So here we are again in the UK after our opening run in France. What on earth is going on with the weather in Old Blighty? Winds of up to 135 miles an hour, floods and a national red alert! All this after the Pope released a pair of white doves outside the Vatican only for them both to be brutally attacked mid flight by a crow and a seagull. Then came reports of an outbreak of bubonic plague in Madagascar! We just need the obligatory plague of locusts and frogs and we’ll have the complete Armageddon package. Maybe Nostradamus was right after all? Well, even if he is, one thing is for certain, none of these events are going to stop our trusty crew from setting everything up ready for the show. No matter what biblical catastrophes are taking place the crew will usually commence their day at around 7:30 am. While the band are fast asleep an army of sweaty slaves are dragged away from building their pyramids and are delivered to the venue. With whip in hand our crew boss orders them to unload the 50 tons of equipment out of the trucks and into the venue ready for our crew to set it all up.
The whole process usually takes around 8 hours and the different crew departments all work together and around each other to ensure that everything is completed in time for the band’s soundcheck, or as the sound boys call it... the Ladygig.
A very important aspect of the show is the PA, also known as the Front Of House Sound System or FOH. It’s what our audience listens to so it’s high priority. We’ve decided to try out a different PA this year and it’s being hailed in the industry as ‘The thinking man’s PA’ due to its intelligent design and capabilities. It’s made by Martin Audio and it’s called the MLA series. MLA is an acronym for Multicellular Loudspeaker Array. Fresh from Tracy Island the PA was delivered to us complete with two system engineers from Capitol Audio who program its audio processors on a daily basis to tailor the sound field to precisely fit the size and shape of the venue.
This requires the interior dimensions to be accurately measured at each venue. This is performed by FOH system engineer Marty Beath. Marty is originally from Melbourne, Australia and has been working for Capitol Audio for 2 years as an expert on their MLA systems. His favourite gadget is the ‘Lecia Disto D510 hand held laser distance and angle calculating device’. Try saying that after a few tinnies!
This Disto D510 syncs to your iPhone via bluetooth with the included "Disto Sketch" app. Measurements are taken by simply pointing the built in laser beam to different points around the venue. The iPhone app automatically calculates the size, height and angles of the inner dimensions of the venue thus creating a 3D representation of the room. It also plots the height and shape of the ceiling and any reflective surfaces outside of the audience area.
This is to ensure that the PA only directs sound into the audience area and to avoid sending sound anywhere else including reflective surfaces within the audience area, like a balcony front, large pillars, hard walls and floors etc. To achieve this the Disto Sketch app’s coordinates are entered into another clever piece of kit, the aptly named ‘Merlin Interface’. This is where the wizardry really comes into play.
Take a deep breath….
The MLA’s speaker cabinets each have 6 computerized processors fitted inside which control the seven speakers within each speaker cabinet. The Merlin Interface uploads the room parameters to the processors and they perform what is called ‘beam steering’ to match the audience geometry. Just imagine that the speakers are like fixed spotlights. They don’t physically move, it’s the processor software that focuses the ‘beams of sound’ to point precisely at the desired area. There are 66 processors in the main speaker arrays and 60 processors in the side arrays of our MLA system. The processors perform calculations for every square foot within the audience area and they adjust the level, phase and equalization of each individual speaker to achieve an even distribution of ‘level spectral variance’. It aims to achieve a 0.5db variance throughout the entire audience area so that every single seat will hopefully sound as similar as possible. Phew!
The input parameters even include temperature and humidity. These change throughout the day and especially during the gig, and that affects the way that sound travels to the audience. So the atmospheric changes are entered into the Merlin Interface throughout the show, so that it can maintain optimal sound performance for our audience.
The MLA is also environmentally friendly due its extreme efficiency. It typically draws between 13 and 30 amps compared to a conventional PA that would draw 125 amps to achieve the same volume and coverage. Green is the colour.
Well, hopefully you’ve managed to stay awake while reading this weeks Gadgets for Giggers and hopefully the new Martin MLA system will do what it says on the tin and provide you with excellent sound if you decide to come along and see us this tour.
Next time I’ll be chatting to our lighting department to see what gadgets they can offer.
But in the meantime let’s all keep an eye out for those locusts and frogs.