Girl Power is back and, since mid-December, has taken over London’s Piccadilly Theatre, as the musical Viva Forever! brings the Spice Girls hits to the West End. A pair of DiGiCo mixing consoles makes sure the audience gets the sound it really, really wants.
The show’s sound designer is Bobby Aitken, who is no stranger to musical theatre, having produced sound designs for some of the world’s most successful shows, including We Will Rock You, Mamma Mia! and, most recently, the opening and closing ceremonies for London’s Olympic and Paralympic games.
For some years his console of choice has been from British manufacturer DiGiCo. This production is no different, with an SD7T at Front of House and an SD8 handling the monitor mix’s for the show’s live musicians. Both consoles, along with the rest of Bobby’s equipment requirements, are supplied by Autograph Sound.
The SD7T’s suitability stems from a number of reasons, not least the production’s high channel count.
“We have an A/B audio system – effectively two complete systems – to avoid unwanted audio issues from the actors’ microphones, which include 24 Sennheiser SK5212s and seven SKM5200s,” says Viva Forever! head of sound Ben Evans. “This set up means double the amount of outputs and double the amount of processing required within the desk, so the SD7T was the best choice.”
Bobby explained, “Because we mic the performers with onmi capsules, it’s very common to hear a destructive phasing sound when we open multiple mics. Its very noticeable during duets when the performers get close to each other. The only way to get round it is never to mix the two mics together. So, they route to separate busses on the mixer, through separate amplifiers, separate reverbs and effects, separate processors and, ultimately, separate loudspeaker systems. The signal for the mics never meet each other till they are in air. This technique was developed by Martin Levan in the late 80’s but, because of the high demand on mix busses, was always very difficult to fully implement. The high buss count on the DiGiCo products makes it possible.”
“Needing ‘two lots of everything’ made the SD7T the ideal console for the show. Also, it has been specifically designed for theatre audio and that makes a real difference,” says Ben. “There are a lot of little functions that have been developed within the T software that help us do things more quickly and efficiently.
“On this show we use around 150 Snapshots as the console is firing sound effects and changing control groups to maintain the A/B integrity. If there are multiple cues within a song, you can ask the desk not to change the faders during that song, so you can step through the cues, changing your allocations for the control groups and firing sound effects without upsetting the mix of the band – it’s little things like that that make it a lot easier for us to do what we want to do.
“DiGiCo has also made huge steps forward with the software,” he continues. “Over the past few years they have adopted suggestions made by operators which have made our lives at lot easier. It has made the creative stuff that the designer wants achievable with a lot more ease. There’s a lot of time pressure in technical rehearsals, being able to do everything quickly and never hear the stage manager say ‘We’re waiting for sound’ is great.”
A function that has proven very useful is being able to share audio over the SD7T and SD8 and output it at different stages. This allows the SD8 to handle audio for the band monitoring completely independently of the main console, but its cues are controlled from the SD7T via MIDI and alleviates the need for a dedicated engineer to operate the SD8. To ensure maximum flexibility, the multi-channel mixes sent to each musician can then be fine-tuned on personal, 16 channel mixers.
The audio system is undoubtedly one of the stars of this show, with both Bobby and Ben enthusiastic about how the DiGiCo consoles are performing.
“All the SD products I’ve used have been very reliable,” says Bobby. “The SD7T is doing a lot of work on this show – as well as the main mix it’s firing sound effects, stopping sound effects, sending timecode to other people and other tasks. It’s functioning as much more of a production hub than just an audio mixer and both consoles are doing their duties flawlessly.”