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Amplifying the 14 July parade

On 14 July, the French national holiday of Bastille Day sees local festivities throughout France, writes Marc Maes. The celebrations are centred on the Champs-Elysées in the heart of Paris, where a large military parade takes place.

On 14 July, the French national holiday of Bastille Day sees local festivities throughout France, writes Marc Maes. The celebrations are centred on the Champs-Elysées in the heart of Paris, where a large military parade takes place.

Technical facility company BS Technology, which specialises in audio, lighting and video applications, took on the assignment to provide adequate sound reinforcement for the 12th consecutive time. For this year’s parade, Eric L’Herminier, managing director of BS Technology, opted for DiGiCo SD7 and SD8 consoles and a Riedel RockNet digital audio network.

“We are targeting the massive public events both in France and abroad, that require a combination of equipment that one single rental company cannot provide,” explains L’Herminier. “You could say that we are event engineers for large projects – we compile the equipment list from various dry-hire companies and partners, and act as logistic provider for the organisers.

“The parade takes weeks of preparation and, despite the fact that we have done the job before, it is never routine. We need lots of back up, double and triple checks; the whole schedule of the parade is quite complicated. I would say that the job is not that impressive in terms of sound reinforcement but it is a technical tour de force.”

The crucial element in the whole event is the absence of a central stage – each of the military groups in the parade has its own brass band marching in front of it along the Champs-Elysées, and the sound reinforcement system captures the band (and even the horse’s hooves) and amplifies that sound via speaker doubles along the 2km boulevard for the 100,000 spectators. A tribune for the president and the officials on the Place de la Concorde is served by a separate speaker system.

“The DiGiCo SD7 and SD8 are essential for this job because we need massive memory space,” continues L’Herminier. “We used over 150 wireless microphones and we couldn’t have done this without the DiGiCos – and the support of Belgian wireless specialists RF Transmission, which supplied the Sennheiser and Shure microphones and transmitters.”

The majority of the wireless microphones were connected to a DiGiCo SD7, capturing the marching brass bands and returning the audio via a final mix on a Yamaha PM5000 console to some 200 speaker sets on the Champs-Elysées and via in-ear monitors to the respective band conductors. “The SD7 had 112 microphones coming in, and some 40 out groups connected,” explains Christophe Savy, in-ear mixing engineer for BS Technology.

“We used to work with a Yamaha PM-1D console until last year – when we met the French DiGiCo distributor Apex France, we had the opportunity to work with the SD7 on tour at the Solidays festival (26-28 June) and I found that the console met our requirements for the parade: it combines sufficient I/O with a keen snapshot system offering direct access to the microphones and the various touch-screen options come in very handy. What I appreciate most is the coherence in working with the DiGiCo consoles, the D5, SD7 or SD8 all have the same look and feel, gain and EQ.”

“From the first moment we spoke to Eric L’Herminier, we felt that Riedel RockNet and DiGiCo were the perfect solution for this event,” Rik Hoerée, sales director at Apex France, comments. “Premium-grade convertors, reliability and ease-of use were the key elements Eric and his team were looking for and these are just the points at which DiGiCo and Riedel RockNet are strong. It’s been an honour working with the team at BS Technology to realise this event.”

In addition to the SD7, Savy used two SD8 consoles for the 48 wireless microphones and 100 static Neumann KM184 and Schoeps microphones for the brass bands in front of the president’s tribune. “The three consoles work as pre-mix desks and the signals are then routed to the Yamaha PM5000 main desk,” continues Savy. “An analogue console was used for the final mix, but the engineer, Jean-Albert Gaertner, knows the PM5000 very well and didn’t want a digital desk – we respect him in his choice.”

The output signal is processed to 120 Bose 802 and 80 Electro-Voice SX 300 speaker cabinets on the Champs-Elysées and 12 L-Acoustics 112XT enclosures near the presidential tribune. “We worked with traditional multi-cores the years before, resulting in some technical problems and deteriorated signal,” says sound engineer Christophe Labonde. “In 2008 we experimented with Telecast fibre systems but the result didn’t persuade us. When we were introduced to Riedel we found that the RockNet was perfect for the situation on the Champs-Elysées. The fibre connections are the best solution for long-distance use and guarantee a 100% result.”

Labonde installed five Riedel RockNet interfaces along the route, connected with Camco amps, using a maximum of 250m of speaker cable per site. Each of the local switchboxes had a specific audio mix via RockNet from the central PM5000 console, with A-D converters both at the Yamaha and at each local distribution site. “The RockNet system works great,” enthuses Labonde. “I’ve been doing this parade for some 10 years now and I’ve worked with other big outdoor events such as the armistice ceremony in Verdun – RockNet provides a solution: bringing lots of signals over a great distance without loss of quality.”