A groundbreaking arena sound design has been implemented for the German touring rock musical Tabaluga, featuring the show’s creator Peter Maffay and his band, accompanied by a horde of popular childrens’ TV characters including the show’s little green dragon namesake. Employing TiMax SoundHub source-oriented reinforcement (SOR) spatialisation coupled with TiMax Tracker automation, the 44-channel sound system continually tracked the performers to sync their radio-mic and effects localisations with their positions on a stage which sprawled out across multiple ramps and catwalks covering most of the arena floor.
A principal challenge for system engineer Sven Waldheim was that after the show’s premier in Hamburg’s O2 Arena this complex stage configuration would have to change to suit each arena venue’s dimensions and varying audience layout, so the TiMax delay-matrix timings would need to be adjusted appropriately to achieve the desired audio tracking.
Fortunately the TiMax2 SoundHub software was up to the task, by way of a built-in csv import facility which programs all the delay-matrix settings in one hit. The relevant speaker locations and stage zone positions were entered off CAD drawings into the SoundHub’s proprietary Image Definition Excel spreadsheet, which then derived the csv file to import for that particular venue. The TiMax Tracker system then automatically mapped its performer-tracking control to these zones so that the TiMax2 SoundHub achieved consistent results at every show.
Proof of Concept
Being hardened audio professionals Sven Waldheim and his POOLgroup team were only prepared to take on-board these radical techniques after some extensive proof-of-concept experimentation. Assisted by Robin Whittaker of TiMax developer’s Out Board, the complete stage including thrusts, catwalks and speaker grids were mocked up in advance at a pre-production facility in Emsdetten, where trials were run with a mixture of live talent and voice-over playback content to simulate what would happen in the show.
Robin Whittaker and Waldheim’s team compared the effectiveness of localisation achieved using the empirical csv import technique against a more organic approach using laser measurements and subjective listening. They were pleased to find the csv method worked consistently well for all regions of the venue, including the relatively complex audience seating areas on the arena floor. But valuable lessons were also learnt about small offsets which could be applied to benefit intelligibility in certain areas, subject to the relative throw and dispersion of particular speaker elements covering them.
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By including these subjective offsets as a set of constants in the Image Definition spreadsheet, Sven Waldheim’s TiMax system engineer Alex Nichol could derive each venue’s matrix settings in advance off-plan, reducing the onsite setup of this highly specialised arena PA system to little more than a system check and brief walk of the room. It also helped that general functions such as speaker channel trims and zone level control were all integrated in the TiMax2 SoundHub so any tweaks could be done together wirelessly on a Macbook.
Distributed arena PA
Main hangs and outshooters of Meyer Milo line-array with 600-HP and 700-HP subs formed the band PA for the main end-on stage, including UPA downfills and front fills plus additional UPJ nearfills. The source-oriented reinforcement (SOR) vocal system comprised ten Meyer Melodie line-array hangs distributed along the grids above the catwalks, with 19 UPA’s and 5 UPM’s distributed along catwalks and thrust stage-fronts and up in the grids as downfills. All main and distributed PA channels were driven by a 48x48 channel TiMax SoundHub-S matrix which hooked up to the Soundcraft Vi6 and Vi4 consoles and the Meyer powered speakers via analogue XLR feeds distributed on a RockNet network. Audio production was supplied by POOLgroup GmbH who rented the TiMax SoundHUb and Tracker systems from Out Board and German distributor Pro Audio Technik
Managing the localisation during the show was the TiMax Tracker system, which would take Alex Nichol about an hour to set up and calibrate in each venue. Seven TT Sensors were focussed at the stage, distributed with some on poles at stage level and a couple from the rear of the main stage. The often furry-costumed talent wore miniature TT Tags which emitted radar-frequency pulses to enable the tracking. Mostly it was mic signals that were being localised by the Tags’ control of TiMax2 SoundHub, but for some scenes certain characters’ speech and sound effects clips were played back from QLab and panned by TiMax2 SoundHub in response to TiMaxTracker tag movements on stage.
Peter Maffay’s Tabaluga tour recently completed a 3-month tour spanning some of Germany’s biggest arenas on the concert touring circuit. The sold-out shows met with rave responses from showbiz critics as well as the enthusiastic junior audiences. Sven Waldheim and his team were more than satisfied with the results of pushing audio boundaries outside their usual comfort zone.
“I was sceptical at first”
Werner Schmidl handled all the TiMax’d vocal mics for the wandering Tabaluga character and his pals, while UK live sound veteran Colin Norfield mixed FOH for Peter Maffay’s band. Asked how he’d adapted to this SOR approach for the vocals Schmidl admitted to being not so sure initially: “I was skeptical at first if it would all work, but I must say now I am absolutely delighted, I find the whole thing works pretty well.”
Video review (German) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=S5wvJzhcr3M