Mike Oldfield’s magnum opus Tubular Bells was performed live at the Royal Festival Hall in Southbank Center in London this summer, in a series of performances forming a prelude to the iconic album’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2023. Tubular Bells – Live In Concert, with musical direction from longtime Oldfield collaborator Robin A. Smith, featured a nine-piece group, with actor Samuel West replacing the late Vivian Stanshall as master of ceremonies. The music was brought to life on stage through a visual interpretation of the Circa Contemporary Circus, led by artistic director Yaron Lifschitz, with ten acrobats presenting Oldfield’s work in its physical form, their movement woven together to mirror the music.
The DiGiCo SD7 front and monitor consoles, along with an additional range of equipment, were supplied by RNSS Ltd, the production company based in London’s Southbank Center, which manages sound for major UK events, including productions of the Meltdown Festival and the Royal Opera House. “Tubular Bells is an iconic piece of music, and the original recordings are held in such high regard by many people, that when you come to design or create a production, you really have a choice between faithfully recreating the original, or to use modern techniques to get the most out of the music itself, ”says FOH mixer and sound designer Colin Pink. Recorded in 1973 by Oldfield, Tubular Bells not only launched the fledgling label Virgin, but also pioneered the idea of solo overdubbing music production, with Oldfield playing all parts of the album primarily instrumental. Tubular Bells entered the Top 10 and remained on the charts for five consecutive years, and has sold over 20 million albums.
With nine musicians recreating the studio album (recorded with 20 instruments) on a click track, synchronized with the acrobats, the DiGiCo SD7 fader banks had over 130 input channels, including – naturally – a huge range. percussion instruments. “Robin A Smith gave me free rein on the audio design, so I tried to think about how Mike would have approached him if he had written it today, using the best equipment available and the ability to refine its sound while keeping its raw energy, ”explains Rose. “With the different styles involved in the music, I needed the Snapshot function badly to keep up with the ‘cleaning’ so that I had time to focus on the mix itself. The good thing about the SD7 is that it’s so fast and flexible that it gets to work really fast and therefore gives me more time to polish my mix.
With so many instrument changes, the whole group received stereo IEM mixes from the DiGiCo SD7 monitor, with the exception of pianist Dominic Ferris, who preferred to hear his piano acoustically and therefore sported a wired mono earphone plus a Genelec speaker. to increase its ring. A pair of mono wedge feeds were specially mixed, one to give guitarist Jay Stapley a bit of sustain and one for bassist Lisa Featherston, who sang Moonlight Shadow and needed her vocals through speakers.
“Because Tubular Bells music is incredibly dynamic, I was concerned that the click track would disappear in musicians’ mixes during loud sections, and then be too loud in quiet sections,” reveals monitor mixer Seamus Fenton. Without the additional natural cross-feed of a human head, a stereo IEM mix is heard “between the ears” rather than around them, contributing to hearing fatigue. Fenton therefore decided to use a KLANG: fabrik Dante compatible digital processor to add the 3D HRTF processing, by binaural panning on each stereo mix.
“I wasn’t able to host the entire channel list on the KLANG: fabrik, so I chose to put all the playback tracks there. It ended up being a good thing, as I was able to locate those tracks ‘behind’ the instruments live, which created a lot more space in the IEM mixes for the musicians, ”explains Fenton. “The click track was placed in the center and above, which meant that the click came off on its own without being too loud.” Fenton’s foresight was rewarded with very few click-related monitor calls, which are a common scarecrow for shows heavily reliant on audio playback.
With such a well-known piece, the stakes were high for sound technicians; as the Daily Mail reviewer put it: “The fans greet him like an old friend from college, which for many was.”
Fenton discovered that the SD7’s three displays kept his snapshots and chosen channels in a privileged position. “One of the things I love about the SD7 is that you can tailor the workflow to make it really quick to use,” he concludes. “This was especially useful for quick communications with individual group members, which was essential for effective rehearsals. The whole production was a very happy and fun ship!