God Only Knows
Sunday, 20 May 2001
Audience members attending Hugh Whitemore’s new play God Only Knows at The Vaudeville Theatre in London may not realise that they are witnessing a small revolution in theatre sound design: Aura associate Robert Tory and Aura director John Leonard have decided to make it the West-End’s first ‘mixing-desk free’ show . . .

The original touring equipment list, supplied to the production by Autograph Sound, included a Yamaha 02R digital desk, along with an Akai S6000 sampler, playing out through Richmond Sound Design’s AudioBox and controlled by RSD’s Showman show-control program to replay the atmospheric sound effects mix, and to ‘fly’ a sinister helicopter effect around the auditorium for the play’s denouement. Both Tory and Leonard, along with Aura’s show-control expert Scott George, were keen to investigate the latest option for AudioBox users, CM Automation’s MotorMix, which adds a motorised fader-pack to Richmond’s audio-playback matrix. The unit facilitates hands-on programming and provides a fader mimic for the AudioBox, as well as providing full remote control for show-running. Following Aura’s comprehensive use of the AudioBox and associated ABEdit software for Madame Tussaud’s New York exhibition (see L&SI, Dec 2000), Leonard and George were confident that the entire show could be handled just by the AudioBox and MotorMix combination and that any other front-end equipment could safely be made redundant.

Aura specified a complete double system, with a standby AudioBox tracking the main system, so that a seamless changeover could take place in the event of a failure. By removing the mixing desk and sampler from the show, Aura was able to reduce the real-estate needed for the FOH mix position drastically, and, even with the back-up system, to knock a sizeable chunk off the equipment rental costs, much to the delight of the producers. Aside from the programming computer, a CD player is the only other item in the rack, connected to two of the AudioBox’s eight analogue inputs, with the AudioBox automatically switching out the CD player’s signal as soon as the on-board playback system starts up.

The AudioBox’s hard-disk storage system can hold up to 15 hours of stereo sound, allowing Tory and Leonard to select from a large collection of effects for playback, using the 16-track playback facility via the 16 x 16 automated matrix. "We needed to fade background sounds in and out really slowly, and to be able to move sounds around the stage and auditorium, as well as provide the spot-effects of gunfire, dogs and cars required by the script," says Leonard. "Robert handled the show while I was in New York last year, and designed mixes of Tuscany night sounds which had to creep in and out. As you can specify fade in and out times up to several hours in length using the AudioBox, this was easy to achieve, as was balancing the various other effects. The AudioBox supports eight separate cue lists, so we allocated a list to each ‘family’ of effects, and designated a master cue-list to control the entire show."

Sean Knowles, the show’s operator, was consulted early on about whether he minded being a guinea-pig, overcoming his initial reservations once he became familiar with the fact that the MotorMix interface gave him total control over all aspects of the AudioBox.

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