(Black) Friday 23 November 2018 – China blog Part 4

Our resident technician, Jeff Thomson, shared more with us while on his travels

 (Black) Friday 23 November 2018 – China blog Part 4

The three weeks in Beijing were great, we were able to rest and regroup a bit. We visited the Great Wall and Forbidden City, amongst others, which were incredible. It’s those incredible and surreal moments that always smack me in the face and remind me what it is I’m actually doing – travelling the world and seeing all these incredible places, all the while being able to do what I love. Gotta love it! Often in the middle of a show, whether I’m tweaking the system, mixing, or even on standby backstage, I am hit with a bit of awe for being able to be in this position and deliver this show to thousands of people every night.

All good things must come to an end though, and our ‘relaxing’ three weeks came to an end all too soon and we found ourselves striking the show on Sunday night in minus 2 degrees Celsius. The loadout went relatively smoothly for all departments, we were all packed quite early. However, stage level in Beijing was below ground and so we needed to utilize the lift to get our gear up to the trucks. This slowed the process down drastically of course. I was dreading the loadout a bit actually, but the local crew was but I must say that they were all great and we managed to work well together. We had our cases prepped for the truck ready and waiting when the lift was handed over to us.

Tee handled the loading of the lift downstairs, while Tom, David and myself went up to brave the cold outside in the truck. I was quite surprised to find that the truck end of the lift had no safety barrier or cage, and so when the lift was lowered, one wrong step in the container would find you base-jumping to the bottom, a small twenty meter or so drop. We managed to get everything up on three lifts I think, and had our truck packed in just under an hour. The loaders were the best we’ve had so far.

We grabbed a car to the hotel, had a beer or three and then hit the sack. We flew to Nanchang on Monday afternoon and arrived at the hotel around seven pm. Having to wait for the trucks to arrive in Nanchang meant we could only load-in on Wednesday, another ‘day-off’, yay! A few of us did the sight recce on Tuesday morning, which turned out to be the longest one yet.

The venue is about nine years old I think, and we are apparently the first musical and ‘large-scale’ show to be hosted here. They hadn’t had a flown line-array before, at the most they have had some ground-stacked point-source. The venue layout posed a few challenges which resulted in Wing (PM) and Louis (Rigger) having to plot the stage and flys three times or so to get it right. I have to wait for them to finish to get confirmation on our final stage position, which affects where I can fly my PA.

I had done the drawing the week before and just spent the time confirming my measurements. Tom and myself also chatted with the venue sound and technical manager regarding things like cable runs, tanoy, power, FOH position, etc., to make sure we had all the details we needed to have a quick and smooth load-in the next day. I went up to the grid to double check point position possibilities and when we got back down the stage position had been confirmed. Neither of the two possible places for the PA were perfect for me, but would work, so I got the measurements of plan A and plan B and then we hit the road.

I finished the drawings at the hotel (after having quite the experience for lunch at a Mongolian restaurant, which included getting lost in the rain, a lot of unsuccessful Google Translate, spilled drinks and carving away at our tables own (and entire) roasted lamb on a stick). Plan A was flying upstage of the pros on our motors, plan B was ground-stacking for the stalls and flying from house points downstage of the prosc. After putting the measurements into the drawings, I knew plan B wouldn’t work as the angles would sound terrible in the stalls, and I couldn’t get line-of-sight into the middle level boxes. And so plan A it was – flying on our own points upstage of the prosc. My only concern was that this point was a little close to the start of our own deck, so gain before feedback could be affected. We couldn’t fly our whole PA from the house points as they are very far downstage of the prosc and out into the auditorium, as well as very far on-stage - I wouldn’t get the coverage or localization I needed, and it would create sightline issues as well. I was happy about using our own points though, it is so much quicker and easier than having to rely on the venue to drive the points. Centre cluster went onto the header bar, which meant we could use the venue header to mask our rigging – bonus!!!

We arrived at the venue on Tuesday at 8:30am (the venue is actually only a 10-minute drive from the hotel, a nice change) and got to work. The truck situation is great here, the stage is on ground level (so no lift necessary), and there are loading bays on both sides of stage which fit two trucks each. This makes the process extremely quick. If we really move it for the loadout on Sunday, we can load our truck as soon as we are ready – hopefully we can have our truck closed by 2am! The crew were pretty cool and the venue staff are friendly and know what is going on.

I helped with positioning cases and running cables, and then got to work on the PA. This venue has definitely been the trickiest one yet, regarding the PA and points. There are three levels in the auditorium, including an extended section at the rear of the gallery. This meant I had to go with 16-a-side for our main L/R, which only left 4 boxes for the centre-cluster. This has resulted in changing strategy back to what we had in Chongqing. Instead of having a centre-cluster covering the entire auditorium and being our main source of vocals, we are now just using it to cover the first ¾ of the stalls as well as the fronts of the middle level boxes (which have one or two slight line of sight issues with their relevant PA in the extreme seats). It is simply helping bring the vocals centre for the people sitting here, as they are the closest to the PA and have the widest image.

