CAT STEVENS PEACE TRAIN PULLS INTO TICKETPRO DOME
The architectural properties of venues may present acoustic challenges for sound engineers, but Gearhouse SA rose to the occasion, satisfying the exceptionally perfectionist artist, Yusuf Cat Stevens.
According to Gearhouse’s audio operations manager, Llewellyn Reinecke, only a handful of sound engineers have the technical ability to obtain acoustic excellence in Johannesburg’s TicketPro Dome, and freelancer Friedrich Wilsenach achieved just that. Historically, the structure was designed as a car showroom, which has earned it the reputation of being a challenging, but not insurmountable, environment for sound engineering of live events.
However, as one of the larger indoor event venues in South Africa, the Ticketpro Dome was able to accommodate as many of Yusuf Cat Stevens’ Johannesburg fans as possible, over two nights, at the end of November. His considerable popularity was evident as far back as the early 1970s when his hit Can’t Keep It In held the number one slot on the national hit parade for six weeks.
The Cat in SA
The seed for Yusuf Cat Stevens’ strong connection to South Africa was sown in 1961, when he heard the music from King Kong, which he claims as one of his all-time favourite musicals and which played a significant role in his creative process. Stevens introduced African harmonies and traditional sounds into two of his best-known hits, Wild World (Bana Bana) and Peace Train, which he recorded with a local choir, the Incwenga Voices.
Recording a children’s album in South Africa marked Stevens’ return to music, and thereafter to the stage, after 25 years, to honour Nelson Mandela at the Cape Town 46664 concert, in 2003.
The Peace Train tour, Stevens’ first ever tour of this country, kicked off at the Ticketpro Dome in Johannesburg. However, unlike the many of the music concerts held at the Dome, this one demanded softer, more intimate sound management.
According to Wilsenach, South African audiences are accustomed to loud shows. “The first half of Yusuf Cat Stevens’ show is very intimate and quiet - with ballads accompanied by acoustic guitar, predominating.” For this reason, Wilsenach felt that an average of 88dBs was more suitable for a concert of this nature. “Initially, Stevens and the international FOH engineer, David Hefti, liked the relatively low level, but as the mix developed during sound check and grew louder, they discovered that the venue presented some unique challenges,” states Wilsenach.
L-Acoustics provides innovative solutions
The transition from a controlled and near perfect studio environment to concert venues will always hold challenges. Naturally, the artist and FOH Engineer want as close a sound replication as possible. “We can’t correct every single room mode error in a large-scale venue. Finding the middle ground meant tweaking the system by capturing many transfer function measurements with Smaart (by Rational Acoustics) in multiple positions, and arriving at an average room mode that then gets corrected. In addition, the fine adjustment of input channel EQs in certain frequencies needs to be achieved,” says Wilsenach. “If you have good coverage and intelligibility in a reasonably quiet environment, you don’t need a high SPL level. The audience automatically adjusts to it.”
To overcome the reflective challenges of an indoor arena, Wilsenach used L-Acoustics’ prediction model, “Soundvision”, one of the first 3D sound design programmes capable of operating in real time. As Reinecke explains, “This prediction software system, combined with laser inclinometers from TEQSAS, uses laser precision measurements. By aiming each speaker in the array at specific areas within the audience ear level, optimal coverage with minimal reflection (echo) is obtained. You then achieve coverage of the prediction area at the same level throughout the venue.”
Wilsenach also made use of L-Acoustics Array Morphing – a tool that controls low frequencies through a band filter, as opposed to using a parametric EQ.
But for Wilsenach, the core of any L-Acoustics system is the Network Manager that ensures real-time control and monitoring of LA8 amplified controllers, with high-level, hands-on system control.
A further challenge emerged during the first night’s performance. The large industrial air conditioning system was turned up for the audience, increasing the room noise floor by almost 6dB, which made the ambient noise level much louder, making it difficult to sustain the relatively soft performance suggested by the music.
The delay speakers’ volume had to be increased to overcome the air conditioning noise. Before the second night’s performance, Wilsenach requested the Dome’s management to switch off the section of air conditioning above the retractable seating behind FOH. Management at the Dome is deeply committed to providing Johannesburg audiences with the best possible live event experience. As such, they respected the importance of providing the best possible sound quality and obliged - despite the fact that such a decision is unusal, and needed to absorb the considerable cost implications of switching the system on and off.
According to Wilsenach, large rock concerts that average around 100 dBs SPL are not affected by the air conditioning. However, due to the lower sound levels demanded by this show, simply turning off the air conditioning system proved a highly effective solution that was fairly simple to implement, especially due to the Dome management’s willingness to accommodate his request.
The aim of the sound management was the same for each venue in the country – Kirstenbosch, Cape Town and Durban ICC – to obtain even coverage and dispersion with adequate level and intelligibility for a gentle and intimate show. However, the implementation varied with different line array systems installed in each venue.
The Peace Train runs smoothly
Technical rehearsals for Yusuf Cat Stevens’ The Peace Train tour ran for three weeks prior to the first show. The tour comprised three shows, two in Europe and one in Johannesburg. The production team for the Johannesburg leg of the tour included the three local contractors appointed by Gearhouse Group SA - systems technician: Friedrich Wilsenach; support monitor technician: Simon Panos; and stage technician: Makhosini “Fats” Ngwenya.
A total of 86 instrument and personal monitoring input channels were programmed for the show by the monitor mix engineer, Mike Gibbard, and mixed on a Digico SD10.
FOH engineer, Hefti, ran a multitrack recording from the FOH console via AVB into a Protools HD system using an AVID S6L mixer totalling 64 input channels. In addition, Stevens insists on a 2-track recording of every performance, which he listens to after the show to ensure that the result satisfies his intention.
The Peace Train Tour commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Yusuf Cat Stevens’ debut album and first major hit, Matthew & Son released in 1967. With his acoustic guitar (Gibson J-200) combined with a voice that reputedly has grown richer over the span of his career, Stevens delighted audiences with his ballads and other favourites, which hold a special place in the hearts of many South Africans.
The significance of the message in Peace Train is one that remains evergreen. It was strongly influenced by the song from King Kong, “Shosholoza” – which loosely translated means “go forward” or “make way for the next man”. Its modern meaning is one of support for any struggle.
“How strange that later, without knowing the words and history of this song, I wrote Peace Train, which mirrors the hope for the future of all suffering souls in every war-torn land and country.” ~ Yusuf Cat Stevens
Story Reprinted from ProSystems News
Photos Cat Stevens Management
Feb 19, 2018