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Yamaha M7CL helps Gareth fry to 2009 Olivier Award

Apr, 2009

When faced with designing a challenging audio system for a challenging play, sound designer Gareth Fry turned to Yamaha’s M7CL digital mixing console as the ideal solution. And with the 2009 Olivier Award for Best Sound Design now safely in his grasp, he obviously made the right decision.

Making its debut in the appropriate surroundings of Edinburgh’s Drill Hall at the 2006 Fringe, the National Theatre of Scotland’s hard-hitting Black Watch was universally heralded as the best production at that year’s festival - within just a week of the month long performing arts festival opening!

From there it was taken on a world tour, including a critically acclaimed series of shows at London’s Barbican, which saw its superlative-laden run end with winning no less than four awards at the Oliviers - the UK’s most prestigious theatre awards - in March.

Black Watch tells the story of one of Scotland’s most famous regiments, serving in Iraq during 2004. Performed in traverse with the audience either side of a central performance area and further playing areas at each end, the action swings rapidly from a pub in Fife to a Warrior armoured vehicle in Iraq.

“It was a tricky system to design, firstly because the Drill Hall in Edinburgh was an acoustically difficult space, but also because the play changes location and playing area radically from scene to scene,” says Gareth.

“During different parts of the show, the actors might be up scaffold towers at opposite ends of the space, or some of them may have their backs to sections of the audience. Also, because the action switches very quickly between Scotland and Iraq, we had to use sound to bring the audience’s attention round to the place where the next action was about to happen.”

To achieve that, Gareth designed a comprehensive speaker system, with all of the cast on radio mics. The space was split into three vocal zones - one for each end and a third for the centre section, the microphones being routed differently, depending on where the actor was onstage at the time.

Having used the M7CL since its introduction, not to mention other Yamaha consoles such as the 01V96 and 02R for a long time beforehand, Gareth soon realised that the M7CL was the ideal solution for this complex design.

“I use the M7CL for a lot of productions,” he says. “The software is rock solid and they are very easy to use. It’s also straightforward to teach others how to use them and, of course, they have great sound quality.”

He continues, “Critically for Black Watch was the M7CL’s large number of inputs and outputs, the excellent MIDI implementation, the number of faders and the high quality metering. You’re not having to scroll through many layers to see a particular channel, all the faders are there in front of you which makes it easy to see what’s happening on every channel. The M7CL really was the obvious choice.”

As you would expect, as the play moves rapidly from scenes in peacetime Scotland to those in an active war zone, the sound for Black Watch is very dynamic.

“The transitional elements are very important, providing the sense of atmosphere for both extremes and leading audience attention from one playing area to another,” says Gareth.

“There is a lot of playback, ranging from subtle underscoring effects to deafeningly loud bombing, gunfire and aircraft sound effects. It’s very dynamic in terms of both volume and imaging.”

The ‘master’ of the show was a Stage Research SFX computer-based playback system, whose cues triggered the M7CL to switch scenes via MIDI.

“We programmed a lot of scenes,” Gareth continues. “We notated the position of each actor as they moved round the set, storing a scene for each position they were in. Cues were triggered on the SFX system to recall the appropriate scene on the M7CL, which routed each microphone to the appropriate loudspeakers, with different delay and level settings to image the sound to the actors position.

He adds with a smile, “There was a very long cue list!”

Complex it was, but Gareth’s hard work paid off with the universal acclaim afforded to Black Watch from audiences and critics alike, topped off by his winning one of the four Olivier awards that the play earned.

“It was a real privilege to be nominated and I really wasn’t expecting to win it,” he says. “The National Theatre of Scotland is a young company and it was tremendously exciting just to be able to take on the sound design of a production like Black Watch.

“When the company was set up, I was involved with recommending equipment for their inventory. Naturally this included several Yamaha digital consoles and the M7CL fully deserves its share of the Oliviers limelight!”


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