Broadway Sound

Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Gaby Alter

FOUR SHOWS, FOUR DRAMATICALLY DIFFERENT DESIGNS

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The Broadway production of Hair is infused with a rock ’n’ roll energy, as designed by Acme Sound.

The Broadway production of Hair is infused with a rock ’n’ roll energy, as designed by Acme Sound.

While most tourists flock to New York City to gaze upon the Statue of Liberty, see the metropolis from the Empire State Building's observation deck or traverse through the throngs of people milling about Times Square, taking in a Broadway show is always high up on their to-do list. And there are plenty of shows to see — from newer performances like Billy Elliot to revivals such as Hair and South Pacific — many of which are continually sold-out, a boon despite the current economic climate.

Mix checked in with four Broadway sound designers, each of who are tasked with creating a sonic symbiosis with the show's performers and audience, an energy that these engineers seek to harness and communicate.

Tap Your Way Through ‘Billy Elliot’

Billy Elliot, which cleaned up this year with 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical, features quite a lot of young people in the cast and, as you'd guess, a lot of dancing — particularly tap. Paul Arditti, who won a Sound Design Tony for the show, says that amplifying the tap dancing over the orchestra presented one of his biggest challenges. For example, the actor playing Billy already wears two wireless mics throughout the show to pick up his vocals. Just before “Angry Dance,” Billy pulls on a pair of track pants that contain another sewn-in wireless pack connected to two mics, one down each leg of the pants. These mics pick up his tap-dancing for this number. However, this setup proved impractical for all the other tap sections in the show because the dancers had bare legs or quick costume changes.

“So I developed the idea of a tap floor, in which the entire stage is peppered with pickups, set into the deck just underneath the parquet flooring,” says Arditti. “There are actually 96 piezo-electric pickups, which are painstakingly wired back to a Yamaha DM2000 under the stage. This console provides phantom power, EQ, compression and gating, and allows us to split the stage up into tap zones. So parts of the stage can be live and other parts not amplified at all. The output from this console feeds a stereo pair of channels in the [DiGiCo] D5T [the show's main console]. The advantages of this system are that the tap sound is entirely independent of the vocal and musical sound, has huge gain before feedback and is surprisingly immune to non-tap-foot noise.”

Trent Kowalk (Billy) and Stephen Hanna (older Billy) perform in Billy Elliot, which was sound-designed by Paul Arditti.

Trent Kowalk (Billy) and Stephen Hanna (older Billy) perform in Billy Elliot, which was sound-designed by Paul Arditti.

The show is mixed on a 128-input DiGiCo D5, a departure from the 132-input Cadac J-Type used on the London and Australian shows. “Much as I love the analog sound from the Cadac, I opted for the programmability, reliability, future-proofing and size of the DiGiCo,” Arditti says. “It's worth bearing in mind that the actor playing Billy Elliot changes every show — sometimes during the intermission if he's injured or unwell. So a console where each individual's mic EQ can be recalled from a library, adjusted live and resaved at the end of the performance is a good thing to have.”






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