The 14-18 musical staged in Mechelen has met with great acclaim by critics and audiences alike (photo courtesy Studio 100 NV)
Belgium - The Benelux countries are rapidly making a name for themselves as a hotbed of musicals produced on a giant scale. As Soldaat van Oranje continues to wow Dutch audiences in a former aircraft hangar, a new production, 14-18, is now doing the same in a similarly vast Belgian venue - De Nekkerhal in Mechelen.

The production brings the grim reality of Flanders fields to life with a high level of intensity and immediacy for the audience, a spectacle helped greatly by Sennheiser's flagship Digital 9000 wireless microphone system.

Set in Western Flanders during the Great War, 14-18 traces the fortunes of three young soldiers caught up in one of the most ruthless and bloody struggles in European history.

This latest production from global entertainment company Studio 100, Frank Van Laecke, Dirk Brossé and Allard Blom takes place in a venue measuring 300m long by 60m wide. In addition to the scale, everything about this production is innovative - from the seating to the set, both of which move, to the use of the most cutting edge audio technology. Here, a lead role is played by Sennheiser's Digital 9000 Series microphone system.

The audio system was designed by Mark Luyckx and Guido Olischlager, who is also front-of-house and monitor engineer for the show. They devised a system that seamlessly delivers sound to the 1900-strong audience that sits on a large mobile bleacher, which moves backwards and forwards to create a real sense of immersion in the production. The story is complex and frequently moves between timeframes, so it is highly dependent on clarity, making Guido's choice of the Digital 9000, along with associated antennas and antenna distribution combiners custom-designed by Sennheiser Benelux, integral to the production's success.

"I attended the 9000 Series launch at the end of 2012 and was very impressed that it doesn't compress the audio in any way," he says. "With this production we wanted the signal chain to be as clean as possible, with no A/D and D/A conversion to compromise the audio quality. Basically it is digital from the Sennheiser vocal microphones right through to the system amplifiers."

With a production of this size that features a lot of action, including multiple actors running around, moving objects and clapping, complex moving scenery, the moving bleachers and even a horse on stage, there was the potential for the show's 32 microphones to pick up a lot of unwanted noise. But the Sennheiser 9000 series means that the system delivers consistently clear, high quality audio.

"If the audio is compressed, all the other sounds going on are compressed and can come down the microphone as loud as the voice you want to amplify. But the 9000 Series' lack of compression means it delivers exceptional separation between the sounds you want and those you don't," says Guido.

Originally, there were plans to have a full band playing live in an orchestra pit but when the stage design evolved to include a host of moving elements, this idea was discarded. Instead, the renowned Galaxy Studios in Belgium was tasked with the pre-recording of both the orchestra and the choir.

The 70-piece Royal Flemish Philharmonic was conducted by Dirk Brossé himself. Galaxy Studios' Patrick Lemmens, tonmeister and chief recording engineer, elected to use this opportunity for A/B testing a completely analogue set-up from their equipment and a 100% digital microphone set-up supplied by Sennheiser Benelux for this purpose.

As main microphones, he used three Neumann M 150s (analogue) and three Neumann D-01s (digital) in a Decca tree set-up. Neumann KM 133 Ds and KM 183 Ds were used to add surround and height information. The spot microphones included various models; on the digital side, these included KM 133 Ds for violins, viola and celli, and KM 184 Ds for the piano, timpani, woodwind overheads, and for the brass section (horns, trumpets, trombones, tuba). S

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