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Ride the Lightning as Sofia Rocks

Four giants of thrash metal - Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer - played the same stage on the same day for the first time ever in Bulgaria over the summer, writes Paul Watson.

Four giants of thrash metal – Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer – played the same stage on the same day for the first time ever in Bulgaria over the summer, writes Paul Watson.

The historic event, Sofia Rocks – the Bulgarian leg of this year’s Sonisphere Festival season – was held at Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia in June and attracted around 60,000 fans. It was also broadcast live to 950 cinemas worldwide. The live cinema broadcast spanned the US, South Africa, South America and much of Europe; the largest single cinema audience was in Mexico City where an amazing 6,000 people were in attendance.

Tim Summerhayes of UK-headquartered Red TX (pictured at the console) was brought in to mix The Big Four for broadcast by Splinter Films and worked with Nobeo, the German sister company of Dutch broadcast specialists Cinevideogroup. Summerhayes and Nobeo engineer Remco Deckers spent a few days in Cologne prior to the event, building the system in the NOBEO1 OB truck from scratch and working hard on pre-production.

“When we’d configured the system, we mixed a Bullet For My Valentine recording from the recent Rock Am Ring concert to create starting points,” says Summerhayes. “We set EQs, gates and FX sends, which helped significantly when we came to doing the live mix in Sofia; it saved us a hell of a lot of time.”

Summerhayes says that interfacing with each artist’s respective production teams and PA crews well before the show is always extremely worthwhile and because the bands at Sofia Rocks were all “top notch”, their channel lists were fully comprehensive and their micing techniques superb, meaning less hassle for him at mix position in the OB truck.

Console knowledge
The broadcast console in the NOBEO1 OB truck was a Lawo mc²66, which Deckers is an expert at operating; Summerhayes, predominantly a Studer Vista 8 user, says he relied on Deckers’ knowledge of the console to help him create a familiar working environment.

“I’ve had Remco over my shoulder most of the time, because I have only used the console three or four times before,” Summerhayes explains. “Sonically the mc²66 is a beautiful desk and it’s great to have 48 channels on top, because on this particular production we’ve got inputs from all the bands on one layer, which makes it easier to operate and means we can use the lower layers for system control, FX sends, returns and audience reaction.”

Summerhayes mixed the show live in 5.1 and 270 channels were utilised in total on the mc266, which constituted the main frame communications box, all inputs and outputs, auxiliaries, FX, EQs, dynamics and a vast amount of MADI streams. Lawo stageboxes on fibre were used to get the mic splits from three different PA systems as two of the bands brought their own line and split systems. This meant that Summerhayes and Deckers had to interface with them for their act and then to the main PA split system for two of the other bands – without getting in anyone’s way.

Lawo snapshots were used to route the relevant mic inputs to the mix channels and ADAM S3-A active monitor speakers were used for the 5.1 surround monitoring.

A separate 5.1 mix room was created in an adjacent truck where Huub Lelieveld of Cinevideogroup mixed audio from EVS outputs into the show, including backstage interviews for all of the people watching from cinemas around the world. Lelieveld took two surround outputs from an EVS machine into his Yamaha DM1000 console, where he ran 12 channels in total.

“Tim’s music mix goes into the EVS machine, then the EVS operator sends his outputs to my console, where I am doing the broadcast output to the cinemas,” Lelieveld explains. “I just make sure it all goes out in surround. I am mixing in-between EVS outputs; I have two uplinks: one for the US and one for Europe.”

Lelieveld created his own surround monitoring system using ADAM and Genelec speakers.

Audience reaction
Summerhayes says that one of the differences in recording such a vast outdoor show in comparison to that of an arena concert is capturing the audience reaction on the ambient mics. He believes that if you get the right amount of ambience and pay close attention to certain frequencies, you can generate the feeling of “being a part of that environment” on the recording.

“Out here, you basically pick up the crowd and there is no acoustic; you have the volume of the PA to contend with – and actually you tend to use it.” he says. “You filter out anything that’s nasty and use it to open it up into a live concert. I roll off a lot of bottom end to get rid of the bad frequencies in the low mid range; often there’ll be a peak somewhere around the 4-6kHz region, which can be an issue, but it can be eliminated to a degree which helps sweeten it all up a bit.”

Nine Sennheiser mics were used to capture the audience – a combination of 816s and 416s. Summerhayes used Rycote windshields which he describes as “the best in the business” to help battle the difficult weather conditions and eliminate background noise. Deckers explains that mic positioning was also key to getting the desired results.

“The 816s are shotguns, so we used them to reach a wider part of the audience and made sure we captured as little noise from the PA system as possible,” he says. “The 416s are much more open, so we were able to take the sounds a little more from the front. The combination worked well.”

All the elements on site were mixed in the familiar broadcast format with the music mix produced in 5.0 only. Summerhayes says that the good thing about Dolby surround for cinema is that all cinemas sound identical; with this in mind, he and his team at Red-TX used its knowledge of the curves and filtering that Dolby impose to develop its Cine Matrix converter.

“We used theatre seven at Pinewood Film Studios and spent many sessions there trimming the device [Cine Matrix]. It addresses the amount of rear, centre and sub bass needed to convert a standard broadcast mix into something that works incredibly well in the cinema environment,” reveals Summerhayes. “The results we achieved at Pinewood were stunning and the reports we had from the participating cinemas on this project proved that we had just about got it right; we cannot control the final volume level at the receiving end as this is under local control but we did drive the system to -3dBFs which was as hot as I dare in a live environment.”

The system is based on Avid’s LE software and its associated 002 Rack and Summerhayes plans on using it for all future cinema broadcasts.

A DVD and Blu-ray of Sofia Rocks is expected shortly.