Cult icons of progressive metal, Tool, have just completed the southern-hemisphere leg of their extensive and technically ambitious arena touring schedule, supporting the launch of the long-awaited album, Fear Inoculum. As they headed to Australia and New Zealand, it was confirmed that the tour’s one-of-a-kind, TiMax SoundHub-driven 3D surround sound system - that started out as something of an experiment - would continue for the rest of the tour as it had ‘become part of the show’.
The system design – a distributed d&b arrangement of main left and right, plus overheads focused vertically down forward and back, rear surround hangs and upper seating ‘front’ channels – is the result of extensive research by the band’s system engineer, Liam Halpin, to realise the suggestion of FOH engineer, Alan ‘Big Nobby’ Hopkinson, that their audience would love ‘sounds to appear from different places around the room’.
Liam’s research took him towards TiMax. He explains, “Keeping abreast of what TiMax can do over the years I thought this might be an ideal use for it: to create something that is not quite what everybody else is doing” He’d quickly ruled out other immersive systems, “because they’re quite heavily geared around having multiple hangs across the stage, they weren’t the right systems for what we were trying to do.”
A key element of the success of the TiMax-rendered “effects system” was that it avoided blocking sightlines for the highly video-intensive production design, in addition to offering spatial mapping across multiple subsystems so that almost every seat in the house would experience spatial placement and panning of individual or groups of mix elements. It was also vital that it could be readily adapted for different arenas.
Liam took his initial system ideas and the results of his summer of multitrack experimentation to Out Board’s Dave Haydon and a TiMax demo system was set up at Eight Day Sound UK, alongside Liam’s newly devised PA distribution infrastructure. Dave and Liam then worked together to discover how TiMax could spatially render, manage and drive it.
For the tour, Eight Day Sound supplied a TiMax SoundHub-S64 unit with 64x64 I/O on Dante plus some analogue and AES outputs, used to provide a failsafe redundant feed into the PA.
Room mapping was rendered by dropping the multi-channel loudspeaker locations onto a dimensioned TiMax PanSpace map. TiMax Image Definition objects were created from combinations of the relevant speakers with levels and delays set to allow placement or panning of the sound at or between the required 3D locations.
Object-based spatial event layers were programmed in the PanSpace Spatialisation window to be utilised in various ways: triggered manually at FOH or remotely from stage via MIDI; or set up as live realtime 3D pans. Over 20 mix channels could be spatialised live at FOH by Liam, using TouchOSC on iPads driving the OSC port of the TiMax control computer.
The adaptability and workflow of TiMax made it the perfect choice for touring such an extensive and unique immersive audio system. The ability to view every Image Definition object parameter involved in the spatialisation made it quick and easy to fine-tune the core spatialisation template for each venue. The speed and accuracy of TiMax Panspace and its matrix level/delay Auto-Calc function, plus the fact it is not reliant on any strict system geometry or topology ensures maximum portability across different venues and overall ease of use.
Liam concludes, “The decision to keep using the system and take it to Australia and other territories has been made by the band, which says a lot about just how effective it’s been.”