures in the back of each seat – that would have been great for a conference, but not for a musical and symphonic music,” Luyckx continues.

Early on in the production process, Studio 100, Luyckx and his colleague sound designer Thomas van Hoepen decided to provide a personal headphone for each of the 1670 spectators as optimal solution. “We were looking for a headphone that wouldn’t isolate the audience from ambient noise, and allow conversation with the person next to you,” underlines Luyckx. “After a number of concert trials, we agreed upon using the Sennheiser HP02 headphone – it combines the aforementioned requirements with lightweight listening comfort. The headphones are attached to the seats – each seat is equipped with a tailor made adjustable (- 6 dB / + 6 dB) pre-amplifier.”

The audio distribution system was designed by Amptec and manufactured as OEM by UK manufacturer Glensound. “In total we supplied 800 headphone boxes with built-in pre-amps,” explains Dany Meeuwissen, pro audio sales manager with Amptec. “We’ve teamed up with Glensound in the past, like for the ‘Symphony’ digital IP-monitoring for choir and orchestra for the Night of the Proms concerts.”

Given the moving stands, the whole production had to be 100 per cent wireless. “We send a stereo-mix to the receivers on each stand, which is then distributed to the Amptec dual-boxes between the seats. Another dedicated receiver routes low frequency audio feed to subs placed under each stands, reinforcing the low effects and adding extra ‘feel’ to the headphones,” continues Luyckx.

The core element of the audio production is a Digico SD7-T console with the latest Quantum engines and theatre software, the first SD7Q used on a theatre production worldwide. Luyckx is particularly happy to work with the Quantum’s infinite possibilities.

“This goes beyond any console I’ve worked with: if we determine the presets for player 1 (given the number of shows, some roles are played by two cast members) they are adjusted when they put on a hat – these detailed presets are saved, mirrored and adjusted when, the next show, the alternate player two takes the stage for the same role. The console also offers numerous options in terms of individual monitor mixing, which in rehearsals was done with a wireless Digico EX-007 on the tribune stands” he enthuses.

“The enormous I/O, nodal processing, speed of programming and backbone of Digico’s application engineers is why we chose to be pioneers in using the Quantum Engines”, adds van Hoepen.

With all vocals being performed live on stage, Luyckx heads a team of two engineers to fine-tune the last millimetres on the Digico. “The living hand is still required,” Luyckx says, “This project was very exciting to work on – after having worked with loudspeakers as FOH engineer this is a new medium: live music on headphones and on such a large scale. And wireless! All of the obstacles from the past like reflections, feedback, or bad acoustics are obsolete – and the speech intelligibility is optimal. The only challenge is that the sound shouldn’t become too artificial, maintaining the live aspect of the show.”

Studio Haifax

Like for Studio 100’s 14/18 musical, audiovisual rental company Studio Haifax was assigned to take on the audio production of the 40-45 live show.

The key challenges throughout the production were the stage layout and the fact that all of the equipment had to rely on wireless connectivity and battery power supply. “Power packs sometimes tend to be unpredictable as to the start-up power of amplifiers, and with plenty of reflection and lots of iron elements used in the construction of the venue, wireless is not evident either. After thorough testing we arrived at a failsafe configuration” explains Pieter Begard, CEO of Studio Haifax.

Both Studio 100’s lounge and the venue itself were equipped with a ‘traditional’ PA system: 8 x Coda Audio G712, 12 x Coda Audio HOPS8 and 6 x Coda Audio D5Cube in the lounge plus six Coda Viray arrays in the main hall, used for introductory background music, announcements and safety evacuation. To cater for the crucial sub element (explosions, trains, airplanes...) each of the eight stands was equipped with three Coda Audio SCP cardioid subs, and a battery powered Coda Linus 20 amp rack. “Two Sennheiser ambient microphones catch the stage atmosphere. Every stands is served by four wireless streams: two for the L-R stereo channels, one for the subs, and one back-up channel – all powered over UPS with a fully redundant back-up system to avoid power-drops,” Begard explains.

One of the stands is using an extra dedicated Sennheiser receiver set for simultaneous translation or audio description for the blind. “The fact that all of the audio runs on headphones allows us to target a part of the audience with a personalised feed,” adds Begard. Studio Haifax started building the audio configuration two months before the show. In the back of the venue, a technical area was built, with a wireless communication centre, amp racks, antenna boosters and a FOH office.

The studio environment is equipped with a Digico SD7Q and EX-007, plus Adam monitors and peripherals, including two Waves Extreme servers and a Klang Fabrik processor. “The orchestra was recorded in Auro 3D sound – in addition, we use the Klang Fabrik technology to enhance binaural sound-effects and create so-called artificial rooms,” explains van Hoepen.

Digital wireless for audio and clocking

The production requires a massive use of RF frequencies: for the 12 actors and principals, the 32 strong ensemble, the ambient microphones on each stands, the signal for the headphones and subs.

Sennheiser was the partner for the wireless aspect of the production, providing all of the audio for the artists, the audio signal for the stands and the time-code for the eight mobile decor elements and giant LED screens.

