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Isle of Wight Festival Resurfaces with Meyer Sound

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"We took delivery of the 700-HPs... I was incredibly impressed by how musical they were — these beautifully musical low-end notes were coming out of the box. So we've got 24 of them here, time-aligned to the rest of the system. Everything locks up beautifully."

- Pete Hughes,Canegreen Project Manager

Just off the South Coast of England, the Isle of Wight recently played host to a classic British musical event – with antecedents in the heyday of rock. Jimi Hendrix played his last ever performance at 1970's Isle Of Wight Festival, and, although the event has only been back on the map for three years, it has already re-established itself as a key date on Europe's live music calendar.

As the site is on the outskirts of one of the island's main towns, accurate sound dispersion is critical – with environmental health issues everywhere you turn. As with most festivals, a great deal of energy is needed across a wide field, with a sudden regulatory "boundary" for SPL rising out of thin air at the perimeter fence. Fortunately, this summer, United Kingdom sound company Canegreen was working the festival as they have since the event's rebirth, confident that careful use of Meyer Sound loudspeakers would tame the topology and give the audience three days of maximum musical quality. That result was obtained handily with a combination of MILO high-power curvilinear array and M3D line array loudspeakers, with low-frequency support from the new 700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofer.

Canegreen Project Manager Pete Hughes has gotten to know every blade of grass on the site. "This year's event is three times bigger than the last one, growing from 15,000 to 35,000 people," he said. "But the unique thing about the site is that Mark Ward, the production manager (for the festival), decided to fill the area behind the FOH tower with concessions. It's split the audience footprint into an A-shape, with the horizontal in front of us.

"It's a much better image. If you walk down the left or right side, there's no interference from the other side. You get a much cleaner sound because you're listening to one side of the PA. We introduced a MILO/M3D combination last year, and there are more key developments this time."

If containing levels is a bit like hugging an octopus, nothing wriggles out of control like the bottom end. At the Isle of Wight, Canegreen tackled this problem with a unique and pioneering technique implemented in consultation with Meyer Sound's Mauricio Ramírez, who was on hand to give the engineers guidance and support. The solution implemented was to line up a row of 24 700-HP subwoofers along the ground in front of the stage spaced to act as a low-frequency horizontal line array. The resulting narrow throw of each element dramatically reduced low frequency spill around the site, as well as focusing the energy into manageable channels.

"Traditionally, you go and stand at the front and you've got this wall of subs in front of you and it can be horrendous," commented Hughes. "Here, the audience at the front is only hearing one or two subs. It's loud, but it's much more comfortable. They get to hear the full frequency range of the show, and it's far more pleasant than standing in front of a huge lump of PA."

The 700-HP subwoofers have impressed Hughes greatly."We took delivery of the 700-HPs just 10 days ago," he revealed, "and they were used at the Royal Albert Hall, so I went down for a listen. I was incredibly impressed by how musical they were — these beautifully musical low-end notes were coming out of the box. So we've got 24 of them here, time-aligned to the rest of the system. Everything locks up beautifully."

Yan Stile, managing director of Canegreen, joined the party for a historic appearance by rock legends The Who on the second night of the festival. "The calibre of act at this festival is very high," he said. "We have around 100 years of combined experience among our team of engineers at FOH, and almost as much experience on stage. They're at the top of their field."

Hughes used Meyer Sound MAPP Online software at the office before arriving on site, establishing a good general idea of what he needed to achieve his aims. Once in situ, he let his ears take over and worked the system organically, adopting 12 MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers and four M3D line array loudspeakers per side. A 3-degree slope across the site demanded that the stage left array be flown at a lower angle than at stage right, but this presented no discernable image problems.

"As a sound company, we like to embrace new technology," Hughes observed. "We've grown with Meyer Sound. As Meyer's gone through the different technologies, we've gone with them. We've always felt that their expertise was proven enough that we could just take a new box out on the road and use it. That gives us the confidence to try new techniques like this sub array."

Next year's festival may move to a larger site, following the big jump in visitors, and Meyer Sound will be there, too, to continue the good work. "We're on to a winning formula with the Meyer package," Hughes concluded, "and production managers don't like to change a winning formula. With the success of this event, I think we'll be keen to stay with what we've got."

September, 2004

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