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Meyer Sound’s LEO for Michael Jackson Cirque show

Last month, after a long run in North America, Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson: The Immortal tour arrived in the UK, with Meyer Sound's new flagship system, LEO, in tow.

Immortal is quite different to what you might expect from a Cirque production. Very much music-led, it is essentially a fusion of 30 of the so-called King of Pop’s greatest hits with a powerful, acrobatic twist.

The story begins outside the gates of Jackson’s former home, Neverland, and then takes the audience on a roller-coaster of more than 20 scenes, each of which combines music, dance, fairytale, mime and magic, to represent a time in Jackson’s life.

Songs from each period of the star’s glittering career are incorporated, from the Motown days of ABC, I’ll be There and Ben, to the multi-platinum era of Off the Wall, Thriller and Dangerous.

Canada-based rental company Solotech has provided audio, video and lighting for this tour, which is now more than 250-shows strong. At the helm throughout has been Meyer Sound’s latest and most powerful system to date, LEO, which is based around the LEO-M line array loudspeaker.

“LEO is really our first large-scale flagship system in about 10 years,” states Meyer Sound’s loudspeaker product manager Luke Jenks, who also came up with the system name.

“We wanted to create a system that bands could really push, but that could also deliver the same tonality at a low level as it could at a high level – like driving a V8!”

According to Jenks, LEO-M is a two-way loudspeaker and has more headroom than any other Meyer Sound system and an uncoloured frequency response. It is capable of throwing in excess of 200m, though despite being a large-scale system, it has only one crossover.

“It’s very different in that respect to many of the recent PAs, which have three or four crossovers, but having just the one makes it easier to manage, with fewer complications,” he insists.

“There are new drivers and new amps, it’s very symmetrical and linear, and it provides an even response across all frequencies; although it’s essentially an extension of what we’ve done over the years in building linear systems.”

Five years worth of R&D just on LEO-M’s high horn gives you some idea of just how important this system is to Meyer Sound, and it was decided almost two years ago that Immortal would be a perfect proving ground.

“We put out a prototype system, and in the first few months we must have made 50 changes, but these were mainly tweaks – it was never a case of losing parts or a lack of reliability,” Jenks explains. “As a result, the system out on Immortal now is a full production system, and it’s working fantastically well.”

Although Francois Desjardins’ sound design wasn’t all about sheer volume, the power within LEO-M was certainly a deciding factor in its deployment on Immortal.

“MILO would have been too heavy [for Immortal], and although LEO-M is a heavier box, we saved 30% in weight using it, because fewer boxes were needed,” Jenks continues. “And, of course, it’s a self-powered solution, which is still one of our biggest aces in the hole.”

The main arrays on the Immortal tour have varied in size, depending on how much vertical coverage has been required at each venue.

For the O2, 40 LEO-M elements were deployed: 14 per side in a L/R configuration, with MICAs as downfill; and two side hangs of six LEO-M with eight MICAs. For complete versatility, Meyer Sound ensured that LEO-M could integrate with its MICA, 700-HP and JM-1P boxes.

LEO is Meyer Sound’s first live sound product to be packaged as a turnkey system. Headlining the LEO-M line array loudspeaker, a LEO system also includes the Galileo Callisto loudspeaker management system and the 1100-LFC low-frequency control element; 24 of the latter were deployed underneath the O2’s stage.

“With a rock show, things get louder as you move towards the stage, as the stage is loud and the subs are in L/R blocks,” Jenks explains. “But a Cirque show requires equal coverage, therefore it’s more about giving, so putting the subs under the stage really works for this production. Although the whole thing is not necessarily set up for efficiency, it doesn’t really matter, because the power of the system is so huge.”

FOH engineer for the show, Martin Pare, seconds that emotion, and says the current touring system has come on leaps and bounds compared with the beta system he was working with up until September.

“Although this isn’t a rock show, it’s still a big show, so we need a lot of power,” he says. “We had the beta box until recently, and now we have a much better, updated system with improvements to the amplifier and the speaker; it’s now louder and more precise.”

Pare says using LEO-M has meant there is still a full spectrum of sound right at the top of the arena.

“We decided not to excite it too much, because of the material of the roof, so the last two rows might be a little darker because of the reduction in HF, but that’s due to the placement of the box, not its ability,” he explains.

“You get great coverage everywhere in the arena, which is what a Cirque show demands. We’ve also hung a few 700-HPs alongside the LEO-M in a cardioid pattern, to improve it further.”

Pare is working on a DiGiCo SD7 on Immortal, a console he favours for a number of reasons, especially its ability to deal with high channel counts.

“When we were working on the show as a concept, we ended up with 480 I/O – we ran out of it, basically! I am using 120 inputs here, and I also have two SD Racks,” he says.

“For this show, it’s all about I/O and the amount of cards you can have in every rack, and the SD7 does the job brilliantly; also, in terms of sound quality, what’s coming out of its preamps is amazing, and I am able to record everything in 96k resolution, which is a real bonus.”

Monitor engineer, Ray Petruzzielo, also uses DiGiCo, and was treated to the ultimate monitoring position at the O2.

“I get to see the audience reaction and the band, so I get the best of both worlds from up here,” he smiles, as I peer over his SD7, which is positioned on the upper tier of the arena, looking down on the stage.

“One of the things I really like about the SD7 is its video screen because it allows me to keep a really close eye on the band members. I split it into four sections, and I can always tell if there’s something not quite right by the faces they pull!”

Petruzzielo is running 140 channels: 80 for the band, 48 for sequencing, and the rest dedicated to various comms channels. All monitor mixes are sent in stereo: 11 to the band, one for the sidefills, and several others for cast members, such as the mime act and the two tap dancers in the show.

“I use the recall and duration time feature on the SD7, whereby I have the console on timer; all I need to do is hit the first snapshot and then it rolls through the rest of them,” he explains. “This is great for me, because I don’t need to be so hands-on; I can be listening to mixes without having to worry about snapshots. It just makes life a lot easier, basically.”

Just before the show, I make my way back to FOH, to a very relaxed engineer.

“It’s just such a complete system,” beams Pare, leaning back in his chair. “It provides great coverage, sound quality and power; and for phase correction, the Galileo Callisto works perfectly with the LEO-M and the 1100-LFC. It’s a pleasure to work with.”

Story: Paul Watson