“For the cast, Studio Haifax provides 32 channels of Sennheiser Digital 9000, in combination with 32 SK 9000 beltpack transmitters and 32 MKE 1 lavalier microphones,” explains Hans de hertogh, sales director Pro Audio Solutions Benelux.

“On top of that, 16 channels Digital 6000 are used for the ambiance microphones on the stands. On the monitoring side, 24 channels 2000 IEM series are used for the actors, with 50 EK 2000 IEM belt packs, and for the bit players 44 EK 1039 mono IEM sets.”

Each of the eight moving stands has two (L-R) Sennheiser MKH 8050 condenser microphones capturing the atmospheric sound in front of each stand, like footsteps, driving bicycles and army trucks. “These signals are sent, together with 32 channels of D 9000 digital wireless microphones for the cast, to the FOH console using SK 6000 wireless transmitter belt packs,” continues de Hertogh. “That audio signal is mixed into eight stereo mixes (one for each stand) and one subwoofer channel (identical for all stands). Two EM 6000 dual channel receivers on each stand then receive the signal for the headphones, the subs and also one spare frequency. One of the stands is equipped with one extra EM 6000 receiver offering two extra channels for a separate mix with overdubs, translation or audio description. This configuration allows us to switch a complete stand, or specific rows on a stands to another language.”

The stereo audio signal on the stands is amplified by 800 dual headphone boxes and then channeled to the 1670 Sennheiser HP 02 lightweight headband headphones. “With three shows per day, Studio 100 also provides hygienic pads for the headphone ears,” de Hertogh adds.

In addition to the extensive implementation of ‘traditional’ usage of digital wireless equipment, microphones and headpieces, Sennheiser wireless transmission was also used to send the time code for the eight moving LED screen decors. “A SK 6000 sends the timecode to each decor piece, which are equipped with a EM 6000 receiver. The timecode is needed to synchronise the video on all LED screens,” explains de Hertogh.

“This was a huge challenge, not only in terms of equipment, but also in terms of the number of wireless frequencies, the reflective iron used in the construction, moving stands and mobile decor elements. We also benefitted from the support of CDAE - Sennheiser’s worldwide application engineering team - that designed the RF-system and assisted during the setup.” concludes de Hertogh.

All of the Digital 9000 and 6000 receivers used in the production are part of a network, allowing continuous monitoring of the RF-signal by Sennheiser Wireless Systems Manager software. In addition, all RF and AF channels are monitored by the Wavetool application.

Orchestra and CD recording

Galaxy Studios were assigned for the recording, mixing and mastering of the ’40-45’ soundtrack. The recording sessions took a complete week, with three days for the instrumental tracks, performed by the Flanders Symphonic Orchestra. 61 musicians and director Dirk De Caluwe found a place in the studio’s main 330 m2 Galaxy Recording Hall.

“When we finalised the recording of the orchestra’s instrumental tracks, we started recording the ensemble sessions in our Studio One recording room,” explains Patrick Lemmens, Recording and Mixing engineer at Galaxy Studios. “The last step was the recording of the soloists in the vocal booths.” Contrary to what we did for “14/18” when we recorded orchestra, choir and soloists together, requiring tiring multiple takes for everyone involved, this new modus operandi was more efficient.”

Lemmens explains that internationally renowned film score composer Steve Willaert introduced a couple of recording habits from the film music genre; like the use of a click track which keeps the tempo of the music exactly as intended and allows to record elements of the music in overdub. “This feature allowed us to record the whole soundtrack (with instrumental tracks used for the theatre presentation and the complete recording for the ’40-45’ CD) in different sessions, without having to bother about the tempo,” he says.

The recording was effected in the Neve 88 D room – alongside the ‘traditional’ recording and stereo mixing, Lemmens recorded all of the sessions in Auro 3D 9.1 “My favorite listening format in Immersive Sound for “music in 3D” because of its efficiency and scalability to all kinds of playback environments,” he underlines.

Immersive sound with Auro 3D

Just before the October 7 world premiere of 40-45, the production announced that the complete show would be produced in Auro-3D sound. “Auro 3D is renowned for its most natural immersive sound reproduction creating more depth and transparency compared to other immersive sound formats on the market,” enthuses Wilfried Van Baelen, CEO and inventor of Auro 3D.

“Additionally, it is enhancing the emotional experience of the spectator. We know this from reproduction over loudspeakers but Auro’s binaural technology can bring that immersive experience over any existing headphone. All those elements together triggered sound designer Marc Luyckx to try out Auro’s binaural technology for the musical 4O-45.”

“It’s a two hour show and listening to headphones may become quite exhausting - the use of this new technology makes the overall sound in the headphones much richer and helps the audience to avoid getting fatigue by listening so long over an headphone,” agrees Luyckx.

The binaural reproduction of the Auro 9.1 mixes is used as the instrumental playback for the live musical on which the sound engineers add the mix of the live- vocals of the singers and the choir. 40-45 is staged at the Studio 100 Pop Up Theater in Puurs (near Antwerp – Brussels motorway) and organised by Studio 100 At press time over 240.000 tickets were sold. 

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