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The Great American Songbook: A Conversation with Lars Brogaard and Ali Viles on Touring with MILO and Rod Stewart
Now in his fourth decade of entertaining loyal admirers around the world, Rod Stewart is back on tour, this time to support his recent success with the 'Great American Songbook' albums. The 2004-2005 "From Maggie May to The Great American Songbook" tour started with over 80 dates in North America and Canada, imposing a demanding schedule on both artist and production crew. Lars Brogaard, production manager and front of house engineer for the tour, along with system engineer and sound crew chief Ali Viles, chose a live sound package for the tour built around Meyer Sound's MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeaker.
Their decision to use the self-powered MILO system was arrived at after a variety of listening tests both in the UK and in Seville, Spain. "Having made contact with Meyer about the possibility of using a MILO system for the tour, we were invited to Spain to hear a system in an outdoor arena and to play with it both sonically and practically," recalls Brogaard. "Although we were very impressed with the MILO at this point, we were still not certain of its applicability to our particular requirements so we arranged for a shoot out in an arena in London between the MILO and another line array system that we knew well.
"We took along a DiGiCo D5, the FOH console of choice for the tour, along with multitrack recordings from the last tour, made on a DiGiCo Digitracs system for playback" he continues. "Once we had flown the two PA systems, we were able to re-create the live sound of the show accurately and then easily swap between the two systems to listen to the differences. This was the point at which the clarity and projection of the MILO system really showed through and, based on this, the decision was made to go with it for the tour."
For Brogaard, the mid-range definition and precise directivity of MILO was key. "The way I mix is founded on the necessity for the audience to hear the vocal, you need to understand what the performer is saying and not have it be drowned in music. At the same time, the system has to be musical at high SPLs and this is the only system that I have found that can truly achieve this. It's really great to have a system that can truly project and this is by far, the smoothest and nicest sounding of the systems that I have ever used."
Both Brogaard and Viles find MILO fast and easy to deal with on tour. Since it is a self-powered system, setting up MILO requires no external amplifiers and the rigid patent-pending QuickFly rigging allows groupings of up to five cabinets to be transported on a single dolly. For both Brogaard and Viles, this practicality is also very important. "As well as being sonically accurate and very musical, this system is also very user friendly," Brogaard remarks. "One night in the Kemper Arena in Kansas City we decided to go for it and see how quickly we could get out after the show. Six of us managed to get all of the sound gear — including 60 MILO cabinets, 20 M3D-Subs (directional subwoofers), FOH and monitors — packed up and on the truck 45 minutes after the show finished!"
Most of the venues booked for the tour are arenas ranging from 12,000 to 24,000 seats and they are mainly newer structures. "Venues have actually started to do something with the acoustics," Brogaard explains. "They have acoustic baffling in the ceiling so the sound doesn't bounce around as much as it used to in the old days. Working with line arrays also makes it easier because they are so much more directional than an older multi-cell system. They go where you point them, enabling you to sculpt the sound to cover only the places you require it.
"Based on previous experience with other line arrays, we decided to start the tour with 52 MILO cabinets, 16 flown per side for the main arrays and 10 flown per side for the side hangs," relates Brogaard. "This did everything that we needed it to do, but as time passed, we felt it would make life easier if we had another eight boxes, enabling us to do 18 MILO cabinets for each of the main arrays and 12 on each side. We rarely require 18 MILOs on the main arrays, so we often end up with four cabinets in the truck but this has given us a huge amount of flexibility to deal with the different architectural requirements of each venue. We sometimes have only 12 per side for the main arrays and up to 14 per hang for the side arrays if we have an arena where the seating is particularly high on the sides.
"We have just started the second leg of the North American tour and have now got eight of the new MILO 120 (expanded coverage high-power curvilinear array) boxes on the road with us. These have enabled us to rethink the quantity of (standard) MILO cabinets that we use on a daily basis and, so far, we have not needed to fly more than 12 MILO and two MILO 120 per side for the main arrays. These new cabinets have proven to be as musical as the MILO while having a much greater horizontal and vertical coverage. Used at the bottom of a MILO array, they give a seamless transition from the standard MILO."
