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Peter Gabriel Live

soundonsound.com July 16, 2011

Transforming Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back into an impressive live experience

required an orchestra, a team of top engineers and just the right selection of
Ian Corbett

Peter Gabriel Live

Photo: Photography York Tillyer 2011 Peter Gabriel Ltd
eter Gabriel's latest release, Scratch My Back, is a set of covers, but it's no
ordinary covers album. It consists of arrangements for orchestra, stripped down
to their bare essentials, over which Gabriel delivers a gripping and emotional
vocal performance. Not the easiest material to reproduce live, but that's exactly
what Gabriel did for last year's New Blood tour, which presented the album in its
entirety along with some Gabriel classics, all arranged for a 55-piece orchestra
with no drums and no guitars.
Taking this type of show on the road presents the live engineer with unique set of
challenges, and Sound On Sound caught up with the crew at New York City's
Radio City Music Hall to discover just what's necessary to ensure top-notch
sound-quality on a such a production.

The Radio City Music Hall just before

soundcheck. Here you can see the substantial line arrays that make-up part of
the PA setup.
The preferred sound system for the tour was a L'Acoustics VDosc or EAW
system, but for the Radio City show, logistics dictated that the in-house JBL
VerTec array be used, consisting of 15 VT4889 full-size line-array boxes and two
VT4800 compact line-array boxes above each side of the stage. QSC Powerlight
340 and 380 amplifiers were used to power the VerTec system, while two arrays
of VT4880A subwoofers flanked the main columns. Beneath the three
Mezzanine levels modified EAW JF-80s powered by QSC 1.8 amplifiers served as
under-balcony fills.
Front-of-house engineer Richard Sharratt chose a DigiCo SD7 as the FOH
console for the tour; using several fader layers, this allowed him to cope with up
to 128 inputs. Preamplification and A-D conversion was handled by units on
stage, and Sharratt also submixed the orchestra and sent groups back to the
stage to the two monitor mixers via auxiliary sends. Monitor mixing for the
orchestra was handled by Britannia Row Productions veteran Dee Miller, using
a Yamaha PM5D console to balance the stems he was receiving from
Sharratt:stereo submixes of the first violins, second violins, and violas, and
mono submixes of the cellos, basses, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and
Gabriel's vocals.
Peter Gabriel is notorious (in a good way) for being a perfectionist, and also for
keeping a record of everything he does. This is true in a live setting as well in the
studio. Each night of the tour was therefore recorded using multiple Pro Tools

rigs. Two HD systems functioned as multitrack recorders, while an LE system

recorded a stereo board mix. (On previous tours, Gabriel has made each night's
show available to fans via download, but due to regulations involving orchestral
musicians, this is not possible for the New Blood tour.)
Managing this many systems and people around tight, union-mandated
schedules meant that soundcheck time was precious, and a secondary benefit of
having the Pro Tools setup was that recordings of previous shows could be easily
played back in the next venue and used as 'virtual soundcheck' material before
the orchestra actually arrived to rehearse, in order to give the engineer a head
start once the soundcheck and rehearsal began. Even before the tour, Sharratt
explains, "We had just one day of full production rehearsals in Shepperton
Studios. That's not a lot of time to get a 128-input show in order!

Schoeps CMC5 microphones with MK4

cardioid capsules were used throughout the string section.
The orchestra, conducted by Ben Foster, needed plenty of miking. Schoeps
CMC5 microphones with MK4 cardioid capsules were used throughout the string
sections. For the violins and violas there was one mic on each player of the first
desk (or pair) of players in each section and one per desk for the remaining
players. The violins and violas each also had a DPA 4060 omnidirectional
lavalier microphone attached to the bridge of the instrument, while a different
approach was taken with the lower-register strings. Richard Sharratt explains:
"One big challenge was capturing enough volume from some of the orchestral
instruments, since cellos and string basses, for example, do not produce much
natural acoustic volume. To get enough sound and 'grunt' out of the cellos, the

Schoeps mics were augmented by Schertler pickups, attached to the

instruments. The basses were also each given a microphone and a Schertler

Schoeps CMC5s were also used for the woodwinds.

More Schoeps CMC5 and MK4 combinations were used on the small woodwind
section, which consisted of a flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon, while

Wide-cardioid Schoeps MK21 capsules were used on

CMC5 preamplifier bodies for the brass section. Here the mic is high above the
the eight members of the brass section were each miked with a wide-cardioid
MK21 capsule on a CMC5 preamplifier body. Percussion miking consisted of

a pair of CMC5s with MK4 capsules on the marimba plus one each on the
crotales, vibraphone, bass drum, and for assorted percussion 'toys'.

