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14–18: War story – part 3: “Impossible” without TiMax

On 20 April, the Nekkerhal became the platform for one of Europe's biggest-ever theatre productions – and audio reinforcement plays a key role.

In part two of this three-part feature, 14–18 FOH engineer Guido Olischlager explained why he chose a Sennheiser Digital 9000 and 2000 wireless mic configuration, and Sennheiser Benelux’s Christophe Van den Berghe highlighted the company’s “unique antenna distribution system,” which enabled the microphones to successfully cover the entire area (over 60,000sqft). The final chapter awaits…

The brain of the speaker configuration is a TiMax2 Soundhub-S, controlling the Coda ViRAY cabinet’s roll out during the show. “Each speaker position has a specific delay and gain value towards the seats on the stands,” says Thomas Van Hoepen, TiMax engineer. “When the stands move under the cabinets, these values constantly change – the TiMax ensures, by means of minimal crossfades, that the transition between the stands’ positions is inaudible for the public. We’ve achieved a delay time of 5 metres per second, which I gather is quite good, considering the kind of venue we’re in.”

Van Hoepen (pictured right) explains that a comprehensive scheme of the production’s images, positions and settings resulted in a timeline. “Drawing up a timeline is crucial to calculate the position of speaker cabinets vis-à-vis the stands. This process has taken us weeks to accomplish and would have been impossible without the TiMax,” he emphasises.

Steven Kemland, sales manager with Face, distributor of the TiMax2 Soundhub-S, says 14–18 is the second big live spectacle in Belgium using the audio matrix platform. “Alongside this, we have implemented TiMax in the country’s leading museums and theme parks as fixed installations,” he says. “Sound designers Marc Luyckx and Guido Olischlager decided to use the TiMax Soundhub-S because of the specific demands for the event, with its live surround sound.” For 14–18, Face supplied the newest, fully MADI-controlled TiMax2 Soundhub-S 64 in/out.

“The TiMax allows us to re-create a new theatre on every new location where the stands hold, resulting in a tremendous surround effect and perfect intelligibility for all of the 1,880 spectators,” concludes Guido Olischlager.

With over 140,000 tickets sold at the time of going to press, 14–18 is poised to run until the end of summer, making it one of the Low Countries’ most successful theatrical productions ever. The positive attitude of audio equipment manufacturers and distribution companies, in combination with the expertise of the sound designers, specialised engineers and the drive of Studio Haifax as main contractor, results in a must-see/must-hear spectacle for the Great War centenary year.

A one-off English version of 14–18 was staged on 15 June.

Photos: Carole Edrich and Luk Monsaert

Recording at Galaxy Studios
Both the music tracks for the musical and the content for the 14–18 CD were recorded, mixed and mastered at Galaxy Studios in Mol. The recording also marked a unique collaboration between Galaxy Studios and Sennheiser/Neumann.

The size of the production, and the large numbers of musicians and singers involved, meant Galaxy needed to use four of its recording studios in combination with two control rooms. Galaxy’s main film scoring engineer, Tonmeister Patrick Lemmens, and Studio 100’s producer Jan Bernolet and music supervisor Kristof Aerts were assigned the project.

“What initially started as a standard assignment – recording a music score, which is our business
– steadily developed to a major venture,” comments Tom Van Achte, studio manager at Galaxy Studios. “We recorded the whole score in three days [6–8 March], requiring a lot of technical and logistical preparation. The 14–18 score represented quite a challenge.”

For the recording, the 70-piece Royal Flemish Philharmonic orchestra, conducted by composer Dirk Brossé (pictured above), played in Galaxy’s main studio while the choir and soloists (pictured below) sang their lines in Studio One and the vocal booths, respectively. “Initially to make the musicians and singers ‘feel’ the score, but also because we were recording the vocals for the CD,” explains Van Achte.

All the audio content was recorded simultaneously with both analogue and digital microphones. “Actually, Sennheiser suggested we record the score with two different microphone configurations,” continues Van Achte. “We have a large inventory of analogue Neumann microphones ourselves, while the new digital microphones were supplied by Neumann. It was a unique opportunity and a formidable test case, with Neumann using the results in A/B testing to analyse the digital/analogue audio quality and possibilities for future reference.”

Galaxy Studios mainly used M150, U87, U67 and KM184 microphones for the analogue recordings and D01, KM and TLM series mics for digital.

Because of the specific character of the recordings, two separate control rooms were used: the analogue API room by Sennheiser/Neumann, engineered by Gregor Zielinsky – the API desk was only used for monitoring, as the recording went straight from the digital mics (AES42 standard) to several AES42/MADI converters (two Neumann DMI-8 and eight RME DMC 842 M) into Pro Tools – and the NEVE 88 D control room, the heart of Galaxy’s recording landscape, for the 14–18 production team. A video-link system established visual contact between the control rooms, the orchestra in the Galaxy Hall, the choir in Studio One and the soloists in the vocal booths.

The 14–18 CD album was released on 20 April, and is also available as a download on iTunes.