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Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

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Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Kevin Nolan » Sat May 25, 2019 9:59 pm

This is an exploratory post.

A year or more away - I'm intending an electronic music performance. Old school, with some acoustic instruments - and spatialistion using IRCAM / FLUX 'SPAT' (4 speaker setup) - in two locations - indoors (community theatre seating about 150) and outdoors - old castle concourse (walled) with about 250 - 300 people seated

I hope to achieve hi fidelity playback - absolute top notch audio quality.

I know absolutely nothing about live playback - nothing - and wonder if anyone might have any pointers on approach, and best possible playback equipment to consider.

For example - what sort of wattage of amps and speakers should I consider for 300 people in an approximate 40m x 40m concourse (approximate area).

And apart from considering the very best / top notch PA systems (whatever they are) - should I consider - for quality (no distortion / clipping) - using, say, 10,000W per speaker stack, but intending only pushing it at about 2000W each (or is that already typically factored in) I have to admit that even many Tangerine Dream concerts I've gone to over the years have been incredibly disappointing from a sound production stand point; and I want to avoid you typical 'droning' and overall poor playback that bedevils so many concerts. I really want 300 people to hear sound as if they were sitting in front of a Hi-Fi

Essentially - for about 300 people - I want no booming, no pain in the ears - utter and complete Hi-Fi / Studio Monitor quality play back. The best that's achievable - no holes barred!

Any pointers (please don't attack my nativity - I'm just exploring options - go easy on me :-) ). I will of course be exploring this myself over the coming months so not trying to be lazy by coming on here - but feel there's no better place to start.

If this event happens, I will give full acknowledgment to all suggestions in any promotional material and promise it's not a 'for profit' event - it'll be (hopefully) a Science-Art commissioned piece (OK - I hope to make a bit of a living from it too :-) .

Thanks!
Kevin.
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby blinddrew » Sat May 25, 2019 10:21 pm

Personally, given your starting point and your objectives, i'd go straight for some professional companies to come in and quote for you.
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby BillB » Sat May 25, 2019 10:27 pm

Drew beat me to it, but here is what I had written.

Kevin, I don’t know the answers to your questions. But my daughter has been working for a live sound company for the last year or so. Hearing from her about the sophistication and technicalities of good live sound, I can’t help but feel that the answer is to hire a well-regarded live sound company. It’s not just the gear but knowing how to use it, which is down to experience. Unless there is an over-riding reason to DIY, it is probably better to buy in the expertise (and kit) than just to buy the kit alone.
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sun May 26, 2019 2:58 am

Agreed - approach a professional company, but also bear in mind that not all professional companies may offer, would care about, or could hear, the hi fi outcome you are seeking, so I’d seriously suggest shopping around.

There’s some brands I’d recommend such as Fohhn and D&B, and I’m sure there would be lots more too, but you’re looking for a combination of top gear, along with someone who really knows what they’re doing.

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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Mike Stranks » Sun May 26, 2019 7:53 am

I can only concur with what's been said - including the fact that not all live-sound companies are the same.

Where are you based Kevin? That may help us point you in the right direction.

But for now, from personal experience I can recommend Wigwam and Sound Foundation (The B+H element of that company).
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby ef37a » Sun May 26, 2019 9:26 am

Hi Kevin and welcome. I can only agree with the comments so far, get professional help.

However, do you at the moment own or have access to a "very high quality" sound system?
By that I mean a top line home hi fi rig or a studio? This project seems to be in the Dickie Attenborough "spared no expense" category so maybe go and listen to some top quality systems if you don't already have one. Then you might be able to say "That's the sort of sound quality I want!" Then buy the monitors. I am sure many uses will be found for them as the project develops?

This...https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/genelec-s360 will give you some idea perhaps of the world you wish to enter?

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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Kevin Nolan » Sun May 26, 2019 11:50 am

Thanks fo the replies so far. I'm in Dublin - with one performance contemplated in an exquisite newly designed theatre here in Dublin, and the second, more ambitious out door performance envisaged in Cork in a castle just outside Cork city centre called Blackrock Castle Science Centre: http://www.bco.ie

The director is a very close friend and we have plans for a space themed event with ambitious sound and music - where we're hoping that BCO's endorsement will enable Arts or Science council funding when we put in applications. We're hoping for really exciting sound and music, large screen projection, and perhaps even augmented-reality visual aspects to the event. A completely immersive experience for the audience and hence the need for very high quality audio playback.

I'm fairly experienced as a composer - I've done music and sound design for about 30 plays, 4 TV documentaries ( RTE ) and indeed 4 or 5 electronic music live events over the years. I'm a physics lecturer as my main job - so I'd class myself as part time professional in music.

My project studio is quite sophisticated - it's two rooms in my home with lots of synths and JBL 4412s and Genelec 1030As for monitoring in one, and K&H O300's run through a Benchmark DAC in the other - and Sennheiser HD 650 - 800 headphones.