A pair of Schoeps were used over the grand

piano, augmented by a Helpinstill 180 noise-cancelling grand-piano pickup.
Yet another pair of Schoeps mics was employed on the acoustic piano. These
were assisted by a Helpinstill 180 noise-cancelling grand-piano pickup,
a product designed both for touring and feedback rejection, but even so, at Radio
City, the default placement of the piano far downstage caused some feedback
issues under the downwards-firing front-fill speakers of the house line array.
These were rectified simply by moving the piano a little upstage.
Richard explains that putting similar Schoeps combos on much of the orchestra
is something he's done for a long time with classical work. "A good all-round mic
across the orchestra gives everything the same characteristic, so you just need to
EQ the system globally, with tweaks here and there. Using so many smooth,
flat-response mics can help to minimize potential feedback, with fewer problem
frequencies to control than if multiple different microphones (each with their
own unique set of frequency-response peaks) are used.
Peter Gabriel was joined by three backing vocalists: Gabriel's daughter Melanie,
Swedish singer-songwriter Ane Brun, and Tom Cawley, who was also the pianist.
All used Shure Beta 57 dynamic mics perhaps surprisingly, considering that
top-of-the-line condensers were used throughout the orchestra. As Richard
explains, "Peter is very attached to his Beta 57s.

With 66 inputs for the strings alone, it's easy to see how the total number of
inputs exceeded 120. Equalising that many channels individually would be
a daunting prospect, so where possible, EQ was applied across stereo group
channels. "I generally EQ on channels for obvious traits on an instrument for
example, cut at 2.5kHz cut for DPA mics on violins and I use group EQ for
adjusting how things sound from venue to venue, as well as notching-out
feedback. On just about every orchestral input the on-board compressors were
"tickled just for a little control. A rock concert audience also expects chestthumping low end, so the pickup and mic combination used on each of the
four-string basses and the close-miked orchestral bass drum were boosted just
enough to easily substitute for the frequency space otherwise occupied by the
kick drum and bass guitar in a rock mix.
The only effects used for the show were top-quality reverbs. A Bricasti M7 and
Quantec Yardstick provided natural-sounding spaces around Gabriel's vocal,
while reverb for the orchestra was handled by Lexicon 960s. Richard elaborates:
"The Lexicon was split into four engines: three for the orchestra, most of the
time strings, woodwinds with piano, and brass with percussion, with a bit of
swapping between songs. The fourth engine was used for the backing vocals.

The DigiCo SD7 and multiple ProTools rigs

in the front-of-house position.

Newer Blood
With so many musicians on stage, you'd expect the musical content of the tour to
be set in stone, but this was not the case. The first half was fixed the entire

Scratch My Back album was performed but the second half changed from
show to show. Arranger and orchestrator John Metcalfe and his Sibelius system
travelled with the tour, and not only were songs re-ordered, added and removed,
but arrangements were worked on and tweaked in between shows.
The equipment for the US leg of the tour was also improvised to an extent,
thanks to the volcanic eruption in Iceland that disrupted air travel. A resulting
customs impound and delay meant that a splitter system had to be constructed
from scratch to get the signals to the multiple consoles. The crew and production
company scrambled and the original, compact system (now impounded) was
replaced with about seven flight-cases' worth of equipment put together by
Firehouse Productions... and the show went on!
Following some on-tour reworkings of the orchestral arrangements of Gabriel's
own material, the team went into the studio over the summer of 2010 to
recording those tracks, which are likely to be released during the autumn of
2011. A string of European dates followed in the autumn of 2010, and the Verona
concert was filmed for DVD, although there is no scheduled release date at this
time. In March 2011, New Blood was also filmed over a couple of nights at
London's Apollo Theatre, in 3D. This time the focus was Gabriel's back
catalogue. At the time of writing, a theatrical release of this is proposed (but not
confirmed) for September 2011, with 3D and 2D Blu-ray and standard DVD
following in November 2011. This back-catalogue focused tour continues in the
USA and Canada over 12 dates with the New Blood orchestra, this June. I have
my ticket!
Many thanks to Richard Sharratt and production manager Gary Trew for making
this in-depth look at a unique show possible.

Monitor Mixing

Seventeen monitor mixes were created for the stage show, mostly mono mixes
for the conductor and orchestra members wearing headphones, plus the singers
wearing Sennheiser 2000 IEM (in-ear monitoring) systems.
Richard 'Dickie' Chappell, Gabriel's long-time studio person, engineer, and live
sound man, was mixing Gabriel's monitors for this tour. Dickie is the person
responsible for taking Gabriel's projects from the studio on to the road, helping
the tour manager Dave T to find the best sound crews, and handling the audio
logistics of the shows from selecting what mics and PA systems will be used to
how to record the show, to a myriad of other essential responsibilities! In
addition to receiving the same orchestral submixes that were sent to the Yamaha
PM5D desk, his Digidesign Venue system also received the FOH reverb outputs.
Gabriel's monitoring setup consisted of his IEM system, plus a pair of L'Acoustic
MTD108 wedges, a pair of video monitors showing a visual song form and
a vocal activity cueing system created in Logic, and another pair of video
monitors allowing him to see the conductor, who was behind and to the side of
him. Gabriel was not centre stage for the show, but downstage and house left.

Video Projection

Both live and pre-recorded video accompanied the music on the New Blood tour.
They were displayed on four transparent LED video screens, three of which were
positioned behind the orchestra and one in front of the orchestra, moving up and
down throughout the show. The video was precisely sync'ed to the music,
necessitating the orchestra following a click track. Gabriel's visual cueing system
was also synchronised to this track. Here we see the cueing system, which
reacted to the vocal performance, running in Logic, backstage.