Bat Out of Hell first captured the public’s imagination when Meatloaf’s 1977 album became one of the best-selling of all time. In 2017, Jim Steinman’s beloved music found a new popularity on the stage, in a production described by WhatsOnStage as “a glorious, ridiculous, insanely enjoyable night out”.
The musical, set in a fantastical, dystopian, post-apocalyptic New York City, premiered at Manchester Opera House, followed by successful productions in London and Toronto. For his work on The London Coliseum production, Gareth Owen was nominated for the 2018 Olivier Award for Best Sound Design. Oberhausen was the next city to host this hugely popular show – but with a major difference.
The decision to use Soundscape for Bat Out of Hell The Musical in Oberhausen was largely based on the theatre itself, says Owen. “The Metronom is actually very similar to the Starlight Theatre in Bochum; it’s one big, open space. As we’d had such great results with Starlight, we thought we should do the same here, because the space is so well suited to the technology.”
With its grandiose rock numbers reproduced live by a twelve piece band, this show has a “busy” score, says associate sound designer, Matt Peploe. “The ability to use Soundscape to create more vocal space and band detail within these orchestrations seemed like a no-brainer.”
“And of course,” adds Owen, “Bat already has a huge amount of surround sound content in its design, so being able to take that and upgrade it with Soundscape seemed like a very natural choice.”
It was a natural choice also because of the Gareth Owen Sound (GOS) team’s previous experience with Soundscape. Owen has long been involved in the system’s development. Currently, in addition to Starlight and Bat Out of Hell they have employed Soundscape on Princess Diana The Musical in the USA, and on the West End production of Come From Away, for which Owen won an Olivier award for Best Sound Design.
Setting the En-Scene
In preparation for Oberhausen, the GOS team visited d&b’s Soundscape facility in Backnang, near Stuttgart. “We took the multitrack data from a previous version of the show and started placing objects around the system,” says Peploe. “We know this show inside out, and how it should sound, but wow - we were blown away by what we were able to create using En-Scene. We knew straight away that this would take the show to the next level.”
En-Scene is the software application within Soundscape which allows the placement of sound ‘objects’ within a space. With it, the team separates and defines individual sounds during the show’s more complex sonic moments – moments which previously presented challenges for a traditional left-right theatrical sound system.
Peoploe explains, “Once you’re not channelling all the sonic energy down to a left-right PA, but instead distributing it across seven Soundscape arrays, the headroom of the system drastically increases.”
Rock, Roll and Fidelity
“Up until now,” says Owen, “we’ve done Bat using big J Systems, which give it a rock and roll authenticity. Initially, we were concerned that moving to a tighter, more precise, more detailed system, we might lose some of that rock and roll element. We had to work harder to make it sound rock and roll, and that’s part of the learning curve. But when we got there, the sound was as good as the original, and better, because we could do everything that we’re supposed to be able to do with this new technology – pick out all the instruments, all the singers. It gave more fidelity, without losing any of that rock and roll character.”
“Once you’ve heard a Soundscape system, it’s very difficult to go back to a standard theatrical setup.”