Björk’s Cornucopia in d&b Soundscape Immersive
A in-depth look at all audio gear used can be found on the Audio Technology website.
Perth Festival audiences were treated to a state-of-the-art audio experience based on a full-360 d&b Soundscape immersive audio system.
Perth Festival scored a coup this year, snagging Björk to play four Cornucopia dates in a giant 5000-cap hoecker — a huge (100m x 55m) temporary venue you won’t find in Harry the Hirer’s catalogue!
The audience was treated — at Björk's insistence — to an absolute state-of-the-art audio experience based on a full-360 d&b Soundscape immersive audio system.
The 360 immersive push was entirely Björk's. d&b’s Soundscape has been around a few years now and has experienced some success. There are a good number of installed Soundscape systems in Australia alone, including in the Sydney Opera House, City Recital Hall, and the Mackay Arts Centre. Soundscape concert touring systems are rarer. The production overhead is steeper. Arguably not as steep as you might think but, regardless, steeper. So for a tour to go ‘immersive’, it can’t be initiated by the sound people, it needs to come from management, and even more influentially, the artist or band.
For d&b’s part, Soundscape is about as well-integrated into its normal workflow as possible. There are some specialised tools, such as the object localisation software (En-Scene), the spatialisation software (En-Space), and more recently the snapshot cueing software (En-Snap), but Soundscape is designed to be easy for anyone familiar with d&b’s ArrayCalc to apprehend.
The integration of Soundscape into regular d&b workflow was certainly appreciated by the tour’s System Engineer, Jack Blenckinsopp: “From a system tech point of view, the tools you’ve got within ArrayCalc and within R1 make the whole process more efficient — you get to where the artist wants the show to be really quickly. En-Snap, En-Space and En-Scene all play nicely together and give you the panning and spatialisation flexibility you need, along with the Soundscape tab in ArrayCalc, which allows you to place an object and simulate the system, giving you confidence not only in the coverage of the system but that the audience will get the full effect of Soundscape.”
FOH Engineer, John Gale presides over a monster rig, comprising 56 channels of playback, all automated and panned to within an inch of their lives. The snapshot automation (triggering the immersive mix positions within Soundscape) is a grab-bag combo of automation within Pro Tools (using a Soundscape plug-in), the industry favourite Q-Lab and the new d&b badged En-Snap (developed by Broadway West End designer, Gareth Owen).
On top of that are the various live elements, including the seven aforementioned flautists, percussionists, clarinetists, choir, harpist, drummer, and Björk herself. All up there are some 160 inputs — a total that’s set to expand when Björk brings Cornucopia back to Iceland for a celebratory homecoming.
MIXING WITH OBJECTS
The DS100 is the brains of Soundscape’s object-based mixing system. When John Gale started his Soundscape journey, he was taking stems from the Utopia album’s Pro Tools sessions, turning them into objects and panning/placing them in the 360 field.
Initially, after John took a multi-track stem and turned it into a Soundscape object, he would route that signal to a direct out of the console and into the 64×64 DS100 processor. But after a few weeks of experimentation, he started again and routed each object to its own group, “that way I’m not chewing through the 64-object limit too quickly. Some objects will remain in the mix throughout the show and will be labelled as such — Björk's vocal, or Flute 1, for example — while other objects may make a brief appearance and can be assigned to ‘Miscellaneous Group 1’, and can share that group with other objects at another point.
THE PA: FUNCTION GROUPS
The entire Cornucopia audio system (with the exception of the front of house mixer and the two d&b DS100s driving Soundscape) was supplied by West Australian rental company Audio Technik. The system consisted of 151 d&b cabinets comprising J-Series, V-Series, and T-Series line-array boxes, and Y-Series point source, with J-Sub and J-INFRA driven on 70 x D80 amplifiers by seven DS10 audio network bridges. At the stage end, Audio Technik supplied a Digico SD10, a d&b monitor package consisting of V-Series line array and M2 wedges, and over 40 channels of Shure Axient radio microphone and 20 channels of Shure PSM1000 in-ear monitors.
Jack Blenckinsopp: “A Soundscape system consists of different Function groups, which can be configured and added to, giving you flexibility with the spaces you are working in. For this system, we’ve got the main PA hangs, which falls under the ‘Mains’ function group, while the T Series front fills is a separate ‘Front Fills’ group deriving the image needed from the positions on stage. The main 360 immersive system is set as a ‘Surround’ group, then we are using a ‘Delays Embedded’ group for the delays line and a group created separately for the second 360 system which allows the system to know where the speakers start for that section.”
EN-SPACE EN POINTE
Initially, most people think about radical panning — objects flying around the room like a Marvel fight scene. But probably the most powerful aspect of an immersive system like Soundscape is its ability to place performers in space — matching their position on stage; left, right; up or down stage.
It’s amazing how grateful your brain is to hear a performance emanate from its position on stage.
The d&b DS100 engine handles the routing, timing, level, acoustics, and third party integration. It takes a remarkable amount of processing to ensure a performance sounds like the PA’s not switched on!
The opening of Cornucopia is a case in point. The choir of some 18 performers file out and range across half the width of the stage. Each performer wears a headset mic but the performance itself sounds like an au naturale recital in an acoustically finessed theatre. Close your eyes and you can point to individual performers across the stage. It’s really quite remarkable.
“The choir is all totally done in En-Space,” explains John Gale. “I don’t need another reverb, the algorithm in the d&b DS100 is phenomenal. With the choir, I think most people wouldn’t know there’s an artificial reverb being used — it sounds totally natural and transparent. The d&b reverbs are second to none. Combine that with loudspeakers that you know are fantastic and it gives me total reassurance that the audience is getting the best possible experience.