I've just taken my time over the years acquiring very good play back - but these are two rooms in my home with no particular acoustic treatment and I make absolutely no claim to particular expertise in mixing / mastering / audio-file work - just a musician who's been given good advice and guidance over the years (including by the likes of Hugh Robjohns here on this Forum).

For this event I will, as mentioned, have spatialised aspects to the work using IRCAM Spat - so a 4 speaker setup is necessary for that - so over all I think I can design the music and sound program with good fidelity.

The goal is then to be able to relay / perform that in a live setting with good control and quality.

While of course I will, when the time comes, seek professional help - I have to be frank and say that I have rarely come across an audio company I've been impressed with.

As mentioned above I've been to plenty of concerts in the UK and Ireland in supposedly excellent venues with excellent artists, where too often the sound is not good. For most of the Tangerine Dream concerts I've been to - including in the Royal Festival Hall - the sound was really poor. Even Jarre in the Wembley Arena was pretty average.

And for the live events I put on I've without exception been very disappointed because the audio companies I've come across (some with supposed top notch reputation) seem to have fixed expectations on what can be delivered live - and that usually far below par in my opinion. I'm not in any way being elitist in this - it's just that to me even supposed top quality live audio is usually far below the quality we hear in our studios or over our hi-fi units - and not because of scale or venue specific issues - because of poor PAs and amplification, poor mixing, a 'norm' of it being a money earning exercise for the company in question so they don't really care, and because you never have enough engagement with them in the first place to ever tackle issues arising. I know there will always be complex issues associated with live events - but in my opinion most of the bad quality I hear is because of bad practices and not unsurmountable technical and acoustic challenges. For this event I want to address those all too frequent short comings, to deliver the best possible sound - and i'm not clear any audio company - even supposed top quality ones - can deliver . So I believe I'm going to have to either do this myself with a few colleagues; or else be very highly prepared in advance as to what spec to request from a high quality company; to outline my expectations and then navigate all of that with them. And hence this preliminary work and inquiry :-)

I'm after something of the highest replay quality - otherwise there is no point to running the event because the spatialised and immersive aspects to what we're thinking about - it will need for absolutely fidelity in replay.

So while I accept the directive to 'seek professional help' - I'm also looking at this juncture for the best technical advice there is to help do something exceptional play back wise to several hundred people; either with a group of people I might assemble myself - or on how to engage an audio company and be able to relay the required quality in crystal clear terms.

My gut instinct tells me to hire the very, very best PA system there is - for far greater wattage needed for the venues in question - and then run them at low levels to avoid any stressing of those systems, all the while ensuring full balanced play back capability from lowest bass to highest treble - and then to look for large periods of setup, testing and rehearsal (perhaps even as much as several days testing in each performance instance) and then to have someone on the desk who is hugely familiar with the program over multiple months.

Thanks,
Kevin.
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby The Elf » Sun May 26, 2019 12:08 pm

I'd certainly second choosing a PA with plenty of headroom. I've done these types of gig (in fact I try to achieve pretty much the same aims with every gig I do!), and I always over-spec the PA and ask the engineer to preserve headroom wherever possible. When I've worked in surround I've used less powerful systems, but that's more to do with size of venue. The important thing is to preserve those crips highs and deep lows - headroom, headroom, headroom.

Also don't lose sight of needing to examine every part of the chain to make sure that you don't inadvertently create a 'quality bottleneck' where you least expect it. At one gig I made a point of triple-checking the connections to find that a engineer (he genuinely believed he was helping, bless him!) was dropping our line-level signal into hois own Behringer DI, before then re-gaining the mic level back to line with a second piece of Behringer gear to the FOH mixer line inputs! You've got to be on your toes!

Consider that, unless your audience is mobile and/or in a fairly small space, that any subtle surround elements may fall a bit flat if you're sat in front of one speaker array. You need to create moments in your arrangement early on that clue the audience into what you're doing, such that their ears begin to recognise cues. Your choice of sounds and arrangement are critical to this. Just one guy's perspective...

My 'Mellotron for 5.1' opus will one day see the light of day! :mrgreen:
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby ef37a » Sun May 26, 2019 12:29 pm

Sorry Kevin, I was wrong to assume you don't know quality sound when you hear it!

In my defence, it is in the nature of forums that the experience (or lack of it!) emerges slowly and that can, in some instances lead to offence being taken. I am glad such was not the case here.

You seem to have been very unlucky in finding a large scale audio event or venue that has delivered the quality of sound you seek? Perhaps one or two of the Top Men here could suggest such venues?

Now, I have NO idea if the following is complete horse feathers but. It COULD be that the excellent quality you enjoy in the studio etc cannot really be transplanted to the same level of excellence to an audience of hundreds? Maybe the pro sound guys here will say "go listen to xx at yy. THAT is as good as it gets." ??

This is all MOST interesting though!

