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The sky’s the limit - Five Yamaha consoles in the air and on the ground for a truly unique event


The fourth edition of the Festival of Science was held at Rome’s Parco della Musica from January 15th to 18th 2009. In the four days of the event, 28,000 spectators took part in the fascinating program of meetings, exhibitions, shows, lectio magistralis and conferences, with the participation of scientists, philosophers and intellectuals.

On Sunday 18th, for the first time in Italy and organized by the Musica per Roma Foundation, the cosmic masterpiece of Karlheinz Stockhausen took off: Helicopter Quartet by Stockhausen, for four musicians and four helicopters, which circled over the domes of the Auditorium. Bold, unusual and spectacular, the realization of one of the most visionary dreams of Stockhausen, who had always wanted to defeat the force of gravity, experimenting the space element in his music. On board each helicopter there was a member of the Arditti Quartet (two violins, viola and a cello).

Practically speaking, the video and audio signals of the helicopters and the respective musicians were transmitted via radio to the receivers installed outside the Auditorium, which were in turn connected to the mixing, playout and sound reinforcement systems in the venue’s Sinopoli Hall.
On stage in the hall, in the role of a commentator, scientist Piergiorgio Odifreddi, with a series of large screens as a backdrop, on which the coverage of the flying musicians was projected. At the rear of the packed hall, sound director Alvise Vidolin helmed a Yamaha PM5D-RH digital mixing console.

The impressive AV system for this original event was supplied by Madema, a leader rental company in the show business field and also a key player in numerous other sectors (television, conferences and expos), as well as a Yamaha dealer.
As well as the sound reinforcement in the Sinopoli hall (where the system included a Yamaha DME32), Madema’s audio team, coordinated by Luigi Del Duca, was also responsible for the mixing on board each helicopter: in fact, alongside each musician there was a sound engineer with one of Madema’s stock of trusty well-proven Yamaha 01V consoles.

Computer music pioneer and Live Electronics performer Alvise Vidolin is the lecturer in Electronic Music at Venice’s "Benedetto Marcello" Conservatory, as well as co-founder of the Associazione di Informatica Musicale Italiana (AIMI). He has been responsible for the electronic project and the sound direction of many musical works, collaborating with various important composers in international theatres and festivals.

He explains, “In the contemporary music field, the person at the mixer is called a sound ‘director’, because he or she does a job similar to that of an orchestra conductor. Stockhausen’s score shows point in which the microphone of a certain musician must be amplified more or less in relation to the rest of the ensemble and, in other points, instead of playing traditionally, the players hit the strings with their bows. The sound in this case is obviously weaker, and this must be compensated for – so it’s necessary to work at the console following the score. In this specific case, since the quartet is split up, I also have the job of recreating the integration typical of a group sitting together for a normal performance. Moreover, the signals arriving at the desk are not always constants, as the radio frequencies are often disturbed according to the helicopters’ positions, so I need to adjust the settings.”

Each helicopter’s signals are sent separately and the Yamaha 01V mixer is used to normalize them, provide phantom power for the headsets and give the headsets a feed of a click track for sync purposes, as well as enabling the musicians to hear themselves over the very high environmental noise level. The signal of the instrument (picked up by a bug mic) is transmitted from each helicopter, as well as the signal of the musician’s voice (via the microphones mounted on the headsets of the players, who recite numbers in German. An external microphone picks up the sound of the blades and the engine.
Vidolin continues, “The sound of the blades is in fact a very important component in this composition, as it become a sort of ‘triplet’ that Stockhausen used as a backing for the string part, which is played in tremolo, imitating the sound of the helicopter’s rotor. This sound mustn't be steady and ‘cold’, but must be modulated in some way. The intent of the composer was to favour this modulation with the movement of the helicopters’ flight but, in fact, this is almost imperceptible, as the pilots have to fly in a rather regular calm manner over a city like Rome. My job is therefore to articulate this sound with variations in the course of the performance - not processing the sound, but just equalizing it, using the PM5D-RH system’s EQ facilities in an in-depth manner.”
The equalization also had to make the frequency components of the sound of the helicopter – mic’d at a short distance - similar to that normally heard on the ground (filtered by the hundreds of metre, or sometimes kilometres, separating the aircraft from the listener).
Vidolin continues, “I work frequently with Yamaha consoles, such as the DM2000 and the DM1000 - which we also have at the conservatory - but it’s the first time I’ve used a PM5D – and I must say I found it really good – it’s a beautiful unit. Fortunately, software enables to program the console previously, so I arrived at the Auditorium with the project already eighty percent completed. I always do this whenever possible - it's a great advantage!
I could have done almost everything with a DM2000, but the PM5D-RH is much larger and therefore also has a much more ample matrix. Fortunately, the MIDI also works well because, for example, I previously programmed the variations shown on the score and synchronized my ‘sequence’ – we’ll call it that even if I didn’t use a sequencer – with the click track used for sync purposes by the musicians, and I wouldn’t have had time to program them during rehearsals in Rome.”

21 and a half minutes after taking off, three of the helicopters returned to their base, while the fourth landed at the Auditorium, where the first violin and founder of the Quartet, Irvine Arditti, was enthusiastically greeted by the audience in the hall: fifteen years after its composition on the occasion of the Festival of Salzburg, in spite of numerous attempts in various other locations, Rome was just the third performance ever successfully completed – thanks also to the fundamental contribution of the Yamaha Commercial Audio products.


Products PM5D-RH , DM2000VCM , DM1000VCM

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