Touring and concerts

d&b Soundscape on tour with Björk.

Setting the scene

For her Cornucopia tour, Icelandic music icon and performance artist Björk, chose a d&b Soundscape sound system. After US and Mexico tour dates, with audiences of 1200 and 5000 respectively, Björk made a stop at the O2 Arena in London, where d&b partner Southby deployed one of the largest Soundscape configurations to date to an audience of 20,000.

The relationship between Björk and d&b goes back some 20 years when the Icelandic artists chose to use the then brand-new C4 loudspeakers for a concert in the UK. Two decades later Björk experimented with Soundscape in preparation for her upcoming tour, starting off in a small studio situated in a light-house on a remote Nordic island, then using a larger setup in bigger rehearsal spaces. The first show of the tour was performed at The Shed, an arts centre in New York. It unveiled the power of a 360-degree Soundscape used in concert and introduced the audience to a new world of sound. The New York media - who are known to be very critical reported the concert as “one of the most incredible displays of lights and sounds ever to grace a stage in the city”.

The London Concert

For the show at the O2 arena, the busy schedule of the venue meant that trucks and crew could only enter at 5:00 am on the day of the concert. In order to provide a system that could be deployed by the 4:00 pm deadline, it was decided to distribute the system without the surround sound, focusing on delivering a coherent acoustic field across the entire width of the stage. The 180-degree configuration of the d&b Soundscape fit the requirements perfectly.

The start of the show sees the venue go dark and a traditional Icelandic choir of 18 boys and girls, enters the stage. FoH Engineer John Gale chose to equip each chorister with a headband microphone. Were this a left/right sound system this could generate some sibilance that may harm the overall homogeneity of the choir, but this is not the case here. With Soundscape the sibilance has the power to greatly clarify the location of each singer. The choir is distributed on the horizontal plane with a very beautiful coherence between image and sound.

Then Björk and the musicians take to the stage. From the very first moments, the full meaning of Soundscape is revealed. The sound is well established, generous, wide. In his mixing work, John Gale uses the effects with relevance and measure, and that‘s to his credit. He favours the energy and timbre of the instruments and voice of Björk, an artist who is still as inspiring as ever.

It’s by moving around the venue that you really appreciate the impact of Soundscape. Wherever you are, the sound and visual scenes remain correlated. No more mixes heard on the right by the audience on the right, and vice versa. There is a real naturalness in the sound field, as if the singer and each musician were present that evening for each of the audience member, in a personal, privileged, exclusive exchange.

Behind the scenes

The O2 Arena can accompany an audience of up to 20,000 over a distance of up to 100 metres and the stage dimensions with a width of 38 metres are vast. The sound team therefore deployed five front clusters of 12 KSLs, two extension clusters of 14 Vs and two out-fill clusters of 16 Vs, completed with 12 Y10Ps and four V7Ps as front fills. Four stacks of six V8 are added as delay speakers. Eight SL-SUBs are flown and an array of 20 SUBs are stacked on the ground. Amplification is provided by 68 D80 and D20 amplifiers and two DS100s and seven DS10s are used as processors.

Soundscape explained

With a 64 x 64 mixing matrix and signal processing platform, the DS100 is the heart of the system. Its processor ensures the management of inputs and outputs according to the needs of the production.

Optional En-Scene and En-Space modules can be added to the DS100. The En-Scene module allows individual spatialization of sound objects, in this case the audio channels from the stage. To start with the venue must be modelled in ArrayCalc, using the ’Advanced Features’ mode which allows access to the ‘Soundscape’ and ‘Audio Networking’ options. Each part of the sound system should be grouped into categories defining the function, e.g. ‘SUB Mono’, ‘Front Fill’, ‘Delay Line’ etc. These are the ‘Function Groups’, which divide the audience area into separate parts, each corresponding to a coherent network of speakers, individually powered by a channel of the DS100.

Another additional module, En-Space, is re- sponsible for generating virtual acoustics in the venue. The module is able to reproduce the real reverberation signatures of some of Europe‘s most prestigious concert halls to create concert- hall-sound anywhere, even outdoors.

Soundscape vs Stereo

The most common option today for sound reinforcement is to install two main groups of loudspeakers on either side of the stage. A choice that has several virtues, including the fact that it does not visually clutter the stage, the widening of the coverage area and the possibility of using long stacks allowing power and long range via the line source effect.

This solution is commonly called ‘stereo’ or ‘left/right’. Stereo will only work for an extremely small portion of the audience in the venue. That is, for audience members who will be at equal distance from both speaker systems, in the so called ‘power alley’ or the audio sweet spot. Audience members to the side of this zone will perceive the sound as coming from the speaker on the side they are located at.

With Soundscape, d&b offers the opportunity to forget the traditional channel-oriented mixing. The principle is to try to amplify the acoustic field generated by each source. A point source, whether it’s Björk‘s voice, the sound of an instrument or an electronic source, emits a sonic wave that will spread out in a spherical form.

The Soundscape speakers are placed in front of the stage, between the sound source and the audience, and the DS100 processor provides each stack with the source signal weighted with differences in level, time and timbre, allowing the natural sound field that would have been that of the source to be reproduced, but with more pressure. In this way, due to the principle of the first perceived wave front, each listener, wherever he or she is in the Soundscape coverage area, will hear the source as coming from the place where he or she sees it on stage. When several sources are used on stage, the processor manages each source independently, so that the system generates the corresponding sound field. This is called ‘object-based mixing’.

All of the signals are then articulated in the DS100 to provide a coherent sound field. In the end, each listener perceives each source to be coming from exactly where it is actually located, in direction and depth. The audience member experiences a consistent relationship between the perceived sound and what happens on stage.

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