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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby MOF » Sun May 26, 2019 2:13 pm

I wonder if it’s the levels that foh engineers mix at that are the problem, maybe also too much compression.
I did one job where, in between sound checks, they played the first Bjork cd at normal listening levels and it sounded great. This was an outdoor jazz gig and I took the foh mixer’s feed (for our camera) so I can’t say what it sounded like through the speakers.
Certainly indoors I found that a lot of gigs were too loud for me, my cans were used more as ear defenders. Excessive levels in a room are going to over excite the room, if that makes sense, quality over volume in my opinion.
I share your concerns, I do think some foh mixers use volume to impress but don’t back off the volume over the course of each track to allow for the ears’ automatic volume control to reset itself.
It should be possible for digital mixers to have an imperceptibly slow master fade of a few dBs that resets itself at the end of each track to then have maximum impact at the start of each new track.
Good luck with your endeavours.
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Kevin Nolan » Sun May 26, 2019 8:04 pm

Thanks fro the excellent and considerate replies.

Let me be clear - I don't want to come across in any elitist on thi ( I think my last post comes across a little that way) - and though I have some experience, I definitely have no training or particular expertise in top-quality sound play back / acoustics and such.

The only thing I feel I've done right is listen to the advice of amazing engineers on play back / monitoring - there's an astounding engineer friend of mine here in Ireland called Owen Drumm who has a real reputation and has been very helpful; and then as said, Desmond and Hugh Robjohns and others on this forum here have given brilliant advice over the years which I have actually followed :-)

So the objective with this prospective live event is just to try to avoid that all too common 'boomy / drone' sound we hear - and try to bring some of that hi-fi type sound into a live setting and try to raise the bar.

This conversation is really helpful because you've given me the lie of the land on it - I see I'll have to get an audio company on board, and then perhaps try to be really clear and persistent with them, while perhaps also trying to have people on board who know the program too - you've kind of validated that kind of mixed solution approach.

Thanks again,
Kevin.
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sun May 26, 2019 9:47 pm

Given you already know an engineer who you respect and have confidence in, I’d be inclined to engage him in the process, ask if he’ll spend time learning the material and have him manage the live sound aspect of things. Specifying gear is important, but at the end of the day the engineer will make or break the performance.

Another issue to consider when selecting your venues is to pick venues with acoustics whereby good sound CAN be achieved. The venue acoustics have a huge impact on the ability to produce the sound (one of my favourites locally was a yurt. Stank like mad, but I could always get a wonderful sound!)

Interesting project......

Bob
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby R_A » Sun May 26, 2019 10:19 pm

Maybe get in touch with SARC for leads? They might know the best hire businesses though supplying them with graduates.

Good luck with the project.
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun May 26, 2019 11:38 pm

Bob Bickerton wrote:Given you already know an engineer who you respect and have confidence in, I’d be inclined to engage him in the process, ask if he’ll spend time learning the material and have him manage the live sound aspect of things. Specifying gear is important, but at the end of the day the engineer will make or break the performance.

Another issue to consider when selecting your venues is to pick venues with acoustics whereby good sound CAN be achieved. The venue acoustics have a huge impact on the ability to produce the sound (one of my favourites locally was a yurt. Stank like mad, but I could always get a wonderful sound!)

Interesting project......

Bob

This ^ You have a guy you respect and is a friend. WRT venue, the effect of a dodgy room is usually felt in the low end, outdoors the wind can affect the mids and up and distant structures can result in echoes. It's not trivial thing to fix but experience and knowledge is what you need.
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Mike Stranks » Mon May 27, 2019 8:51 am

Off topic.... as this is Eire I was going to recommend the Production House in Belfast. Good guys I've worked with several times who really know their stuff and are very easy to work with. Excellent state-of-the-art gear too; worked with several very big names and were, at one time, the go-to company for the live-sound aspects of BBC OBs from NI.

I looked for contact details only to discover that the company went into compulsory liquidation earlier this year... :cry:
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby CS70 » Mon May 27, 2019 1:09 pm

Bob Bickerton wrote:one of my favourites locally was a yurt. Stank like mad, but I could always get a wonderful sound!)

Had to look up what "yurt" was! Thanks for the laugh. Cant begin to imagine the atmosphere inside... :mrgreen:
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby Kevin Nolan » Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:27 pm

Sorry it's been a while since I visited this threat - just to say thanks for the posts - I'll take all the advice on board - with gratitude - and I mean it - because this will, as pointed out over many posts here, need expertise, time, and consideration from experts and friends who are experts, and more!.

It's actually helpful to realise there no 'one quick fix' answer because it sets the scene for the level of engagement needed, if you get my drift.

Thanks!
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Re: Electronic music - how to achieve very high quality playback live?

Postby blinddrew » Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:38 pm

Kevin Nolan wrote:It's actually helpful to realise there no 'one quick fix' answer because it sets the scene for the level of engagement needed, if you get my drift.
Yep, once you realise there's no 'quick fix' you can stop looking for one and start doing the work to actually tackle a complex problem. :)
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