Broadway Goes Digital
Saturday, 17 February 2001
"It’s the first time a show’s sound has been all-digital on Broadway," says sound designer Jonathan Deans. "As revolutionary as Tharon Musser putting memory lighting control on A Chorus Line."

Deans is speaking at the back of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, home to Seussical: The Musical, the slightly troubled new show (half the creative team replaced before opening!) by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the writers responsible for Once On This Island and Ragtime. He can make the claim because of what looks like a tiny mixing desk shoe-horned into the space next to him: CueConsole, a hands-on control surface to LCS’ Matrix3 and SuperNova range of digital signal processing sound equipment. Why choose to take a chance on a new piece of equipment? Firstly, size is an important consideration in theatre where on a sold-out show each full price seat can bring in around $37,000 per year. "The CueConsole takes up seven seats," Deans notes, "rather than the 28 that a conventional set-up would have needed. That’s for a system with 128 inputs and 64 outputs. If the show’s a hit, that means the producers are effectively getting the sound system for free!"Secondly, the ability to easily move some or all of the modular console around during the production period, connecting it back to the eight Matrix3 LX300 16-input/8-output processing racks in the basement through standard CAT5 cable. "We had all of the faders set up in the middle of the orchestra seating at our first venue, so that the operator could actually hear what she was mixing. Being there also meant we became part of the artistic team - everyone knew our names rather than just yelling ‘sound!’"

This is a commercial Broadway musical, though, with little room for failure: "We had a Crest mixer in the basement for monitor and foldback mixes and, since this was a new system, we put in a second console to take all of the radio feeds, then switches so that either the LCS or the Crest outputs could be sent to the speakers, largely self-powered Meyers, to give us a back-up." All of the equipment was supplied by Masque Sound. Seussical’s operator Carin Ford has a meter plus over-ride switch (these backlit LCD buttons) for every input, faders for every radio channel and then a series of virtual group faders - the LCS equivalent of VCAs - with which she runs the show. Wedged into the back of the audience, her operating position is less grandiose than most, but looks comfortable enough!

"Switching to this system has been quite a learning curve," Deans reports, "with occasional problems as a result. No audio is sent to the control position, but meter data is being sent up, PFL data is being sent up, and that takes up processing power. If we do everything - all channels active, metering on all channels, all displays open, we’re right at the limit of the system and things just slow down. But that’s just a matter of more powerful DSPs and processing and that’s coming all the time." "And it is the future," he adds. "It is a new way of doing things, and it is better - otherwise why go to all the trouble?"

Rob Halliday

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