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Sweet talking’ Yamaha consoles excel with The Orchestra

Nov,2008

The Orchestra may only feature three former members of seven-strong 1970s icons The Electric Light Orchestra, but that doesn’t stop live audiences from continuing to be enthralled by the band’s live versions of ELO’s many classic songs, including Mr Blue Sky, Don’t Bring Me Down and Sweet Talkin’ Woman. And with two Yamaha digital consoles on the show, the sonic intricacies of these iconic songs can be reproduced with no compromises.

The band’s extensive autumn UK tour sees a Yamaha PM5D at front of house, with an M7CL on monitors - supplied, together with the rest of the audio specification, by Knutsford-based VME Ltd.
The nature of The Orchestra’s music means that mixing both monitors and the front of house sound is fairly complex, so the onboard effects and the saving / instant recall of scenes are proving extremely useful.
“I’ve got six main stereo in-ear mixes for the band members, a mono feed for drummer Gordon Townsend’s subs and shaker, plus another stereo in-ear mix for him,” says monitor engineer Happy Anders. “This is because, at the beginning of the second half, they do acoustic songs from their solo projects and Gordon comes down the front to sing. So he’s got wired in-ears when he’s playing drums, but a radio pack for when he comes down the front.”
The acoustic segment also sees other band members swapping instruments and the monitor mixes are necessarily different to the main, rock part of the show. Not having to fight his way through all the manual changes which would be required on an analogue console is a major benefit for Anders.
“I’m using scenes all the time, we have about seven main ones for this show and it’s really useful to just be able to hit recall, so I’m not sat there with big pieces of paper marking up the whole desk,” he says.
“We have also had some venues which were really big and echoey. I had to really change the monitor mixes to mitigate that, so it’s been great to be able to save that and then recall it when we go into similar venues.
“On top of that, I don’t need any outboard. Any reverb or EQ, etc, for the mixes is from the M7CL - it’s a really efficient way of doing things.”
At front of house, engineer John Shipp has only been able to use the PM5D on the band’s autumn dates - on shows earlier in 2008 he was using a different digital console and he has certainly noticed the difference.
“What I really like about the PM5D, one of its big advantages over other digital consoles, is its preamps. They are so much better,” says John.
“The main challenge of mixing this show is that there is a lot of orchestral keyboard, piano and we have a violin player with a rock band. If you listen to the old ELO stuff, it’s very lush but it’s tough to separate because everything seems to take up the same range of frequencies where the vocals are. Guitars, pianos, strings, violin - they’re all in that middle frequency band.

“So if they’re not clear and the preamps ‘slur’ those middle frequencies, if you don’t get a nice defined sound, it becomes really hard to mix. You start carving away at EQs where you don’t want to, you’re sacrificing a lot of the sound of one instrument just so you can get everyone accounted for. The PM5D’s preamps definitely help with that, they are really good quality and there’s a great summing section that sounds really nice.”
The PM5D is using 32 inputs from the stage, plus some playback. Here, as at the monitor position, the scenes facility is key to the show.
“We have five vocal mics and three singers, they change positions a lot and they also change instruments, from electric guitar to acoustic guitar, Eric Troyer and Phil Bates both switch between electric guitar and keyboards. So a lot of things have to be muted to avoid picking up a stage noise and slapback from the house into the open mics. Running the show using scenes makes things a lot easier.
“I did a tour with the band in 2006 using an analogue console and you’re starting from scratch every day. The PM5D saves so much time, I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to an analogue desk with this band!”
Like Anders, John Shipp is using only the PM5D’s onboard processing and, as befits such a musically diverse production, is enjoying getting much more creative than just adding the usual reverb, EQ and gates.
“I add reverb to the violin to give it that big, rock sound,” says John. “But we also wanted to do something a different with the violin, making it a little less traditional during the show. So I’ve been digging into the PM5D’s DSP and I’ve got him some great pitch shifting and phasing effects going on. I’m using them quite creatively as opposed to the usual technical processing sense.”
He adds, “The first time you use a digital console and you don’t have that comforting rack of outboard gear, you’re always a little nervous. But it’s a completely unfounded fear. The PM5D’s effects are great. You look at the rider of any major tour and they’re going to want a rack of SPX990s - but it’s all here. The only difference is that they’re right there in the console.”
“From my side, setting up in venues every day, having everything self-contained means we fit in the venue a lot more easily than with a load of outboard,” adds system tech Phil Woodbridge.
“It means a much smaller footprint for both the FOH and monitor positions and, especially with FOH, it means that they can sell more seats - which is what everyone wants at the end of the day, really.”
John continues, “I also really like the fact that there are many different view options with the PM5D. However you want to work, there is a viewing option that will suit you. I think that’s pretty smart.”
Ultimately, the facilities and reliability of the Yamaha consoles are proving a great success with The Orchestra - not just with the engineers, but with the quality of sound for both the audiences and musicians.
“We did a show in the Isle of Man a few days ago and we didn’t take our rig, we used equipment out there,” says monitor engineer Anders. “I was using a different desk on monitors and... let’s just say that the band are a lot happier now that we’re back with the M7!”
When it comes to The Orchestra, it seems that Yamaha consoles are a genuine case of (Mr) blue sky thinking...

Data

Products PM5D , M7CL-48

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