I went with 14 Y8s and 2 Y12s (on the bottom) for the main hangs. The 12’s on the bottom are there as these boxes have the least distance to their audience, meaning the smallest chance to get some coverage. Putting the 120-degree box there helps a lot. The centre is made up of 2 Y12s (on the top) and 2 Y8s. This is a bit of a strange setup, but it works really well. Firstly the centre is the highest we have had to go with it due to the line of sight to our gold portal from the highest seats in the rear section of the gallery, meaning the bottom boxes have plenty space to get coverage to their audience as they are high, as well as far back (there are no seats in the pit, so the audience is a good 7m or so from the centre cluster (excluding the height). Secondly, the venue shape means that the top 2 boxes have a wider section of audience than the bottom 2 boxes, and I also wanted to get into the middle box seats a bit to help with that section. It worked quite well.

I have learned that something will always go wrong or put up a fight. Despite having my drawings complete before getting to the venue, and starting the rigging around 10:30am, we only managed to have the full PA flying just before dinner. Although this is still earlier than it has been, it was still frustrating. Nothing went wrong, it was just the logistics of getting the points in and the PA up and into the gaps that took an extreme amount of careful mathematics and planning, as everything (ranging from motors, shackles, flying grids, etc.) have about 5cm of play between them and the nearest obstruction lol. The centre had to go up first as the bar it is on wouldn’t fit past the main PA once they were up. The venue struggled with the bar a bit, but we eventually managed to get it where it needed to be. The one thing I didn’t include in my calculations was the string we used to angle the centre cluster, which is tied off to the bar it is flying on. The centre is hanging the lowest from its own point than it has before (6m) to still be able to utilize the venue’s header but not drop it over the front of our PA. This means that the string is really long, and when we took it up, it had to squeeze between the bar and the house tabs track. This pushed on the string on one side, which turned my carefully angled centre cluster. So up on the talloscope I went, which was almost tall enough lol, with our locals sitting on it to keep it from tipping over. I managed to correct the angle, mostly!

The motors for our main PA are sitting snug in between the venue prosc (I figured I would use it to mask them as there was no space to invert our motors in the grid), the sprinkler system, the iron and the false prosc. It was a tight squeeze, which had me up the top of our tall ladder to make sure I had eyes on the motor as it was squeezing in. But the maths worked. We managed to fit our centre, motors, PA, chains, flying grids, etc. in without breaking anything and keep it looking good. Just another day at the office.

I tied the PA off to the lighting ladders, but for some reason it kept slipping and had me up each side about 3 times trying to get it right. This, as well as correcting the centre angle, put me behind schedule. Ironic as I was ahead before that. I was only able to start working on the R1 (processing) file at 11pm, and we could only start timing the system around 11:45pm. I tried a new experiment for the timing, using the entire row of FF’s as the zero point, instead of just the centre ones. Meaning I timed the outer ones to the centre ones, but then timed the main L/R hangs to their relevant FF’s instead of the centre ones. This kept a great stereo image but was much too wide and open for our liking. It wasn’t the tight and intimate sound we are looking to achieve. So back to what we know. We quickly re-timed and got it right by 00:45. This left 15minutes for tuning, great. We already knew I would now be spending lunch the next day tuning, and possibly after the tech as well. However, the work I had done on the R1 file did its job, and the system sounded pretty decent for a starting point.

While tuning at show level, we noticed some flashes around the venue walls. Eventually the venue staff came and informed us that it was their LED’s ‘light to music’ function which they couldn’t turn off. We spent a further 30minutes playing music and tuning while they tried unsuccessfully to turn it off – we were very excited about the prospect of a disco version of Chicago lol. Unfortunately, they found the power source the next day…

A few hours’ sleep and back to the venue to finish up the setup, line-check, tune, tech and then do a show. I had to re-angle the main L/R PA as the safeties had been pulled up and had moved them. I ended up tying off to the false prosc rather, the LX ladders weren’t stable enough this time. A long day, but we made it through and I was relatively happy with the results. I am going to do a bit more tweaking during tonight’s show as always, to get it perfect. We also just needed a show for our ears to settle, it’s a big shock to them. Beijing was a dead venue, had a full coverage centre cluster, and FOH was positioned to the left. We are now in an extremely lively venue, with a semi-coverage cluster and back in the centre. Three vastly different sounding parameters all rolled into one. We will see how tonight goes.

All for four days of shows lol. Until then - Jeff
Senior Audio Operator – Splitbeam
Sound 2 – Chicago International Tour 2018/2019

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