Clearly, the tour presents a challenge in terms of the variety of venues and determining the appropriate configuration for each. Viles uses Meyer Sound MAPP Online acoustical prediction software to help sort it all out. MAPP Online enables an engineer to not only visualize the coverage and interaction for any Meyer Sound loudspeaker from the MSL-4 to the MILO, but also to place "virtual microphones" in the sound field that can predict the frequency response at any given audience position. "MAPP Online is a very useful tool," Viles enthuses. "It goes into the analysis of what's going on much deeper that a lot of the other line array prediction packages. At the outset, I was skeptical of the accuracy of the software based on my experience with other prediction packages. However, once I started using it every day, and as the software developed (Viles and Brogaard beta tested new versions of the program), I became more and more reliant on it. Now, every show day starts with measuring the venue and doing a prediction. Because of the flexibility we have with the quantity of cabinets available to us I have to know exactly what I need to work with before the crew tip the truck (load in the rig). MAPP is both quick and accurate, and so far it has not let me down."
"This is by far, the smoothest and nicest sounding of the systems that I have ever used…As well as being sonically accurate and very musical, this system is also very user friendly."
No matter how accurate a prediction is made in advance, it is always necessary to optimize the system once it is actually in place and, once again, Brogaard and Viles turned to Meyer Sound, as Brogaard details: "The PA is driven by a couple of Meyer LD-3s (compensating line drivers), and all the time alignment and phase is calculated using SIM 3." (The SIM 3 audio analyzer is the latest incarnation of Meyer Sound's award-winning source independent measurement system.)
"Currently we are touring with 12 M3D-Subs and 12 700-HP (ultrahigh-power subwoofers) to provide the low frequency foundation for the show," notes Brogaard. "The M3D-Sub cabinets are flown six per side, on the inside of the MILO cabinets while the 700-HPs are ground-stacked as two stacks, three cabinets high by two wide, on either side of the stage." The M3D-Sub and 700-HP units are fed separately from different matrices on the DiGiCo D5, which then feed LD-3s that drive the subs, enabling Brogaard and Viles to tailor sub-bass to the requirements of both the room and crowd size.
UPA-1P compact wide coverage loudspeaker provides front fill coverage. "We have 11 UPA-1P (compact wide coverage loudspeakers)," reports Brogaard, "eight of which we use all the time with another pair that we use for infill occasionally." However, the last UPA-1P is never heard by the audience; it is reserved for the artist himself. "The 11th one is always in Rod's dressing room. He sings through it for his warm-up. We set up a karaoke system in there, a little mixer and a reverb and play it through the UPA-1P. As a matter of fact, he is recording a new album, and we sent that same system to his house. He's got the UPA to warm up with before he goes to the studio to lay down the tracks."
With attendance high every night, system failures are not tolerable, but Viles points out, with a combination of pride and relief, that downtime has not been a problem. "Reliability has been superb. I can't think of any failures since we started the tour, which is not bad considering that we've been driving it pretty hard at times. We've done a lot of pretty intense days, and it's just fine." Nonetheless, on large-scale tours, a sound crew often needs involvement by the manufacturer after the sale. Brogaard's experience with Meyer Sound has been more than positive in that regard. "Support is also second to none. We have been giving a lot of feedback and have a great working relationship with Meyer on this. They were very happy that we took this system out, so they've really been very supportive. We've come up with ideas and they've taken some of them to heart."
Before the tour, Brogaard met John and Helen Meyer and toured Meyer Sound's factory in Berkeley, Calif., which left a strong impression. "Getting to know John and Helen has been really great. I love how they run their operation over there. You go in there and are just blown away. It's like a Swiss watchmaker, because it's all precision engineering. It's good fun!"
In the final analysis, making the technology invisible is the whole point of Brogaard's and Viles's work. "We did have quite a few people walk by and say, 'You guys did a great job,' which is nice. I think, for the most part, we've been quite successful, and we've had a few (shows) that were really stunning and which we will remember for many years."
Brogaard sums it up nicely, saying, "Rod's manager thinks it's the best sounding show we've had in 20 years. It's a really, really musical system. We look forward to doing more with MILO in the rest of the world!"