Bon Iver Tour Profile

Dec 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Sarah Benzuly



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Front-of-house engineer and production manager Brian Joseph is no stranger to the sound behind Bon Iver—the Justin Vernon band. Having been part of the production process for his latest self-titled album, Joseph is fully aware of how to artfully re-create that record’s lush soundscapes (think Sigur Ros meets down-home Americana) when it came time to take it on the road. Accompanying Vernon is a stellar cast of musicians—including dual drummers, a scaled-back horn section and numerous guitars—all of whom collaborated on the record. While Joseph may be taking the same mix approach from the studio to the stage, he says it’s still a pretty large adjustment, as the tour doesn’t require as many tracks and performances on which to rely. Plus, having a complete control package courtesy of Eighth Day Sound (except P.A., which the tour specs for either an L-Acoustics K1 or V-DOSC system, or a d&B J Series) has helped in creating consistency from venue to venue.

“Having many of the studio musicians with us live is an absolute luxury,” Joseph says. “It wasn’t long into rehearsals when the musicians understood the supporting roles and harmonies necessary to balance each other in the live arrangements. It was at that point I was able to start building my mix with the width in imaging that exists on the record. Dynamic range is a massive player in the experience of a Bon Iver concert. We’re definitely not winning the loudness war, but I feel there is a real impact that comes with [making] their whisper to a roar dynamic. A quieter mix demands more of the audience’s attention and keeps their ears rested for the louder passages. There are moments I learned from the recorded music to be more aggressive in my live mix approach. With the absence of recorded playback in the show, I am able to use that real estate to push certain elements significantly harder in the mix.”

Front-of-house engineer Brian Joseph at the DiGiCo SD10

Front-of-house engineer Brian Joseph at the DiGiCo SD10

That extended real estate—as well as having clarity and fidelity high on his list of must-haves—is found within a DiGiCo SD10, the company’s latest live digital board. Joseph finds that the onboard dynamics package—especially multiband compression and dynamic equalization—were key factors in choosing the desk. “Channel count was also important, being that Bon Iver is up to 76 presently,” Joseph adds. He’s also employing the SD Racks and Waves SoundGrid bundle, saying that the gain tracking on the SD Racks was important as initially they were a two-bus/two-trailer tour. “I was looking to save every bit of trailer space possible. Now that we are in a truck, I see no need to go about it any other way. After some initial troubleshooting, the two SD10s [one at FOH, one at monitors] work seamlessly with one other. The sharing of effects and communication are made very simple in this format.”

Concurs monitor engineer Xandy Whitesel: “Quite handy on the SD10 is the ability to create virtual inputs and outputs between consoles on the Opticore network. This makes effects sharing and talkbacks between consoles very easy to route without eating up preamp and cabling capacity. It was cake to set up a stereo partial effects return from FOH so that I can pipe Brian’s effects mixes—minus ’verbs—back into IEM mixes as requested.”

Both FOH and monitor consoles run at 96 kHz and share SD Racks (head amp/converters) for all inputs from the stage. “The racks automatically compensate for gain changes made on the other desk through digital trim adjustments in your own session,” Joseph explains. “I use the Waves SoundGrid Server for my main effects rack and additional dynamics that Justin and I used on the record. The treatment of Justin’s voice is a particular thing, and having Waves in the live setting is something that makes my job possible. I’m using a pitch shift or octave below on Justin’s vocal in select moments to create a larger, more menacing character. I make a lot of small changes from song to song for the vocal to sound how I think it should. I use a short plate reverb for the drums and for brass instruments on certain songs. The rest of the effects are derived from the Waves SoundGrid Server: the H-Delay, R-Verb, Renaissance de-esser, R-Compressor and SSL G Series compressor from the SoundGrid Server.

“I find that less is more when adding plug-ins to my session,” he continues. “If I’m having to throw too many plug-ins or processing at my source material, I find having a chat with the bandmember and exploring the tone coming off the deck is a better place to correct the problem. We’re continually refining the tones coming of the stage.”

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